10 November 2020

Adapting to the emerging future through continuous learning: What knowledge, skills and capabilities do we need? How do we deliver with substance? Session 3

Chair: Mr Emerson Csorba

On 10 November, Ditchley convened a Transatlantic group as part of its work on continuous learning and the renewal of democracies. The main takeaways from this session were as follows: 

Front line jobs have become more prestigious. The pandemic appears to have changed public perceptions of the value of front-line jobs.  Course applications for nursing, paramedic roles, and teachers have increased very significantly in recent months. There is a ‘COVID halo ’effect in which public appreciation of those in the front-line has conferred (at least in the short-term) greater value and prestige to these roles. At the same time, public sector jobs may be seen as a safer bet at a time of high unemployment.   

Labour markets: migration and trade. An 80,000 person shortfall in nursing staff exists (despite an increase in course applications) and recruitment and retention is a persistent problem for parts of the UK. There is a challenge for recruiters to tap into a local skills market and to do so quickly. A reduced inflow of nursing skills from abroad with new migration restrictions increases a need for more responsive local labour markets.  Migration and trade are structural issues which are affecting labour markets. Reduction in migration and incoming skills must mean greater investment in training at home.

Mandatory training and continuous learning. At a time of crisis and financial squeeze, training and development budgets are the first to be cut. The Apprenticeship Levy designed to encourage additional training and to subsidize training in smaller companies has revealed entrenched private sector resistance to investment in training. A change in company attitude is needed. Will we see mandatory training requirements for companies and demand for individuals to evidence their continuous learning?  

Labour market intelligence for all. Information about future skills demand is not easily available for individuals, educational institutions or employers. Careers Advice in schools is notoriously hit and miss. State schools are not well orientated to emerging sectors of the economy. Most significantly, systematic analysis of the labour market and labour market intelligence is not available to most people especially in ways that could inform individual decision-making.  

There has been a proliferation of online short courses, many of them free. They depend upon individuals having good internet and broadband access and crucially information and guidance on where to invest time and energy.  

Emerging demand. Uncertainty about the future is undeniable but the information that is available drawn from platforms such LinkedIn (Microsoft) indicate employment demand in digital skills (process automation, cloud and data roles, cybersecurity) and soft skills (communication, team work, critical thinking). Demand for digital skills is set to increase significantly by 2025.  The scale of job displacement by technology is not yet well understood. The threat is known but the transition may have costs for individuals whose existing skills don’t fit. Such a threat could persist for a generation or more affecting those already at most disadvantage. Techno-inequalities brought about by the impact of digitalisation on societies is the subject for research.  

Managing the transition. How education systems adjust and respond to changes in the employment market is not well understood. Concern was raised about the possible bifurcation between ‘job ready’ education and ‘higher calling’ education. The Further Education sector in the UK was described as weakened after decades of underinvestment. History has shown us that the educational response to industrial and manufacture decline in the UK was not strong.  

Educational institutions had not played a major role in helping communities who had previously been able to anticipate futures as mine or steel workers to find new forms of employment. Such roles were bound up with communities, identities and geography. Education now has a role to play in rebalancing regional difference. 

How are educational institutions adjusting? Will Higher Education pivot ever more towards employability? Are the post 92 universities better placed to respond to changing employment needs? Are we seeing changes in recruitment practices in major corporations and employers to attract diverse skills but also because traditional channels from selective universities are no longer delivering graduates who have the skills they now need?

We acknowledged that the conversation about new knowledge, skills, capabilities and the ways they are delivered has been repeated many times over the last five years. We know that the mix of skills within the labour market will be different in five years’-time and again in ten years.  There is some evidence that what society values is changing: the roles that conferred social status may also be changing. We were urged to hold on to the intrinsic value of learning and its contribution to character formation.

The dichotomy between education for competitiveness or for building character may be false, but labour market intelligence cannot be left as a private good, available only to those with special access. How can information to inform our continuous learning be made more open? 

In addition to Emerson Csorba and Liz Greenhalgh from Ditchley, participants in this session included: 

Arjun Gupta, Director of Advisory Corporation, a specialty corporate development advisory firm that helps clients address critical performance issues and access new markets. 
Kenny Imafidon, co-founder & Managing Director of ClearView Research Ltd, a leading-edge research company, who specialise in research focussing on young people and social impact evaluation. 
Ken Mayhew Emeritus Professor of Education and Economic Performance at Oxford University.   
Rajay Naik, Chief Executive Officer of Skilled Education, the enabler of online degrees and digital skills courses for universities and companies.  
Ninjeri Pandit, Director of the Office of the NHS Chairs, Chief Executive and Chief Operating Officer at NHS England and NHS Improvement, which leads the NHS’ work nationally to improve health and ensure high quality care for all.  
Jeffrey Phillips, policy director of the Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands.   
Vanessa Wilson, Chief Executive of University Alliance a mission group for professional and technical universities in the UK.