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10 Jan 09:00 by Kirsty McKerrow Founder and MD


Driving success through a skilled workforce in the Whisky Sector

Kirsty McKerrow,

Founder & MD

The Edinburgh Whisky Academy


Much is made of the challenges of recruitment, development and retention across all industries and rightfully so. In today’s world, we are faced with a seemingly ever-evolving wish list of employee needs, wants and motivators. But there remain some key drivers which ensure we can attract, engage, motivate and retain a workforce for the greater good of a business, organisation or even industry.


Against a backdrop of political and economic uncertainty, it could be said that the needs of a workforce may seemingly take a back seat to bigger industry or business issues however this approach can be extremely detrimental on many levels. To neglect or overlook the needs of employees during these periods of change, flux or uncertainty can be at best risky and at worse, damaging. It is vital to recognise that your people and their skills define business success, strength and agility during such time.


Companies must invest in training 

In recent years, it has been fairly common for senior teams to feel the pressure of cutbacks and efficiency drivers, but those who have effectively navigated these treacherous waters are those who have remained committed to the skills and development of their staff. This is a fundamental success factor. Invest in your people and they will invest in you.


This is quite simply because skills and training are vital to competitiveness, not only now but also in the future. It has been proven time after time; a skilled workforce drives growth by boosting productivity and developing innovation and a motivated and engaged workforce is a happier, satisfied and committed workforce. It’s not rocket science.


By incorporating training that develops employees toward long-term career goals can also promote greater job satisfaction. A more satisfied employee is likely to stay longer and be more productive while on your team. Evidence has shown that as many as 40% of employees who receive poor job training leave their positions within the first year, citing the lack of skills training and development as the principal reason for moving on.


According to Cisco, businesses are ‘beginning to regard their employees as not only human resources, but also human capital. Futurists predict that by 2020 the appreciation of human capital, in the sense of both building employee value and attaching greater value to each employee, will become not just an aspiration, but also an economic necessity.’


This is why the investment in skills development, training and knowledge creation are so fundamental to driving productivity, growth and ultimately success. It remains however, surprising that many people feel undervalued and underdeveloped in their roles and many organisations do not adopt a focused and fulfilling approach to enabling their staff to flourish.


There are many different scenarios, skill sets, workforce styles, but the fundamentals of human motivation and satisfaction are in the main, universal.


Scotland and its industries must take note 

Taking Scotland as an example, there are some key sectors which dominate including the likes of whisky and tourism, and these are not without their own specific challenges in the current climate. Looking more closely at such sectors, we can start to understand how a skilled and motivated workforce manifests itself in real terms.


The Scotch Whisky Industry currently employs around 10,000, with the same figure attributed to those indirectly employed in the supply chain. Whisky is worth over £4billion to Scotland in exports to around 200 countries. It represents the UK’s single biggest food and drink sector.


The industry has been experiencing unprecedented growth. Producers have been required to build capacity, up -skill and invest to meet the global demand for their products. This means the need for skilled and knowledgeable employees has increased as demand has risen. The industry has responded fairly well to these needs but it needs to be an ongoing investment and focus.


At these time of growth, the role of training, education and development are even more vital to driving successful outcomes. Building knowledge in Scotland’s key export is more than an HR issue, it is an economic and social issue. Many distillers have been in business for over 200 years, their heritage and history is unquestionable. But for them their workforce of today needs to be at the top of their game, if not a step ahead and above, combining the very best knowledge, skills and experience which meets the rigorous expectations of consumers, at home and away, and advances the prospects of employees. It is a competitive sector for talent – both recruitment and retention – and this means a more valued and valuable workforce.


Building knowledge means more than on the job training, or an induction plan, it means developing and embedding this in your culture. It means encouraging and embracing a continual thirst for knowledge and new skills. But also means providing the best, most credible training and development options. This is where the real difference can be made.


Knowledge is an investment in the future 

For the whisky industry, there are many levels of learning and development – and many areas which can benefit from a structured approach beyond the industry itself. By building a foundation of knowledge and skill across the industry, the quality of these producers and their product is enhanced. So, the focus and commitment needs to be on the establishment and maintenance of the highest standards of excellence, accredited training. No shortcuts, no compromise. We have the opportunity to pioneer the creation of a highly skilled, engaged, credible workforce to support Scotland’s best export.



For more information on the EDINBURGH WHISKY ACADEMY, please click here