UK needs ‘renewed focus on digital skills and innovation’ for post-COVID recovery – report

A study by the Workplace Training and Development Commission into what UK businesses want from adult skills training has highlighted a number of issues in provision, including inflexibility, cost and complexity

A major report into the state of adult skills training provision across the UK has called for a major system reboot, stating that the nation must adopt a “renewed focus on digital skills and innovation” to assist the economy’s post-COVID recovery.

Experts claim that a more “modular and agile” approach to training is needed to improve employee skills and boost workplace productivity.

The report follows a detailed 18-month study into what businesses require from staff training programmes, conducted by the Workplace Training and Development Commission (WTDC), established by the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) in partnership with job listings website Indeed. It is hoped that the findings will provide a blueprint that policymakers, trainers and companies can follow to reinvent a system which serves the needs of both businesses and employees.

The BCC was joined by hundreds of companies across a broad range of industries, along with colleges, universities, independent training providers, Local Enterprise Partnerships, and education sector experts, all of whom gave evidence to support the extensive study.

On top of identifying a number of challenges employers are forced to navigate in the current skills system – such as inflexibility, cost and complexity – the Commissioners lay out a series of recommendations to improve training quality and access for all, which will simultaneously bolster economic growth.

Hannah Essex, co-executive director of the BCC, and member of the Commission, commented on the findings, saying that “smaller businesses have struggled to navigate the skills system and get what they need, when they need it” for too long, claiming that an effort to put employers’ needs first would “transform the system for the better”.

“Apprenticeships and technical qualifications are highly valued by businesses across many sectors and are key to resolving some skills shortages,” added Essex. “But full qualifications are not always the right solution when it comes to wider adult workforce training.”

“A more locally integrated plan that flexes to the requirements of businesses not only benefits employers but it also helps people whose ambitions are to rise into higher-skilled, better paying jobs” – Pawel Adrjan, Indeed

Job posts on Indeed have soared 32% since the start of this year alone, currently standing at their highest level since March 2020 as the country emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic. The accelerated digital transition driven by the events of the last 12 months are reflected in the changing employment market, with listings for roles in software development, manufacturing, health and social care, and construction now comprising the greatest share of employment vacancies. Growing demand for workers with skills to suit these roles mean adult skills training must take priority in the labour market policy agenda.

“People have had to adapt since COVID-19 and our report shows that businesses seek similar flexibility when it comes to training,” said Pawel Adrjan, head of EMEA research at Indeed. “A more locally integrated plan that flexes to the requirements of businesses not only benefits employers but it also helps people whose ambitions are to rise into higher-skilled, better paying jobs.”

Among the report’s other recommendations are: 

  • Help for smaller firms to identify and invest in the skills needs of their workforce
  • More available bite-sized, flexible learning options that can support people already in work and help them gain new skills faster
  • A greater say for businesses on the schools training that is required at a local level
  • Better support for people to retrain and move into higher earning roles

The report will now be shared with government education departments, Chambers of Commerce, and key stakeholders in the skills training sector in the hopes it will drive positive change.

“The workplace is rapidly becoming more digital and automated, so businesses need more people with technical skills for these changing jobs” – Jane Boardman, WTDC

Jane Boardman, chair of the Commission, commented: “The problem of skills shortages has long hampered the UK economy, leaving employers struggling to fill vacancies and raise productivity. The workplace is rapidly becoming more digital and automated, so businesses need more people with technical skills for these changing jobs. But too often employers cannot access the training they need and, as a result, are spending less and less on training each year.

The impact of the pandemic has made investing in adult skills more important than ever.  Employers need a more joined-up and flexible system that can respond quickly to skills needs and opportunities,” added Boardman. 


In other news: The Glasgow Academy launches innovation fund for Scottish education


 

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