17 January 2018 | By David Sproul Community

Power Up: Challenging traditional career paths

The rise of technology means employers and workers have to be more flexible

Knowledge, it has been said, is power. But as technology becomes ever more sophisticated, we will need more than knowledge to succeed in this rapidly changing world of work.

An ability to apply knowledge in different contexts and adapt skills across jobs and industries will be essential for business. Moreover, it will be crucial if our country is to increase productivity, reduce regional inequality and unleash the economic potential of its workers.

The pace and impact of technology on jobs and the workplace is a familiar theme. And while the rhetoric has so far focused on doom and gloom – mass unemployment, growing inequality and increasing regional disparities – the UK labour market tells us a different story. It has a strong record of adaptability in response to technological change – with the number of jobs rising by over three million since 2001.

I’m confident that such progress can continue, but only if the UK’s workforce is even more flexible in responding to the impact of technology and the changing needs of employers.

The value of transferable skills

The challenges are clear. Businesses are wrestling with the question of how to balance responsibility to workers with the opportunities provided by investment in technology while dealing with growing competitive pressures. Workers recognise their jobs could be affected by automation but struggle to know how best to respond. And the UK government needs to improve productivity and stimulate corporate innovation, which is so far failing to match the country’s thriving start-up scene and world class universities.

The good news is that while technology will undoubtedly change the role of the workforce, our research shows there is one constant: the unique value of transferable, ‘human’ skills. This research is the third part of our Power Up series, which explores the challenges and opportunities facing UK business and government. We found that workers with the strongest transferable talents, such as analytical, communication and strategic skills, have proven most resilient to economic shocks and automation.

Indeed, job growth in the UK since the turn of the century has been driven overwhelmingly by an expansion in those occupations with the strongest transferable human skills (machines can’t yet replace creativity, collaboration and cognitive thinking). The top 20 per cent of jobs using such skills accounted for over half of new jobs created, while the roles with the least transferable skills remain vulnerable: 44 per cent of UK occupations (employing 10.8 million people), have been in decline from 2001 to 2016.

Improving career paths

To remain competitive amid rapid advances in technology, businesses therefore need a workforce with the three Cs: creativity, collaboration and cognitive thinking. Companies could benefit from a wider pool of talent if they adjust their recruitment processes to be more open-minded to identify these characteristics, and improve support for workers who are making transitions between industries and roles. As Amanda Mackenzie, chief executive of Business in the Community, points out in our research, “businesses must respond by creating a culture of lifelong learning”.

We in business need to challenge the preconceptions about traditional career pathways based on academic achievement and expertise alone. Successful transition programmes already exist in some areas such as the military, but we need to expand such programmes to other industries.

I believe that creating and improving career pathways for workers will have significant benefits for social mobility, opening up greater choice for workers throughout their lifetime.

Our response to this issue has been to launch a social impact ambition, One Million Futures, which aims to support one million people in the UK over five years. We’re helping over 50 society partners to improve education, skills and employability. This includes our work with Teach First, whose mission is to tackle education inequality. In the words of Teach First CEO, Russell Hobby, “helping young people prepare for the world of work is a partnership between schools and business”.

But this is also a public policy issue. The government’s role will be to ensure it fulfils its Industrial Strategy commitments – including addressing regional productivity disparities by seeding growth industries in different regions and boosting workplace training. Our research shows the average level of skills in the workforce is relatively consistent across regions so we can be optimistic that increasing collaboration between business and educators, and investment in lifelong training will go some way towards tackling regional inequalities.

Recognising the untapped potential of transferable skills across all sections of the workforce can help improve worker mobility between jobs and regions. This will, I believe, provide an opportunity to unlock significant economic and social benefits, helping spur inclusive growth and maintaining the UK’s attractions to the top businesses and talent alike.


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