This year marks the 140th anniversary of the City & Guilds Group. At this historic milestone, Managing Director Kirstie Donnelly looks forward to the future landscape of training and development.

We cannot deny that a lot has changed since The City and Guilds of London Institute was founded in 1878. However, as we celebrate our 140th anniversary, we know that one thing, at least, remains the same: economic success relies on a trained and skilled workforce.

One of the biggest changes we have seen in our history is the continued evolution of the workplace. Thanks to shifting workforce demographics, a turbulent political backdrop and rapid advancements in technology, the world of work today is almost unrecognisable to that of forty years ago, let alone 140.

And this rapidly evolving environment is reducing our skills’ shelf-life, changing not only the way workers learn new skills, but also the skills they are learning.

But why am I telling you all this? Because, for me it’s clear that as a sector we have such a key role to play in helping to bring skills development to the top of the agenda and yet we are still not doing enough to support individuals and employers to tackle these issues.

We’ve responded to successive funding cuts by allowing ourselves to reduce in scope until we are viewed simply as an alternative route to academia into employment and yet we have the potential to be so much more than that and to really transform the skills of the UK workforce.

It’s time to prioritise the skills we need tomorrow, as well as today

Technology surrounds us all in our everyday lives. We live in a world of tech-enabled convenience. While we may think of it as a known way of making our lives quicker and easier, when it comes to the world of work, we are only just starting to see the impact that technology, artificial intelligence, robotics and automation may have.

We know that intelligent systems, telematics and robots will start wiping out certain jobs, filling required gaps in the market. But technology will also redefine the way jobs in a number of sectors are carried out, and that may happen sooner than we expect.

New research from the City & Guilds Group* reveals that 81% of workers in the UK believe that the skills they use for their jobs now will change to some extent over the next five years.

This acts as a stark reminder that a lack of training and development can leave employees vulnerable, with skills at high risk of becoming obsolete.

Technological advancement is not only reducing the longevity of skills, but also redirecting where we need to be prioritising development.

Understanding the challenges, as well as the opportunities, that technology brings and being able to use that technology to support learning and development is a crucial tool for FE providers.

We all know that in times of economic uncertainty, training budgets are one of the first to be cut. But, as the skills experts, is the FE sector working hard enough to support your employer partners with insight and solutions to help them really see a return on their training budgets and convince them of the need to keep investing in their people?

As well as mapping out the skills needed for future business success, FE providers need to work with employers to provide tailored learning opportunities and programmes that help upskill their workforce in exactly those skills and capabilities.

We must address the barriers to upskilling

Just as important as addressing the type of skills that our workforce should be developing, we need to work together to focus on how workers can access the training and development support that they need. Unfortunately, according to our research, this isn’t happening at the moment.

A third (33%) of GB workers did not learn any new skills in 2018, and only 46% say they are getting enough help and support from their employer to develop the new workplace skills they will need in the future.

When looking at the barriers to learning new workplace skills, time is a big blocker, with 42% of workers saying that they cannot take time away from their day jobs. While employers and employees need to come together to tackle this challenge, FE providers also have a part to play.

Flexible, agile training programmes which fit around different working structures instantly make the opportunities for learning more appealing to both employees and their employer.

Providing learners with a range of different training options – such as online or evening courses, bite-size and part-time programmes or mobile-enabled learning that can happen at any time and in any place – which fit around their busy lives is a key step in starting them on their vital skills development journey.

By thinking more creatively about where and when learning can take place and by really understanding that people need to learn and re-learn throughout their whole working lives, we will all be creating so many more opportunities to play the vital skills development role that we are capable of.

Extending the reach – and opportunity – for FE

The good news is that learners are aware of the need for development, with 76% of British workers believing it is important to continuously update their workplace skills, regardless of age or career stage. However, training and development need to be top of the agenda not only for individuals, but for businesses and government too.

The world of work is more dynamic than ever before, and today’s uncertain socio-political environment, combined with the need for people to work later into their lives, means it is important for the workplace to be seen as a place of continuous learning.

This presents all of us in the FE sector with a huge opportunity to grasp. By working closely with businesses, aligning with the needs of both employers and employees and extending our voice beyond the confines of the industry itself, we can play a pivotal role in the future health of UK Plc.

Far from solely playing second fiddle to academia at the start of someone’s working life, the FE sector has the potential to provide vital skills development and learning support for people throughout their working lives.

For too long, the rhetoric surrounding FE has been one of a poor relation in education, a sector beleaguered by funding cuts and skills gaps.

At this critical juncture, when the UK stands on the brink of leaving the EU and we are grappling with the challenges of skills gaps and shortages as well as underemployment, we all have the opportunity to work together to change the narrative and tell the story of an industry that is leading the way in equipping the UK workforce with the skills ready to face the future, whatever it may hold.

Kirstie Donnelly MBE, Managing Director at City & Guilds Group

*Research referenced comes from a survey commissioned by City & Guilds Group and carried out with YouGov amongst workers in Great Britain in January 2019.

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