In a rapidly changing world, access to education and learning throughout life is critical to increasing both productivity and opportunity across the UK.
We all deserve the opportunity to gain new skills that can support us into good, fulfilling employment that reflects the needs of the economy. Effective skills systems improve people’s wellbeing and their future prospects in life, and can be an effective way to fight inequality, poverty and economic insecurity.
Some of the essential skills that are likely to be more in demand in the future are creativity, critical thinking, innovation skills and the ability to solve complex problems.
Local jobs don’t help local people if they don’t have the right skills
We must keep in mind that creating jobs and opportunities can boost the economy, but if local people do not have the skills and training to match then it isn’t likely to benefit those people in terms of inequality and social mobility.
Technological change risks skills shortages in the economy, particularly at the local level. But new technology also brings the opportunity to support deprived areas by giving local people skills to carry out the new jobs of the future created by tech.
The regeneration of Stratford in East London is a good example of the mismatch that can happen.
Stratford has been recognised as a deprived area for many years. As a result of the 2012 London Olympic the area secured vast amounts of investment to develop new expensive high-rise buildings, transport networks, and one of the biggest indoor shopping halls in the country - containing hundreds of shops and thousands of work opportunities.
Stratford has now become a bustling hub for shoppers and tourists alike. The burgeoning International Quarter will host organisations such as Unicef, the British Council, and the V&A East. Despite all these opportunities, there remains in Newham high levels of long-term unemployment, deprivation and poverty. In total, there are 72,100 working-age residents in Newham (the borough that Stratford is in) who are workless, 44% of the working age population.
One of the barriers facing the community is people’s inability to offer the exact skills that a changing labour market demands. Other barriers can include a lack of enough suitable jobs, and whether local employers’ attitudes or recruitment processes disadvantage local workless groups.
As a result, the best jobs are taken up by people who commune from outside of the Borough. The opportunity to support Newham residents, at all stages of their lives, was not taken. Investing in lifelong learning in Stratford, and across the country, would help local people to benefit from the new investment and would play a significant role in contributing to a more inclusive type of economic growth.
Lifelong learning is good for people and the economy
The UK’s lifelong learning sector is behind other OECD countries and lacks strategic investment.
A recent RSA report, in partnership with FETL and WorlkdSkills UK, explored the important role of Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET).
Lifelong learning not only helps people get into the labour market and get on in the labour market, it also creates opportunities for people who have been held back by social inequality.
And it’s good for the economy too. Evidence cited in the report suggests that that improving or boosting the skills of the least qualified people in society is a policy with one of the highest returns to productivity and growth. This can be fully funded formal qualification trainings paid by the government, or informal highly skill training paid by employers.
While the approach we have taken to skills has left the UK behind other OECD countries, there is nevertheless is real potential for change in the growing cross-party policy focus on technical skills. If that commitment is backed up by the sort of strategic infrastructure and investment that has seen countries such as Switzerland excel, we may yet achieve our potential.