Johnson vs Starmer – The skills crisis and technology

Josh Smith, Public Affairs Officer

The UK is facing a skills crisis and the two major political parties have noticed.

Both the Labour Party and the Conservative Party have spent the last two weeks outlining their policies to address temporary and long-term skills shortages. However, despite understanding the need to address the issue there is insufficient and unbalanced understanding of the role of adult vocational education and innovative technology.  While Boris Johnson MP is keen to make addressing the skills crisis a core part of his government’s mission, it is Sir Keir Starmer MP who appears to have the more nuanced understanding of the role of technology.

At the Conservative conference, the headline message from Mr Johnson’s conference speech was “skills, skills, skills”.  Not a new focus, but one with a newly centralised position at the core of the Conservatives’ agenda for levelling up and addressing the impact of Covid-19.  Unfortunately for those of us looking for more detail, it was not to be found within the Prime Minister’s speech.  In Nadhim Zahawi’s speech he did little to offer any more detail of what the Government is doing to address skill gaps or how it understands the role of vocational education and technology in that goal. 

At the Conservative conference, the headline message from Mr Johnson’s conference speech was “skills, skills, skills”.

The Government supports some great programmes, like the EdTech demonstrators in schools and colleges, but it needs to do more to ensure that the right funding and policies are in place to support FE institutions and businesses in adopting innovative technology (VocTech) throughout vocational education, if it is to successfully tackle the skills crisis.

Sir Keir started the education section of his conference speech by not quite being able to bring himself to repeat Blair’s famous triad, “Education is so important I am tempted to say it three times.” But what Sir Keir’s speech did, that Mr Johnson’s did not, was offer a hint at the Labour Party’s positive understanding of what is needed to address current and future skills shortages.

delightful to hear Sir Keir speaking about how “in education we can work by the light of new technology” and referencing the role of “machine learning …. artificial intelligence … [and] cloud computing” in teaching.

At Ufi, we know that innovative technology has a critical role to play in a high-quality education.  What we call VocTech allows adult vocational education to be more effective, flexible, accessible and popular with students.  It was therefore delightful to hear Sir Keir speaking about how “in education we can work by the light of new technology” and referencing the role of “machine learning …. artificial intelligence … [and] cloud computing” in teaching.

While the party leaders are never going to be able to satisfy all our wishes in a conference speech it was gratifying to see the keen focus both leaders had on the skills crisis and in particular the understanding Sir Keir showed for the role of technology in tackling it.  After all, if the UK is to succeed in a post-Covid and post-Brexit world, we will need to ensure we are using every innovative tool available to give people the skills they need for work.