The CBI’s new report Learning for life: funding world class adult education, based on McKinsey & Company analysis, found that 90% of the workforce will need to reskill by 2030 at a cost of £13bn a year. The report set the challenge for the UK to significantly increase investment in adult training and called for a partnership between business and government to deliver this.
But the labour market has now fundamentally changed, and COVID-19 is pushing firms to their financial limits. But this shouldn’t mean reskilling takes a backseat; estimates from recent survey data suggest that in the period between March and May, consumers and businesses leapt five years ahead in digital adoption. The UK must use this momentum to drive a national reskilling effort.
On the ground, we’re hearing from businesses that they remain committed to reskilling. There’s no doubt that HR functions have been particularly stretched this year – with new working practices, furloughing staff and rising mental health challenges changing the workplace practically overnight. But despite all this, firms are telling us that plugging their skills gaps remains a high priority.
Four key themes for business around reskilling
We spoke to some of our members from across the UK about reskilling and identified four key themes:
The need for new skills hasn’t changed, it’s just sped up
While it may feel like the pandemic is presenting an unrivalled challenge to the UK’s skills base, for many firms, reacting to the changing nature of work is part of a more gradual process. According to Sanjay Arora, Group Strategy Director at Arora Group, COVID-19 hasn’t triggered them to change this path radically. He did, however, recognise the need to move a bit faster than before.
Harry Hawes, Operations Director for UKFS Managed Services at professional services giant EY, agrees: “EY was able to avoid an operational sea change in reskilling, because we have the time and resource in the firm to be able to look ahead. Reskilling is an evolutionary change over time, and we started on this journey a few years ago.”
But not all firms are fortunate enough to be in the same position of EY, and for these organisations reskilling may be something that needs more of a cultural change. This was evident when we spoke to Joe Hedley, Assistant Director of Sales & Business Development at Northumbria University. Alongside their traditional role as a higher education institution, Northumbria University also provide consultancy services to a range of local firms. And many of their clients are now reaching out for help when it comes to reskilling, with many unsure where to start.
Boosting digital skills
The increasingly digital world has long presented challenges to the skills base of the UK workforce – across almost all businesses and sectors. Joe highlighted digital skills – specifically in terms of data analytics and cyber security – as one of the significant reskilling demands of employers they work with.
Sanjay also talked about the increasingly digital nature of the skills requirements in his business. The COVID-19 pandemic has meant Arora Group are looking at ways that technology can help their business, such as using AI to improve their customer service. Whilst the hotel sector hasn’t necessarily seen the large-scale digital disruption that other sectors have; it is certainly coming. As Sanjay put it, the digital revolution is ongoing and has always been on their radar.
For Andy Leask, Business Ambassador at engineering consultancy Rodgers Leask, digital skills are vital and part of a wider industry change. For example, new digitised models and ways of working are helping to ensure better coordination and collaboration on engineering projects, especially where there is more than one firm involved. Another new digitised area of the business is developing how they manage site visits, such as the use of virtual reality. But these changes cannot be introduced overnight, and will require training and support for staff who find they need to change the way they work.
Using hybrid training models
Workplace training and development often requires a fine balance between learning on the job, outside of the workplace, and of course, balancing training with normal working hours. Clearly the pandemic poses even more difficulties as firms adjust to new restrictions and guidelines. And of course, for many, this has meant working from home during the pandemic.
Unsurprisingly, this has meant a huge shift towards online learning over more traditional methods. A recent report by the Learning and Work Institute found that nine in ten adults who took part in learning since lockdown did so online. But this is by no means a silver bullet.
Joe has embraced the change but thinks on-the-job training is still vital. His own solution is moving towards a ‘hybrid’ training model, where training is delivered both online and in-person. And he’s telling the businesses he speaks to that they will need flexible types of training.
Andy also envisioned Rodgers Leask moving toward a hybrid model and growing their online learning. But he believes training, particularly with young people, still works best when they’re in the office.
Management and leadership skills
One of the key areas for EY is developing the management and leadership skills of their people earlier in their careers, so they already have the skills to be a leader before they become one. Harry also wants his staff to upskill in terms of coaching and mentoring, as he believes this is vital for them to have high performing teams.
Joe confirmed that management and leadership skills are among the biggest priorities for Northumberland University’s clients, too. Not all businesses include leadership when they give formal business training, and Joe is seeing his clients looking to provide increased training to upskill their middle management.
Practical steps your business can take
In the CBI’s recent report, Learning for Life, we called for greater business investment in reskilling, alongside greater government support, and identified the starting place for employers. The report identified five practical steps your business can take:
- Start with the basics – mapping your skills gaps. Ask yourself: ‘’what are our skills gaps now, and what will they be in five years?’’
- Provide quality on and off-the-job training tailored to your emerging skills gaps
- Work with training providers to develop modular and shorter courses for flexible learning
- Build a culture of lifelong learning from top-to-bottom, to give employees the confidence to train; include the journey that senior members of staff have gone on, too
- Lead and support change within your supply chains – working with suppliers can help develop skills in your supply chain and develop the next generation of talent.
We know that firms are facing huge challenges from the pandemic that are threatening their very survival, but we are also certain that reskilling will be a vital component of the national recovery effort. Firms that are planning their skills needs now will be in a significantly stronger position to build back better.
We continue to listen to our members’ experiences and welcome feedback and insight on reskilling. Find out how you can get involved in our work.