Did you know that the UK is one of the most digitally savvy consumer nations in the world? Far more of us have smartphones (as a percentage of population) than even America.


About 10% of all grocery sales are now done online; it’s about 2% in America. As a nation
of consumers, we are far more comfortable using technology than most G7 nations (only a handful of countries like South Korea and UAE trump the UK).

However, the UK has the worst levels of productivity in the G7. As a nation, we are significantly less productive than USA and Germany (no surprise there) but we are also far less productive than France and Italy. Chancellor Philip Hammond cited our poor productivity as one of the main reasons why UK GDP growth estimates have been reduced.



A lack of long-term investment in training

A long-term lack of investment by companies in training and developing people is the major cause for our poor productivity. Cut backs
 on training over the last 5-8 years are coming back to roost. The apprenticeship approach is widely used and successful in Germany, it took government legislation for apprenticeships to take off recently in the UK. German companies are exporting their apprenticeship programmes around the world – such as BMW’s Te gusta aprender (Do you like to learn?) programme.

Here lies part of the problem. We find that many believe the words ‘learning’ and ‘training’ are met with a shrug of the shoulders but facts suggest otherwise.

Take The Open University as one example. Over 175,000 enrol each year (100,000 more than work in the UK wholesale sector) – 75% are in full time employment (so they fit their studies around their work) and 25% live in the country’s poorest post codes (so social class, wealth and status are not a barrier, in fact they’re probably a motivating reason for signing up in the first place). People want to learn and improve. This is why job applicants now rate ‘how are you going to train and develop me’ alongside ‘how much are you going to pay me’ when considering new jobs.


As we start a new year, we should ask ourselves the following questions:

  • How much are we investing in developing our own people?
  • Retention strategies often involve share options or bonuses – how do we make sure our talent is becoming more talented, more talented than competitors?
  • How many people have been promoted into senior management positions over the last 5-8 years but haven’t received training to develop their leadership skills?
  • How are we making our businesses and sector attractive to possible new recruits?
  • Many wholesale businesses have 40-50% staff turnover levels. Have they even started to calculate the cost to the business in terms of time, cost, and lost talent? What will it take to reduce the churn and subsequent costs?
  • Are companies willing to share their own people figures (turnover figures, spend on training, effectiveness of training) to identify best practice in the sector?
  • How engaged are your employees? Is it ‘just a job’ for them?



With the rapid development of high quality personalised e-learning in recent years, there
 is now no excuse for any business to not 
train their colleagues. In fact, with competition growing and markets changing so quickly, it should be considered an important element of any company’s strategy if they want to retain or gain competitive advantage.

Business success is now about the fast companies out-manoeuvring the slow companies, and having highly trained and motivated people to deliver the success.


As with most things in life, better teams usually win in the end...

Tom Fender has worked in the wholesale sector since 1997 and is co-founder and director at Bolt Learning. This article was originally published in Wholesale News.