Re-skilling for the future – where are we now?

In 2020, 11 million people in the UK were furloughed, and around 800 000 more lost their jobs, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

14 October 2021

Now, recovering and rebuilding, we’re confronted by various other factors that continue to determine the path for our economy’s success. These factors include:

  • Brexit
  • Artificial intelligence and digital transformation
  • Evolving consumer and employee expectations
  • Four-generation workforce
  • Increased turnover of skills required

As observed in the City & Guilds Skills Index 2021 report, “The skills that businesses and people need are continuing to evolve at an even faster pace than before, whilst people will stay in the workforce for ever-longer periods. We urgently need to match up skills supply to demand and keep people’s skills current throughout potentially five-decade  careers if we’re to solve the UK’s productivity crisis for good.”

City & Guilds published a report, compiled in conjunction with Emsi and British Chambers of Commerce, which revealed that young people are emerging from an outdated education system, equipped with outdated skills, and entering unprepared into fast-progressing workplaces.

A glance into survey results demonstrates the need to address the longevity of skills and equipping people with the right skills for today’s day and age:

Employee challenges

re-skilling stat Icon 61%61% of survey respondents say that they don’t feel equipped with the skills they will need in the next five years.

re-skilling stat Icon 64%64% have not received training in the past year, while 30% have not received training in the last 5 years. This is a pre-COVID condition.

re-skilling stat Icon 19%Only 19% claim that their bachelor’s degree has been useful; only 10% claim that their A-levels have been useful.

Employer challenges

re-skilling stat Icon 53%53% of businesses confirm that they need industry-specific skills from employees in the future.

re-skilling stat Icon 56%56% experience hindrances to meeting their skills and talent requirements during the recruitment process.

re-skilling stat Icon 28%28% of these companies say this is because skills of school-leavers do not match their business needs.

re-skilling stat Icon 42%Two in five (42%) employers plan to invest in training and development to confront skills gaps, and more than a third (36%) intend to recruit apprentices or trainees.

re-skilling stat Icon 20%A fifth (20%) of employers intend to reskill or move staff from different departments, while only 14% intend to recruit or re-train older workers.

Exploring the “half-life of skills” – what does it mean?

What’s become more apparent than ever before is that the top emerging professions require employees to demonstrate fast-paced adaptability and a willingness to learn and develop new skills, almost constantly. The leading emerging professional clusters identified in 2020 indicate at a mere glance why this is the case – they are fast-growing as well as fast-advancing fields:

  • AI and data science
  • Engineering and cloud computing
  • Product development
  • Care economy
  • Green economy
  • Sales, marketing and content

Research suggests that presently, skills possess a “half-life” of approximately five years, after which time, the skill may start to become redundant unless updated. Technical skills and job-specific skills such as those needed for the above emerging professions, for example, are more likely to have a shorter shelf-life of about two and a half years.

To illustrate the half-life of skills, CLO Magazine categorises them as follows:

  1. Perishable skills – half-life of less than 2.5 years (predominantly technology skills, or specialized skills, tools and policies that are updated frequently)
  2. Semi-durable skills – half-life of 2.5 - 7.5 years (core fields with a fixed foundation of knowledge from which field-specific technologies, processes and tools arise)
  3. Durable skills – half-life that exceeds 7.5 years (most of our soft skills fall within this category, those which are in fact foundational in nature)

As uncovered in the Skills Index 2021 report, when asked what skills would be needed most over the next 3 years, 53% of businesses indicated that their greatest need would be technical and job-specific skills – concluding that more than half of businesses are, or expect to be, short on their most critical competencies required for day-to-day business production.

Adult learning as a necessary solution

According to the CEO of City & Guilds, Kirstie Donnelly, employers and the UK government will need a change in mindset regarding skills: “It is no longer possible to leave full-time education at 18 or 21 and never reskill again. We will require people and businesses to upskill and reskill throughout their working lives. It’s clear that employers and employees may both struggle to keep pace with the rapid changes in skills needs being driven by factors such as AI and the move to net zero.”

It’s not all doom and gloom.

Although the playing field has changed dramatically in the UK – and globally – opportunities are available for those who possess a strong set of ‘durable’ skills and a willingness to reskill as necessary for those opportunities. Many who are currently faced with job displacement still possess experience, knowledge and skills that are transferable to other industries.

While the aging workforce, in particular, may be challenged by newer, more technical skills required on-the-job, this is prime territory for young professionals to take advantage of the opportunities being presented. This is especially true within the health and social care, and construction industries, where skills requirements tend to advance at a fast pace.

This should not leave more experienced workers high and dry. With their decades of working in industry and soft skills refined by years in the workplace, adult  professionals are valuable, and capable, especially when given the opportunity to update their skills through adult learning.

To facilitate this type of adult learning and enable UK’s economic production to recover, the Adult Education Budget (AEB) currently funds (fully or partially) a wide selection of qualifications, from a budget of £1 billion per year. Adults aged 19 years and above are encouraged to explore the possibilities both within their fields of training and experience, as well as new paths into industries that are currently faced with a skills crisis. 

According to the City & Guilds Skills Index 2021 report, the top skills in demand include nursing, mental health, personal care support, pharmaceuticals and learning disabilities support. The top certified skills in demand include Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, Nurse Practitioner, Construction Skills Certificate Scheme, Clinical Nurse Specialists, Certified Plant Engineer, Core Domestic Gas Safety. These statistics reveal that the health and social care, and construction industries are rich in opportunity.

Read the Skills Index 2021 report

To find out more about City & Guilds AEB-funded qualifications and how they support individual learners to gain new skills to support their career development or a career change, or to improve progression opportunities in their current job role.

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