21st Century skills urgently required

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UrgentIt's high time we stopped talking about the impending skills gap and took preventative action, says Pablo Lloyd, who makes an impassioned plea for 21st century methods of training and education to create a skilled, valuable workforce.

The Leitch report published more than a year ago, raised the bar and told us how much we would suffer, economically and socially, in 2020 if we carried on as we are: five million people not just unemployed but unemployable. We have now spent one of those precious 13 years thinking about this problem and planning the solutions – with only 12 years left, it is high time for action.

"People without qualifications should be a high priority for the FE system, but they are not. Time is running out for them. These are the same people that Leitch predicted will have no possibility of work in 2020."

Millions of people have used the learndirect careers advice service, and they regularly tell us you have to up-skill to stand still. Every office worker knows that if you can't use email, websearch or basic word processing you can't do your job. That wasn't true 12 years ago, when email and the internet were just starting up. Firefighters now know how to talk their way into a house, to help people prevent fires and fit fire alarms. Not that long ago, their main job was to break into people's houses and put fires out. They need to know how to do that too, but the skills a firefighter requires are now much broader than before.

So what are we doing for people without the skills they need? We're helping job seekers get into mostly low-paid work. We are all but ignoring those already in low-paid work. And between us, employers and government, we're training up those in better paid work. People without qualifications should be a high priority for the FE system, but they are not. Time is running out for them. These are the same people that Leitch predicted will have no possibility of work in 2020. Yes, we are investing in people without level 2 qualifications, but within that, the people with no qualifications and those in low-paid work are not getting enough attention from government and employers.

The other message from our clients is that they need help with their career decisions. People typically have eight to ten jobs in their career and we can expect that to increase as people have longer working lives and the job market is more affected by global changes.

The good news is we know how to help people up-skill and make good career decisions. There are signs of government priorities moving in the right direction: an advancement and careers service for everyone to make good career decisions, more priority for people with very low basic skills - for example, entry level numeracy and reform of the 16 hour rule for the unemployed. These are steps in the right direction. But resources are being spread across a very broad range of needs, so it remains to be seen if these priorities will hold up in the long-term.

The age of broad choice

A hundred years ago the industrial model of production lines, mass producing standard cans, cars and components was at its height. In 1908 the Ford Model T started in production, no choice of colour, no choice of engine, no choice of anything. High quality goods were only available to the very rich. Now, high quality and broad choice are available to ordinary people. Cars, PCs, nappies and milk are available in unprecedented variations: organic, semi-skimmed, bio-degradable, favourite cartoon character, just name your preference and choose your extras.

"Most education and training services have not moved into the 21st century. To do so would mean that everyone could get all their training and skills fully tailored to their needs and personal learning style."

However, most education and training services have not moved into the 21st century. To do so would mean that everyone could get all their training and skills fully tailored to their needs and personal learning style. People without skills, or busy with family or work commitments, or working in a small business, would get personalised, tailored skills development.

Despite the failure of many commercial elearning initiatives in the 1990s, the success of learndirect in helping more than two million clients to progress, many with very low skills, is an example of truly 21st century learning.

Evaluators say 'it is private and safe and gives the learner control', clients say 'it removes the fear of failure' and 'I can learn during work breaks and at the weekend'. It also delivers good success and achievement rates. With a quarter of all adult basic skills achievements delivered in this way, it points the way for new technology to reach more people and to diversify choice in a demand-led market.

Look out for next generation technology too: the use of mlearning to reach customers on mobile devices; the use of Web 2.0 where web-based communities and wikis allow people to generate their own content and learn from each other. This is about new and better ways of learning using technology, not about technology itself. Tutor and learner support are increasingly adapting to support web resources, not the other way round.

Ambitions for the skills of our 21st century workforce are high. Let’s have 21st century methods of training and education so everyone can improve their skills and their value to society.

Pablo Lloyd is the deputy chief executive of Ufi.

About Ufi and Learndirect

The concept of a university for industry led to the creation of Ufi in 1998. Ufi, the government funded organisation behind learndirect, has a mission to use technology to transform the skills and employability of the working population, in order to improve the UK’s productivity.

Improving skills is key to enabling individuals, businesses and communities to fulfil their potential, and in improving economic prosperity and social mobility across the UK as a whole. Through learndirect, Ufi makes a leading contribution in the drive to build skills, and in turn to build success on a personal, corporate and national level.

Since 2000, more than two million learners have gained new skills with learndirect. Around 200,000 businesses have used learndirect to improve the skills of their workforce, and more than 58 million advice sessions have been provided through the online and telephone advice services.

For more information go to www.ufi.com

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