Future-proofing skills development

How new technical and vocational learning pathways can equip post-16s job seekers and plug the gaping skills gap

As headlines shout about shortages of HGV drivers, hospitality staff, social care and construction workers, along with short-term visa sticking plasters to ‘fix’ the problem, it’s abundantly clear to industry experts and post-16 education professionals alike that the skills crisis has roots far deeper than the economic effects of the pandemic and the ongoing post-Brexit shocks to the labour market.

McKinsey reported in early 2020 that a sobering 87% of companies globally are either currently facing skills gaps or expect gaps to emerge in the next five years. Almost two years on, this is becoming more starkly apparent. There is a massive and growing skills gap and it’s coinciding with huge changes in the skills and expertise that are needed.

In the longer term, provable, recognisable technical and vocational skills are becoming ever more vital, both for those seeking work (or better work) and the companies looking for relevant employees. The HGV driver issue hasn’t been a shortage of workers, it’s been a shortage of suitably skilled workers, and this offers a portent of much greater disruption in the future, particularly as automation and other changes to the nature of work posed by the fourth industrial revolution take hold.

In collaboration with Emerge, Coursera, Ufi and Filtered, and based on extensive market research and interviews with industry experts, we've published a substantial paper that examines how we can develop the necessary skills and establish new pathways into jobs.

Emerge paper cover image

We look at the need for an education system that creates learning pathways for young people to acquire in-demand technical and vocational skills so that they can move into well-paid, sustainable roles. And we look at upskilling and reskilling – learning pathways for adults to create and maintain skills that are relevant to their careers and the companies they work in, including skills we have not yet even thought of.

Our report identifies three requirements for future pathways. They must be:

  • data driven, for accurate identification of skills gaps and the learning pathways needed
  • learner centric, creating flexible, personalised training designed specifically for adults
  • highly scalable, using the power of technology to reach larger numbers of learners

We have also identified four specific technology-enabled models for developing skills and future pathways to provide post-16 learners with the skills and support to secure a well-paid job in a high-growth industry:

  • Industry certification platforms, such as Coursera for Business, which has built a series of Academies in skill areas required to solve common challenges experienced by organisations upskilling for digital transformation, such as finance, marketing, software, cloud and IT, data and analytics, and leadership.
  • Bootcamps, such as Epicode School, which offers full-time online courses in full-stack, front-end and back-end web development over 12 weeks.
  • Staffing companies, such as Revature, which selects graduates from tech and non-tech backgrounds for a talent development programme that recruits, trains and places experienced software developers.
  • Employer-funded learning, such as Academy, which scales insights from Ashley Ramrachia’s time at The Hut Group, where he pioneered a model hiring high-potential but inexperienced graduates and training them in-house to create an accelerated pipeline of future leaders.

Crucially, these models all use data-driven insights and personalised learning experiences to scale their reach and impact, opening pathways to jobs for groups of post-16 learners who have traditionally struggled to access higher education.

This is critical because, as Rebecca Garrod-Waters, Chief Executive Officer of Ufi explains:

“If we are seeking to use tech to truly impact adult vocational skills from the perspective of increased opportunity, equity and parity, then we must start from the point of the learner. This means new ways of looking at education pathways, moving away from the course-led focus, and a focus on the reasons why people learn new skills – and it means looking at ways tech can support personalisation and increase the scale of access and opportunity.”

Can these models scale up? Nic Newman, Partner at Emerge, thinks it is possible – but it requires action from policymakers, educational organisations and employers. Nic says that the practical recommendations laid out are hard hitting, but set out the concrete next steps each of these groups needs to take.

For example, we ask employers to stop asking for CVs and instead ask candidates for portfolios, to move the focus away from qualifications and towards competencies. Job descriptions should be compiled in terms of skills, not more general knowledge areas or experience. Equally, educational organisations need to wake up to microcredentials, with faculties identifying industry relevant credentials aligned to existing learning content for every course.

And everyone involved in post-16 learning and skills pathways needs to commit to a data-driven culture in which we all synthesise better the valuable data on people, learning content, skills, qualifications and much more that is currently siloed, unloved and unused. As Marc Zao-Sanders, CEO of Filtered, urges “the problem is difficult but the prize is huge”.