Here’s how to meet the skills needs of future generations

How to meet the skills needs of tomorrow’s business is a vital question on the minds of all employers. Dr Paul Phillips thinks the ‘learning village’ could be the answer. 

With an ageing population in the UK and uncertainty over the availability of immigrant workers post-Brexit, combined with fast-paced development in technology and evolving customer demands, many businesses are understandably concerned about how they will meet the skills gaps facing their organisation. 

A recent survey by the Institute of Directors revealed that almost half of UK business leaders are worried about post-Brexit skills shortages and fear they will not find enough suitable staff in 2017. It found levels of confidence higher than in the immediate aftermath of the Brexit vote, but nonetheless found four in ten businesses worried about a lack of skills.

We require a forward-thinking approach to ensure we meet these needs. Developing alternative pathways to employment and education and working with business to ensure the courses offered are work-focused and meet the skills needs for the future are vital. 

Too often students are leaving education and entering the world of work unprepared and without the skills that businesses need. Colleges and universities have a crucial role to play in preparing students for work, but developing skills for work should start a lot earlier.

Developing alternative pathways to employment and education and working with business to ensure the courses offered are work-focused and meet the skills needs for the future are vital. 

We need to stop seeing education as a series of silos – primary followed by secondary followed by FE followed by HE – it needs to be joined up all the way through, working with the local business community, both individual employers and employer representatives such as the Insitute of Directors (IoD), and flexible enough to meet everyone’s needs.

Getting young people directly engaged with business at an early stage will drive up understanding and expectation of what’s required on both sides. Learners need a start to finish journey, taking them right from the early beginnings of their educational experience all the way into employment.

Special schools, nurseries, primaries and secondary schools could all be part of a multi-academy trust, sharing skills and knowledge. This opens up access to facilities that a college offers but that younger students at a primary or secondary school would not usually have access to; enabling children of all ages experiences they might not otherwise be offered until much later in their education journey. 

For example, at Weston College we recently had a group of year five pupils come into the college to have a go at building a wall. The aim of this was actually to teach them their six times table, but it gave them a much broader experience.

Improving integration between schools/colleges, students of different age groups and the business community enables courses and qualifications on offer at these institutions to be designed to better meet the skills gaps that local employers need. 

So, instead of offering maths degrees, say, which are already undersubscribed nationally, you can offer things like a Degree Apprenticeship in IT. This is designed to equip students with the skills required for the future jobs and meet local skills needs too.

And because it’s a Degree Apprenticeship, it opens it up to potential students who might be put off by the traditional degree route, usually because of the prohibitive cost. There’s the flexibility to fit it in around a job or family commitments, and entry requirements.

When you jigsaw all these pieces together you get high quality academic and vocational pathways that prepare learners for successful careers, which at the same time are helping to address the skills challenges of business. 


About the author

Dr Paul Phillips OBE is principal and chief executive at Weston College, North Somerset 


Listen to an interview with Dr Phillips here


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