To improve the UK’s skills shortage we need people to invest in the future workforce and move from industry into further education. In this piece, Lucie Daluiso, Divisional Managing Director of further education at Reed, will explore how FE can attract workers back into education to teach the next generation of the workforce.
Research has shown that the UK could see a labour shortage of 2.6 million workers by 2030. On top of this, more than half of UK businesses are currently experiencing skills shortages. A survey of almost 500 leaders of medium-sized businesses across England and Scotland found that they all thought the current UK skills shortage could pose a threat to their growth.
To tackle the skills shortage, training potential talent is a good way to plug the skills gap. Yet, despite the UK government increasing spending on adult skills, it is still investing less in 2025 than it was in 2010. Since then, the number of adults improving their skills has dropped, and by 2030 it is only set to increase by 200,000 people, which will not be enough to fix the shortage of workers we are currently witnessing.
It’s a nuanced issue; a plethora of reasons behind the shortage portends to the lack of workers and the struggling labour market. An ageing population means more demand for labour, Brexit resulting in talent moving back out of the UK and the pandemic causing wide shifts throughout the labour market are but a few of the more obvious reasons.
However, as well as the immediate problem, we also need to consider the long-term issue. We need to consider how we can teach our next generation of workers to be ready for employment. To tackle this, we need people who are ready to instil their passion and knowledge in young people to get into teaching.
The pandemic pushed many to reassess their passions and motives which has resulted in a lot of people changing careers and industries they want to specialise in. This is a wonderful opportunity for the further education sector, as it means there are a lot of people willing to consider other fulfilling roles.
In fact, we have seen requests from colleges tripling since coming back from lockdowns, as people delve into the new careers of their dreams. However, the biggest pain point and struggle for the education sector is how they compete for talent against the salaries and benefits offered by roles in the industry. This has always been an issue for further education institutions, however, competition for talent is particularly fierce now. It’s especially difficult to attract the right lecturers into further education, as you need someone who has a crossover of the ability to teach, the refined academic skills, as well as the technical skills and knowledge.
One solution here is for colleges to attract recent graduates, after a relevant time spent in the industry, and get them straight back into further education to teach those in the profession. This may help as they have up-to-date knowledge and can be relatable to younger students.
College lecturers will need a continuing professional development (CPD) accreditation to stay on top of the latest developments, as well as teaching qualifications; we are now seeing colleges being flexible with this to attract the right people, which is vital to making it a more attractive career route for those working in the industry.
Employers that experience recruitment difficulties often assume labour shortages are likely to be a temporary problem; they are likely to take a ‘wait and see’ approach because of the lack of resources to locate the right people for the vast number of vacancies they have. This easily leads to employers hiring temporary workers or having a higher turnover due to not hiring the staff with the right level of experience needed.
On the upside, we have seen that job seekers are prepared to accept lower pay for a period of time in exchange for suitable training or potential future promotion once the relevant skills have been acquired. Therefore, alternatively, companies could work alongside further education institutions to offer part-time work to industry teachers, while also providing colleges with the expertise they need to teach the next generation.
This will result in working professionals feeling more confident in spending some time teaching the next generation, while also staying in the industry to continue their careers.
Overall, we need people that are passionate about fixing the skills gap and further education is the middle ground, the sector which is creating the next workforce. Further education plays a vital role in developing workforce skills – especially vocational, yet it is often overlooked by government support.
To overcome this, workplaces need to offer better avenues to upskill their current workers, including promoting further education, and universities and colleges need to find industry experts that are willing to change professions to maintain the future labour force and prevent the skills gap from growing.