The Chair of the West Midlands Branch, Jun Du is Professor of Economics and Director of Lloyds Banking Centre for Business Prosperity at Aston Business School, Aston University.
This is Jun Du, Chair of RSA in West Midlands. It is my great pleasure to send this welcome message to you at the outset of a new decade. I am a Professor of economics based at Aston University. Trained as an economist, I have lots of research experience in the field of firm productivity and growth, with the key interest being to understand the driving forces and impediments of productivity enhancement and economic growth. My everyday tool box contains data, methods and techniques drawing from multi-level dimensions of individuals, firms, industries, regions, governments and their interplays. But I also take nutrients from other fields and approaches in social science and science.
This is an remarkable time for the UK and regions, and indeed the world, living in an age of deep structural instability and uncertainty, in which policy makers have few choices but to look for new policy tools. It is a good time for scholars, as we not only face new challenges and new questions, but also need to rethink about the old issues we once declared resolved. As we enter a new decade, disruptions are underway not only in long-standing arrangements in political and economic systems and norms, but also in specific domains and technologies, business models, established views and even mainstream theories. Efforts are already underway to create a new foundation for development and prosperity. It is time for scholars like us who spend most breathing hours thinking and rethinking about these crucial issues to participate and lead the discussions and debates and play a key role in the discovery of solutions. And there is no other time like it is now.
Please feel free to contact me to discuss regional studies in the West Midlands area. ”
Special Workshop on Training and Productivity
This special four paper workshop on Training and Productivity was presented by Dr Bochra Idris, Dr Susan Schwarz, Dr Maria Wishart and Dr David Morris and supported by the Regional Studies Association West Midlands Branch, Lloyds Banking Group Centre for Business Prosperity & Enterprise Research Centre.
Chair: Professor Jun Du
Speaker: Dr Bochra Idris
Title: Training and Performance in SMEs: Empirical Evidence from Large-Scale Data from the UK
This presentation examined the link between training and (perceived) actual/intended performance of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the UK, using the UK’s 2015 Small Business Survey containing largescale data from more than 15,000 owner-managers of SMEs. Using the ordered probit analysis to test our hypothesis, we found that there was a positive and significant relationship between training and SMEs’ performance. When differentiating between training according to its type, we found that on-the-job and off-the-job training were positively and significantly related to performance, however, when these types of training were received simultaneously, the combined association became stronger than their individual effects.
Speaker: Dr Susan Schwarz
Title: Investing in Employees’ Human Capital: The Effect of Managerial and Staff Training on Firm Productivity
Given economic uncertainty, productivity is a crucial goal for firms worldwide, yet training investments to boost productivity face increased scrutiny. This presentation endeavoured to understand conceptually and empirically the relationship between skills, training, and productivity, applying a resource management perspective to examine strategic investments in human capital. Specifically, the differential effects of managerial and staff-level training on firm productivity were investigated, using measures of training coverage and quality drawing on 16,284 observations from the UK-based Employer Skills Survey and Investment in Training Survey linked with Office of National Statistics data 2011-2017. We examined the impact on productivity of firms’ deviation from industry training rates to understand benefits to competitive advantage from training employees. Results indicated that the proportion of managers trained and the quality of staff training increased firm productivity, with the interaction of the two generating further gains. This finding illustrated the value of developing synergistic competence between managers and staff at a time when employers were striving to combat disengagement within organizations. In addition, managerial training benefitted smaller and younger firms, while staff training benefitted larger and older firms. The findings expanded understanding of the gains to productivity from both quantity and quality of training and how firms could make wise training investments.
Speaker: Dr Maria Wishart
Title: Employee Well-Being, Mental Health and Productivity in Midlands Firms: The Employer Perspective
This study explored the prevalence and nature of poor mental health in the workplace and the impact on business performance and productivity, through a survey of 1,899 private sector establishments in the Midlands and in-depth interviews with 20 survey respondents.31% of firms surveyed reported mental health sickness absence, of which 55% reported an impact on firm performance. The type of impacts typically reported in the survey included effects on the workload and morale of the team, the cost of replacing absent staff, reduced service levels and reduced efficiency. However, we noted a reluctance among firms to formally measure the productivity impacts of poor mental health, which indicates that these impacts are probably under-recorded.
Our analysis of the survey data found that sickness related to mental health was associated with productivity which was lower by 18.3 per cent, and that mental health impacts were associated with productivity which was lower by 24.5 per cent. These are significant associations between productivity and mental health sickness absence, but our research suggests these costs may not be known to many employers.
Although most of our respondents felt that they do have a role to play in supporting the mental health of their employees, proactive activities to support mental health and well-being were found in only 44% of firms, and only 22% had a mental health plan. Most appeared not to be aware of the best sources of help and advice with putting the right activities into practice.
The study outlined implications for policy and practice, including the need for clear messaging for employers, signposting to relevant resources, and greater partnership working between employers, HR professionals, sector bodies and mental health charities.
Speaker: Dr David Morris
Title: Towards a Regional Approach for Skill Policy
Despite the growing evidence that skill deficiencies have spatial implications and the role of policy frameworks for skill mismatch across Europe, there is still limited attention regarding the role of skills in regional studies. In particular, while the renewed attention towards industrial policy acknowledges the presence of regional divides and skill imbalances, skill policy remains focused on place-neutral provision of vocational education and training. Similarly, regional development policies do not fully consider the role of skills, relying mainly on education levels or sectoral employment as proxies for regional capabilities. This paper provided a critical discussion of skills policy following a regional perspective offering novel insights for a regional approach in skill policy along two main elements. First, we underlined the risk of place-neutral skill policy in fostering migration of skills to strong areas and the persistence of skill gaps in struggling areas, calling for a broader perspective on the role of skills beyond traditional education policy and vocational training. Conversely, we renewed the case for a place-based perspective for skill policy and argued that a systemic approach connecting different levels of governance and localised stakeholders was necessary to recognise and connect the demand and supply of skills which addressed the specific needs of diverse regional economic structures. This implied a shift in policy intervention from just supply towards both skill demand and utilisation. Second, we discussed the need to transition from static to dynamic perspectives where regional skill policy did not simply focus on addressing current gaps. Instead, we built on the literature on relatedness and smart specialisation to highlight how skill policy needed to become an integral part of regional transitions, enabling processes of adaptation through upskilling in related areas and advanced competencies. We argued this framework for regional skill policy offered important elements for fostering greater regional balance, facilitating technological upgrading in lagging regions as well as supporting initiatives for greater intra-regional and inter-regional collaboration through enhanced local business ecosystems.
Please note: The West Midlands Branch is a limited agent for the Regional Studies Association but without any authority to incur financial liability for that Association.