With the triple threat of automation, Artificial Intelligence and algorithms threatening to change the employment landscape beyond recognition, it is has never been more important to discuss what skills are needed to not simply survive, but thrive, in the future of work.
Having a skilled workforce seems a no-brainer. No government has ever complained about having too many skilled people in its population. No company in their right mind spends their learning and development (L&D) budget on making their teams less skilled. No individual has actively tried to deskill themselves in pursuit of increased professional success.
So why are there still skills gaps? Why is productivity so low? Why is the ‘triple threat’ having the impact it is? And why is the UK economy faltering? We at Debate Mate would argue that it’s because schools, businesses and wider society have historically struggled to address skills development in a sensible and holistic way.
Each year, a new report finds that the gap in digital skills could cost the UK billions of pounds. The CBI and Tata Consultancy Services’ own report Delivering Skills for the New Economy puts the figure at £63bn. Simultaneously ‘soft skills’ are reported to be worth £88bn to the UK economy, and this is set to rise to £125bn by 2025.
At the same time, UK business spends £44.2bn on training for its employees. Data for how this is broken down is hard to find, but we bet that very little is spent on training that combines digital and soft skills in a complementary, joined-up way.
This goes to the heart of the problem – that schools, businesses and society have been oscillating between the two for nearly two decades. Upskilling in one area at the expense of the other does the recipient of the training a disservice, whether a school student, employee or citizen. Instead they should be part of a combined approach.
Focusing on human skills
At Debate Mate we focus predominantly on developing key human skills in people from the classroom to the boardroom. Founded in 2008 by Margaret McCabe, a barrister by profession, Debate Mate started life as a charity, recruiting and training university students to set up and run after school debate clubs in areas of high child poverty. Fast forward a decade, and it’s now a social business that teaches employability skills through debating to students, teachers and professionals across the world.
Since we started, we’ve worked with nearly 100,000 young people in 40 countries, and count SMEs from across the UK and many of the FTSE 100 among our corporate clients. The money we generate from our commercial work supports the sustainability and growth of our charitable work.
Margaret’s social mobility mission has collided with the awareness and acceleration of the rise of the robots and the threat posed by automation. This means that the world has woken up to the need to ensure that we focus on what only humans can do – think critically and creatively, work strategically in a team, be empathetic and compassionate, and communicate with confidence.
But it wasn’t always the case the people understood the value of these skills and character attributes. In the early stages, it was very difficult to convince schools to adopt Debate Mate. Debating was seen as elitist (which it was!) and students, teachers and headteachers didn’t necessarily feel that it was for them. This ‘not for us’ culture was a challenge to overcome – which we confronted by making the workload for the teachers minimal, making the programme totally free, by recruiting the very best mentors and, most importantly, by rebranding debating as cool and something that could be enjoyed by everyone, everywhere.
This meant, and continues to mean, that we can give the skills needed to succeed to those that need them the most. With the onset of Brexit, the climate emergency, rapid automation, tuition fees and a whole host of other scary issues suffocating an entire generation of young people, they need every chance to succeed – and crucially the confidence to believe that they can.
If you want to do more to prepare the workforce of today and tomorrow to succeed in the future of work, get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org.