Problem solving through making connections

Nic and I ensure the quality of our consultancy services by attending training events and reading the blogs and books of the key influencers across the economic development and community development fields. At the moment,  I am focussing on problem solving.

The OBTAIN model from Antonio Weiss (2011) offers a helpful formal structure for what many problem solvers undertake as an intuitive process:

O – Outline the problem

B – Break it down

T – Test the hypothesis

A – Analyse – look at the evidence and get to the root of the issue

I – Imagine the solution

N – Notify your stakeholders

According to Weiss, reinforcing all of this is stakeholder engagement; working with your stakeholders to understand the problem, analyse it and propose and test solutions.

This is the core business that Nic and I undertake – we look at problems and propose connections, support new and better relationships to help businesses and organisations overcome problems and barriers – hence growing their business!

This week was a case in point – three meetings with training providers and employers to broker hospitality pre-employment courses in Bedfordshire.  The problem is the number and quality of applicants for jobs in the hospitality sector which is holding back the productivity and growth of the market.

Breaking it down, there are an array of issues with transport and access to some rural hospitality businesses, shift work, perceptions of the sector and low entry wages all a factor.  Another key dimension is the current disconnect of training provision with business.

With People 1st, the sector skills council, we are looking to bring nationally available pre-employment courses designed with employers to the county.   We are brokering solutions between training providers and employers to reduce unemployment and grow the business through stronger customer service and quality staff.

We are working with business and training stakeholders to analyse the evidence and better understand it.  We are also testing the idea that these nationally designed courses – Employment 1st – match the local business needs and local training providers are interested in delivering them.  In the meetings we were starting to imagine the solution – new courses running in different venues, bespoke for employers as well as available more generally.

We also started to think about new audiences for the course and new locations where this model may also bring employment and business growth solutions.

The OBTAIN model suggests that our process is right and it is that critical engagement of stakeholders that makes the problem solving possible.  How do we reach key players in the business community? Which are the best ways to engage people to work in the hospitality sector in an economically successful area? How could we move this brokerage approach to another location?

Through our knowledge of the local area we are able to develop ideas around partnerships and organisations to contact that should open doors to employers in the sector.  Our expertise in the social housing world suggested a new approach: to explore the hospitality sector as a route to employment for social housing tenants trying to manage the welfare benefit reforms.  Connections through Local Enterprise Partnerships offered a way of sharing and showcasing this good practice to a wider audience.

We are very optimistic that two new courses will be delivered by the end of August with over 30 people better placed to gain jobs and fit the needs of business in the sector.  This should be just the beginning to solving this problem and working with stakeholders to keep on doing that!