Oli Meager looks at the UK Government’s latest skills initiatives and how they may truly change someone’s career for the better.
As you may have heard during the Queen’s Speech, skills are now a focal point for the UK Government. With the Lifetime Skills Guarantee, 400 free qualifications will be on offer for an estimated 11 million adults. They cover wide-ranging fields and skills, from social care and conservation, to engineering, and they are available to anyone who hasn’t got a Level 3 (equivalent to A-levels) qualification.
The move comes following a series of commitments by the UK Government towards upskilling the nation. The Kickstart Scheme, for instance, was launched in September 2020 to combat some of the long-term employment damage done to young people’s careers by the pandemic.
Now it looks like the Government is taking it a step further, by ensuring millions of adults have the opportunity to upskill and secure skilled work. Alongside this, Skills Bootcamps will be launched to provide free, flexible courses lasting up to 16 weeks to build much-needed digital, technical and construction skills.
It’s great to see skills, and the widening skills shortage, being addressed at the highest levels in the UK. Not least because to compete on a global scale, the UK’s businesses need to have the right skills in place to fulfil their business strategies.
Empowering people to transact on their current (and upcoming) skills, is a win-win for employers and employees
Skills have long been linked to higher productivity and greater competitiveness. Worryingly, one in ten UK workers feel that they lack the skills needed to do their job effectively. If this skills mismatch is reduced, OECD analysis suggests that the UK’s labour productivity will increase by as much as 5%.
It’s also worth noting that the UK Government explicitly calls out the current inequality in our learning and work set-up. In its words, “The Guarantee aims to transform the skills system so everyone, no matter where they live or their background, can gain the skills they need to progress in work at any stage of their lives.”
This makes so much sense. Nobody should be overlooked because they don’t have the right credentials or connections to climb the career ladder. Empowering people to transact on their current (and upcoming) skills, is a win-win for employers and employees.
By widening the available talent pool, employers will gain much-needed skills and boost their diversity simultaneously. And that’s been shown to greatly improve financial performance and innovation thanks to diverse experiences, thinking, and approaches.
That said, there are some missing components to the Lifetime Skills Guarantee that, if considered in future schemes, will make the Government’s actions all-the-more effective. The focus of the current initiatives is on building digital and technical skills, primarily.
This is understandable given that less than half (48%) of employers feel that young people are leaving education today with enough digital skills. And 76% of firms feel that a lack of digital skills will soon hit their profitability.
However, it overlooks the transferable ‘power’ skills that people will need to keep up with disruption and shift seamlessly from role to role. Technical and digital skills that are useful now, in just a few years’ time will become outdated. The half-life of skills currently stands at just five years.
As well as equipping people with the skills they need to do their jobs well today, the schemes (and employers) must develop the skills that people will carry with them throughout their careers. Skills like communication and effective collaboration (especially in the age of remote and hybrid working), leadership, agile thinking, and creativity.
Everyone will need upskilling
The other limitation to the Guarantee is that it impacts a small proportion of the UK population who need upskilling. Eventually, nine in ten UK workers will need to upskill and reskill by 2030 to keep up with technology and the changing nature of work. The onus for this will fall on employers and employees themselves.
For employers, the business case for upskilling is clear – it can boost performance, reduce recruitment and onboarding costs, increase diversity, and cut attrition. Almost half (46%) of workers are more likely to jump ship when they don’t believe their employer is committed to their development.
For individuals, upskilling opens the door to new work opportunities, better lifestyles, improved job satisfaction and more.
It’s all well and good talking about the benefits of upskilling. Actually doing it, day-in-day-out, is a whole different ball game. Sticking power comes from three avenues: relevance to a project or role, reinforcement of skills, and alignment with career goals and interests.
Handily (and as the Skills Bootcamps highlight) there are many different ways to upskill people, from blogs and podcasts, to books and those aforementioned bootcamps. People now have numerous ways to mould their upskilling into something they’re interested in, that improves their work and long-term career, and that they’ll stick with.
The great thing about the recent announcement is that, ultimately, it has shone a spotlight on skills and their critical role in boosting our economy, recovery, and competitiveness. If this is the first time you’re hearing about skills, it certainly won’t be the last time.
About the author
Oli Meager is VP talent and career mobility at Degreed