Plugging the skills gap with continuous learning

Written by Marc Zao-Sanders on 18 September 2014 in Features

We have a gap not only in the education curriculum, but also in workplace training solutions, Marc Zao-Sanders says

The end of the school summer holidays saw the arrival of new curriculum requirements for computing lessons, including the introduction of coding across all state primary and secondary schools. Designed to transform a new generation's prospects in the digital age, it has once again raised the issue of workplace-relevant education. With recent research from The Prince's Trust, HSBC, the CBI and Pearson demonstrating that UK employers are struggling to recruit employees with the right skills, it poses the question: what is our education system equipping students for?

As students face the daunting prospect of finding a job, joining hundreds of thousands of other young people competing for work, we are facing an unprecedented skills gap that must be addressed if we are to achieve economic prosperity. The CBI’s July survey in partnership with Pearson found that 61 per cent of companies are concerned about the resilience and self-management of school leavers and 33 per cent with their attitude to work. Almost half of businesses have now been forced to organise their own remedial training to tackle weaknesses in basic numeracy, literacy and IT for adult employees with more than a quarter running courses for school leavers

Recognising the ongoing skills gap amongst the UK workforce, MPs from the business select committee have also recently called for an urgent Government awareness campaign to support the improvement of the basic reading, writing and maths skills of adults because shortfalls abound and are undermining the economic performance of the country.  Initiating early stage assessment of the abilities of employees when they commence employment is one suggested solution.  While this approach drives awareness of current Government support available for training candidates in these disciplines, this suggestion does once again place a certain amount of the responsibility on employers to intervene with assessment of the candidate’s abilities and to address the skills issue by introducing them to training.

Having said that, given that most workers – 60 per cent in the UK’s growing knowledge-based economy – are office-based workers spending much of their time on a finite set of common, core activities such as email, meetings, word-processing, presentations, project management and so on, surely we should ensure the excellence of our current and future workforce in at least these skills. Training workers on how to perform these routine tasks more efficiently and effectively will have a huge impact on the overall strength of the company’s outputs and performance.

Laudable though the introduction of coding to the IT curriculum is, it is too much to expect the education system alone to prepare school-leavers for work and maintain that level of work-readiness. Enterprise and technology in particular evolve quickly so a big part of the challenge must be to ensure that workers remain skilled-up.

The provision of online learning tools should help employers to bridge the gap between school or university leavers and the workplace. However, most eLearning does not cater well to actual business needs; less than 18 per cent of corporate eLearning courses are in fact on topics specifically related to the learner’s job.

We have a gap not only in the education curriculum, but also in workplace training solutions.  Greater focus should be given to relevant, lifelong learning, rather than singular, isolated crash courses.  Without Government support, investing in training can be a substantial drain on a company’s resources.  Working smarter, to ensure that learning and development is tailored to meet the specific skills gaps employees have, or to build up skills in areas that the business specifically wants to grow into to remain competitive, will ensure the greatest return on investment for the both company and the learner.

Having a new generation of ‘work ready’ recruits will have a hugely positive impact on the economy, and competency-based training to ensure that workers remain skilled-up, on top of their game and confident in their ability to work for longer – especially as we face later retirement ages – will be fundamental to business productivity and economic prosperity.


About the author

Marc Zao-Sanders is co-founder of online learning specialists Filtered (  

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