APM research shows UK employees are not given the opportunity to use all their skills at work

  • 30% of UK employees actively hold back ‘secret skills’ because they are not part of their job description
  • As many as four in ten study participants believe they have hidden leadership skills
  • More than half are now inclined to look for new opportunities that are more fitting to their skills since returning to the office

New research from Association for Project Management (APM), the chartered membership organisation for the project profession, reveals a third of UK employees said that they hold back on existing capabilities and skills in their current role because they are not part of the job description. The study shows a 32% of UK workers had received no formal training in their current role, with employers teaching just enough to pick things up and then giving little opportunities for progression.

Secret skills

The study reveals that the ‘secret skills’ which UK employees are actively holding back include a number of in demand attributes: 40% reported leadership, 39% communication, 38% project and time management and 32% had teamwork skills that were going unused.

Ironically, although 40% of employees believe that they have leadership qualities hidden below the surface of what they present at work, the survey suggests that very little development is being offered to UK workers in order to help them further hone these qualities. When shown a list of training courses in areas like communication, teamwork and time management, 45% of employees said they were currently being offered no training in any of these areas.

Despite this, 38% of participants said that they would ultimately prefer to work their way up in the company they are already in, proving that there is time yet to find a solution to the Great Resignation. Challenging the perception that Gen Z is a flighty bunch, 50% of young people aged 18-24 also said that they would prefer to remain loyal to one employer. This highlights a clear long-term potential leadership pipeline, but only if businesses invest worthwhile time youngsters’ development.

This phenomenon of unused skills seems to be particularly prevalent in London, with half (50%) of participants in the Capital not currently working to their full potential, highlighting an untapped talent pool.

Dead-end jobs

APM’s survey highlights an alarming level of UK-wide dissatisfaction with workplace training and employee development. Half of employees said there was ‘nowhere to go’ in their current job, with 76% of these employees agreeing that this was the result of having few opportunities for progression. Specifically, four in ten said their management failed to offer them any support in terms of their career progression.

Over half (54%) of survey participants aged 18-24 who agreed that there was nowhere to go at work specified that they had never been offered a 1:1. Similarly, 41% of 25-34 year olds had also never been offered a 1:1 sit down with their manager. It is no wonder, then, that businesses are rapidly losing younger talent to better opportunities.

It emerged from the survey that 46% feel less confident asking for training to expand these skillsets if it is not offered to them by those higher up. Particularly, young people are reluctant to ask for more training, with 22 per cent of those aged 24 to 34 strongly feeling that way compared to just 10% of those aged between 55 and 64.

Consequently, nearly a third of workers (28%) said they had previously changed careers due to a lack of upward mobility. A further 35% said they had seriously considered a career change in order to have more opportunities for progression.

When opportunity doesn’t knock

Further, one in ten who have taken up courses off their own back already feel very confident in leaving their current position and applying for different roles with a better salary, proving that if businesses do not factor in employee training, they might find that employees take the initiative to train up and get out.

Over a third of survey participants (33%) said there were lobbying their bosses to provide more training in areas like project management and communication. Over half (54%) of survey participants living in London are actively looking into training courses in project management.

Overwhelmingly, though, employees find themselves unable to remedy the situation, with 36% of workers saying they were unable to take job satisfaction into their own hands.

Professor Adam Boddison, CEO of APM, says “Headline after headline speaks of skills shortages and the tight labour market, yet bosses are missing a trick. There’s a vast pool of untapped talent within British businesses that isn’t being harnessed to its full potential.

“So many people clearly feel they are not being used to their full potential, and would relish the opportunity to maximise their communication, organisational, planning, and project management skills.

“Perhaps the solution to the productivity puzzle lies closer to home than envisaged. Employers’ best investment looks likely to be in quality training to empower their people to fulfil their potential. Talk about a win-win solution!”