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Blog: The UK Skills Gap and Lifelong Learning

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It is undeniably clear that the nature of how many of us work has changed – and will continue to do so. We are now working alongside artificial intelligences (AI), working longer into what was previously thought of as ‘retirement age’ and moving between different roles and businesses at a more rapid pace.

Organisations are faced with an ever increasing need to acknowledge and bridge current skills gaps that have widened, as well as future gaps that will surely emerge. Giving people access to the skills and experience needed to maintain a good level of job mobility will ensure that individuals can achieve their goals, and organisations can continue to grow their talent pools over the coming years.

The world of work has changed

The World Economic Forum estimates that by 2025, 90% of jobs will require digital skills. The body also believes that 65% of children entering primary school now will work in jobs that don’t even exist yet. Many of us will already have seen AI and other forms of intelligent automation enter our workplaces (and personal lives) and will have come to understand the incredible benefits to efficiency, productivity and profitability that these technologies offer.

Much has been said in the media about the so-called ‘rise of the machines’, but there seems to be a greater issue arising. CEOs have grown increasingly worried about the availability of key skills and many are placing the sourcing of ‘human capital’ as a top business priority. The fast-changing and highly-competitive nature of today’s markets, in which robots are able to cover labour-intensive and routine roles, mean that skilled employees are more valuable than ever.

The very nature of work has also evolved, with markets only just beginning to understand the reality of increased longevity in the general population with children born in affluent countries now expected to have careers spanning 60-70 years. If we also consider the fact that employees are also now more likely to move to different positions (the average tenure of a job now being around 4.5 years), we can see that people entering the workforce today will be working for a lot of different employers throughout their lifetime.

The question remains, however, just how do businesses ensure their staff are appropriately trained and set on a path to individual, organisational and wider socio-economic success?

Acknowledgement and adaptation

The first step on the road to success is identifying and acknowledging new ways of working and learning to adapt to them. How organisations do that is by fostering the right will, developing appropriate skills and doing this with a certain degree of speed.

‘Will’ is incredibly important to forward-thinking organisations. It is the product of desire and tenacity, as well as evidence of the firm’s appetite to advance with the times. Executives and boards should be asking themselves whether they have the collective nerve to try new things. Disruption seems to be the way of the future, and organisations will have to adapt in order to take advantage of the opportunities available.

Secondly, firms will have to ensure that their employees are continuously and consistently developing new skills; skills that are aligned to business objectives. The pace of change is not going to relent any time soon, so businesses will need to do this with a constant mindfulness and with great efficiency.

Though it is difficult to ensure that every individual adopts new skills and embraces change at an increased speed, working with a specialised and expert trainer will help deliver consistent and effective outcomes for your staff.

‘Soft’, or ‘transferable’, skills will actually be those most in demand going forward. On average, according to 2018 research by LiveCareer, employers now list five soft skills on their job advertisements. Research conducted by Harvard University, the Carnegie Foundation and Stanford Research Institute also found that 85 percent of job success is related to well-developed soft skills.

While we should certainly not understate the importance of ‘hard’ or technical skills, the fact that these technical skills now have such a short half-life (due to the sheer rate of technological change) means that the concept of a ‘single career’ employee is certainly on its way to being outdated.

It is in the here and now that we should be focused on fostering skills such as communication, active listening, problem solving, creativity, persuasiveness and empathy in employees. These skills better enable job mobility, allowing employees to transition easily to new roles, and remain agile and competitive in a fast-paced, globalised job market. 

The value of talent management

To bridge current and future skills gaps, organisations should consider implementing a corporate talent strategy – one based upon three core concepts:

  • Acquisition
  • Development
  • Management

A talent strategy should cover all the above key stages in an employee’s life cycle with equal attention.

Overall, organisations need to promote the concept of lifelong learning. Employees need to be encouraged to be curious and to ask the questions that will allow them to learn and grow organically and at the point of need.

Finally, lifelong learning should be engaging and enjoyable. People will generally want to learn more if they find the experience enjoyable. Using appropriate learning technologies, such as video, simulations or even augmented / virtual reality – in combination with more traditional modes of learning, such as workshop activity – will enable employees to learn more effectively.

Employees with a healthy bank of soft and transferable skills to draw upon will be those most able to align to new ways of working, be agile within a competitive marketplace and help organisations reach their goals while working towards their own. Indeed, it will be this attitude that better equips firms to survive and thrive.

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