TJ interviews: Kirstie Donnelly MBE, CEO of City & Guilds

TJ’s editor, Debbie Carter talks to Kirstie Donnelly MBE of City & Guilds about their recent research and the imperative to engage with all generations to ensure skills for the future.

Debbie Carter: How severe is the UK skills’ crisis and what are the long-term ramifications if the lack of skills isn’t rectified soon?

Kirstie Donnelly: Our recent Great Jobs research (2022) found that almost every sector in the UK is struggling to recruit, with labour shortages being felt in industries critical to keeping the UK on its feet, including health & social care, transport and construction. 

At the same time, we’re expecting to see more than 3 million essential job openings in the next five years, including 340,000 new jobs in these sectors alone. The bottom line is that unless the skills shortages in these industries, and across the entire UK economy are tackled, these sectors are at risk of collapse – threatening the very functioning of our economy.

DC: Bringing in the over 50s does seem to be a solution. What skills does this group have and how receptive are they to learning new skills?

KD: With workers over the age of 50 representing over a third of our workforce, and possessing a wealth of knowledge and experience, they have the potential to help resolve some of the crippling staff shortages we face today.

But the issue is not with how receptive older workers are to new skills. Instead, as our 2021 Skills Index research highlighted, it is employers’ reluctance to hire and retrain older workers that contributes to many being cast aside in the workplace. When it comes to solving shortages in their businesses, only 14% of employers would consider recruiting or retraining older workers as a solution, highlighting a neglect towards our older generations. 

Alongside this, employers need to consider what it is older workers need and want. The Covid-19 pandemic saw older workers leave the workforce in droves and many reassessed their priorities in this time. For example, according to the ONS the majority of older workers who would consider returning to work would like to return on a part-time basis (69%), highlighting the importance of flexible working for this generation.

As such, its vital employers create an environment that’s receptive and inclusive for our older generations. If employers can combine the skills and experience of our older workers and provide retraining and upskilling opportunities for them, we have a real opportunity to harness a huge pool of talent and unlock their hidden potential which is currently being wasted.

DC: As organisations are going to have to engage with different generations, from Gen Z to Baby Boomers what issues do you envisage employers facing?

KD: With the new world of work changing the way that employees work and interact, employers must consider how they can create an inclusive workforce that caters to the needs of all generations. Whether that be younger generations, working parents, older workers or others, there is a real need for employers to be in tune with the needs of their entire workforce and respond accordingly. For employers to tackle these issues they should look to provide more flexibility to work patterns, ensure they use effective communication methods between different employees and regularly keep in touch with all employees to hear their thoughts and any issues or concerns that they have.

DC: How do you think the new flexibility in working patterns and place of work (hybrid/remote/office) will aid the integration of different groups in organisations and enhance their skills’ base?

KD: The transition to hybrid models has allowed for greater flexibility in how, and where, we work. Allowing people to work from home sometimes, or all of the time, means employers can recruit people from all over the UK and beyond, since their hiring ability is not restricted by geography. In addition, flexibility allows groups often excluded from the workplace to access roles they previously may not have been able to. According to the ONS, 43% of people with a disability are economically inactive, alongside 26% of working age women, highlighting the breadth of untapped talent in the UK that flexible working can allow us to better access.

The bottom line is that flexibility allows recruiters to hire a more diverse pool of people, with different experiences and skills to share. Not only will this contribute to more innovative businesses, but it will also support the UK’s mission to level up.

In addition, a more flexible workplace provides employers with a real opportunity to reform their training provision to deliver learning in a way that suits people, regardless of their age or level, and allows them to consume information and learning in a way that they want – whether that’s digitally enabled, more flexible or through bite-sized chunks. Allowing employees to dip in and out of training so that they can ‘top-up’ skills throughout their lives will help lifelong learning become the bedrock of our new education system – and allow employers to harness the full potential of their employees across their lives.


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