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Facing up to skills shortages in the digital age

Alice Barnard, Chief Executive of Edge
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Before we had even heard the dreaded words ‘COVID-19’, the world and the labour market were already changing fast.

Our most recent report at the Edge Foundation brings together the latest research on the state of the UK labour market and the future of work, providing a solid baseline from before the corona virus outbreak hit.

Technology and jobs that require people skills will be some of the key employment sectors over the next ten years. Research from LinkedIn shows that the top emerging jobs in the labour market are Artificial Intelligence Specialist, Data Protection Officer and Robotics Engineer.

But this is not a new phenomenon.

Work by our partners at the Resolution Foundation and RSA show the massive changes that have been afoot in the labour market over the past twenty years. Britain has become a nation of service industry workers, with significant growth in high-tech and high-touch roles.

The FE sector has done its best to keep pace with those changes and what we are seeing now is an acceleration driven by demographics, the fourth industrial revolution and most recently by Brexit and the COVID outbreak.

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We are not alone in facing this challenge. International research by OECD and the EU Commission featured in our latest report shows that 13.7% of workers across Europe are at high risk of automation. It goes on to suggest that teaching non-cognitive skills like problem solving and team working seems to have been neglected despite its effectiveness.

However, the problem of a disconnect between education and employment seemed to be particularly acute here, even before the impact of lockdown is factored in. Research from our partners at Education and Employers shows that young people’s aspirations have often been disconnected from the areas of job growth – with five times as many young people wanting to work in areas like entertainment and sport than projected demand, and the reverse for ‘front-line’ areas like catering and retail.

In the adult workforce too, the Industrial Strategy Council points to a severe skills shortage focused on ‘workplace skills’ rather than on ‘qualifications and knowledge’, with at least 2.1 million workers likely to be acutely under-skilled in at least one emerging area by 2030.

It is absolutely clear that pre-COVID, we already had a problem.

Alice Barnard, Chief Executive of Edge

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