From education to employment

Strategic Partnership and Workforce Skills

Alissa Dhaliwal, CBI

#Post16RevolutionaryReforms – The world of work is set for radical transformation over the next decade. Technological change will revolutionise entire industries and engender employer demand for new and higher-level skills.

The post-16 white paper therefore represents a critical opportunity to locate the needs of the future economy at the heart of our education and skills system.

Strategic Partnership

Strategic partnership between business, further education and higher education will be vital to capitalising on opportunities created by new technologies and ensuring labour market resilience to economic upheaval.

In this sense, tertiary education’s role in driving social mobility, levelling up opportunity, and improving productivity throughout the labour market will require responsiveness to employers’ skills needs.

Broad and balanced curriculum

But what skills do employers need? CBI’s latest Education and Skills Survey found that 44% of employers felt young people were leaving school, college or university were not work-ready. Whilst a definition for “work ready” can be difficult to pin down, employers agree that rounded curriculum that includes character, skills and knowledge is essential.

Creativity, resilience, and problem solving will become increasingly important to employers in the context of rapid technological change. Employers have an important responsibility to step up engagement with education providers, support curricula co-design and ensure these skills are embedded.

Technical Education Route

The CBI have long called for the creation of a high-quality technical route, that is of equal esteem and value to A levels. It is important that there are academic and technical routes into rewarding careers and T levels represent a golden opportunity to tackle skills gaps in key economic sectors.

However, in addition to occupationally specific competencies, technical education must support a core base of relevant transferable skills to set learners up for success in the labour market. Broad, diverse, and balanced curricula will also be key to supporting flexible routes, and clear progression pathways to both higher technical and academic education.

Demand for L4+ Skills

Indeed, clear progression routes through further and higher education will be vital to meeting employers increasing reliance on employees with higher skills. A recent CBI member survey revealed that 79% businesses expect to need more people with higher skills (Level 4) in the next three to five years. As lower-skilled tasks are automated, the labour market shift in favour of higher-skilled work will accelerate.

Fuelling Demand for More Level 4, 5 and 6 Qualifications

Presently, only 10% of UK adults hold a Level 4 or 5 at their highest qualification (OECD, 2014). To be clear, the source of this skills shortage is not too many young people attending university, but barriers to learners progressing from lower levels.

This “hourglass skills problem” creates challenges for employers to access the skills they need. For workers, it also stymies upward income mobility and greater employability in the labour market. The introduction of a simplified, high quality and employer-led offer at Level 4 and 5 can help remove these barriers.

New higher technical qualifications should therefore be promoted as a progression route from lower-level study, not an alternative to degrees.

A Reskilling Revolution

However, the clearest expression of the government’s ambition in designing a skills system aligned to economic need must be in their proposals for lifelong learning. With 80% of the 2030 workforce already in employment, and 30% of roles due to be affected by automation over the next ten years, the need for a bold vision on reskilling is clear.

The scale of the challenge should not be underestimated. Our upcoming report outlines that 9 in 10 workers will require some form of reskilling by 2030 at a cost of £130bn. Whilst businesses will deliver the majority of investment, adequate incentivisation will be key, particularly for SMEs who face unique barriers to investing in training.

Furthermore, government at all levels will need to redress the decline in public spending on adult learners and enable providers to offer flexible and shorter courses, more closely aligned with the labour market.


Collaboration between businesses, colleges and universities is essential to prevent pitting different parts of tertiary education against one another in this area. Together, businesses and providers can enhance opportunities for learners, coordinate the delivery of skills needs, and design a system aligned to demand.

A coalition between providers, business and government can capitalise on the opportunities presented by the fourth industrial revolution, drive social mobility, and boost productivity throughout the UK economy. The post-16 white paper can be a roadmap for this journey.

Three Reforms for the White Paper

  1. First, the post-16 white paper must facilitate the development of partnerships between business, further education and higher education to systemically align our education and skills strategy to the demands of the future economy.
  2. Second, the white paper should propose an expansion of higher technical education at Level 4-5 which is addition too and not in replace of numbers attending full-time Level 6 degrees at universities.
  3. And third, the white paper should outline how flexible provision and provider funding will support widespread reskilling across the labour market.

Alissa Dhaliwal, CBI

‘Revolutionary Forces’

In the immediate aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is easy to forget that there were wider revolutionary forces at work on the UK’s economy before the virus outbreak.

Issues such as Brexit, the rise of automation in the workplace, longer working lives, and poor UK productivity have brought into even sharper focus, education and skills. NCFE and Campaign for Learning (CfL), published the first in the series of ‘Revolutionary Forces’ discussion papers on 6 July 2020.

In this Revolutionary Forces series different perspectives and proposed reforms for the post-16 education and training system have been brought together in one pamphlet, from expert stakeholders, think-tanks and educational professionals.

Building on the recommendations outlined in the first paper for flexible reforms that support economic and social renewal, this new paper, “Reforms for a Revolutionary Post-16 White Paper“, takes a deeper look at which areas need to be addressed.

The authors are:

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