From education to employment

Addressing skills shortages – positive interventions that we can learn from

Olly Newton

Edge’s latest Skills Shortage Bulletin, our thirteenth, paints a mixed picture. While some hard statistics highlight the challenges that face UK skills, there is also room for optimism. In particular, several smaller organisations and grassroots initiatives are emerging to actively improve opportunities for workers, while also supporting growth sectors.

Among other topics, our latest report explores interventions for green jobs, how to create a ‘just’ transition to a low-carbon economy, and government efforts to enhance access to skills data. Providing a hopeful contrast against some significant challenges, these positive initiatives showcase promising developments as we work towards a skilled and resilient future workforce.

Financial incentives could boost the uptake of green skills training

NESTA and BIT have conducted an online experiment exploring how different messaging and financial incentives might boost green skills training uptake. Interestingly, they found that the language used to frame green skills (e.g. ‘job security’ or ‘positive environmental impact’) did little to increase interest. However, the availability of financial support did, with 78% of participants showing an interest in undertaking green skills training if provided with grants to do so.

As Engineering UK reports a 55% increase in ‘green’ engineering job postings over the past five years, this data should offer useful insights for policymakers. However, Engineering UK also found that increases in green engineering jobs are not accompanied by new apprenticeships. This suggests that financial incentives and ‘framing’ are just two of many areas that will need addressing as we forge towards net zero.

Recommendations for promoting a ‘just’ green transition

The New Economics Foundation (NEF) has been exploring how to deliver a ‘just’ green transition that prioritises jobs, training, skills, social protection, and community stability. Its research indicates that existing policies and investments are insufficient to support the workforce as we adapt to a low-carbon economy. 

To deliver a well-functioning, well-funded FE system, NEF outlines three recommendations. First, a shift to a social partnership approach, potentially focusing on a reformed model of Local Skills Improvement Plans (LSIPs). Second, targeted policy and investment to address learning barriers, including affordability, time factors and family impacts. Finally, a national skills and labour market strategy to increase public investment in adult education and to devolve control over skills and SME support. Our bulletin outlines these recommendations in more depth. We hope that they may feed into any future government’s strategy, such as Labour’s pledged Green Prosperity Plan.

Mapping the impact of AI automation on future skills

Digital skills are always a hot topic in education. However, recent advances in AI have brought the issue home. The Institute for the Future of Work (IFOW) emphasises that preparing the workforce to meet changes in skills demand resulting from automation should focus on ‘good work’. This means promoting dignity, and resilience, and fostering prospects. Their most recent Good Work Time Series aggregates data from 203 Local Authorities across England, Scotland and Wales to identify where investment is most required. 

IFOW’s research team has also been classifying data from around 93% of nationwide job vacancies to map, in granular detail, which regional labour markets are most at risk from AI disruption. Considering that nearly 80% of firms have adopted automation technologies in the past three years, this is critically important work.

Closing the gap between ambition and opportunity in North East England

A collaboration between Insights North East, the North East Local Enterprise Partnership and Third Sight Economics – Realising the North East Ambition – examines the mismatch between young people’s ambitions and the North East job market. The research identifies various skills mismatches in areas ranging from retail and manufacturing to the arts, business and administration. 

The detailed report concludes with six local policy recommendations: including student voice in the development of careers support; embedding and evaluating the Gatsby benchmarks; positioning careers guidance as part of whole-person support; exposing students to the world of work from primary school onwards; gathering evidence (in particular from Further Education); and reducing overall system complexity. Considering one of Labour’s key questions around growing productivity focuses on empowering local leaders, this research should interest regional and national policymakers alike.

Improving timely skills data access (and quality) with the UFS 

Finally, the DfE’s new Unit for Future Skills is working to improve the quality of jobs, skills data and evidence. Launched in 2022, it aims to help deliver appropriate training for good jobs and higher productivity. Among other projects, the UFS has recently published detailed job projections up to 2035 at UK-wide, regional and local levels, a Local Skills Dashboard, and a horizon scanning report exploring emerging labour market trends over the next 15-20 years. 

On the continuing theme of the net zero economy, the UFS has been working with the Green Skills Delivery Group and the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) to understand trends around STEM and green skills. The UFS actively seeks feedback from those using its products, so please do contact them.

Download the full report

With so many challenges ahead, it’s easy to overlook the great work being done around the country. While many of these excellent initiatives take place on a small scale, there is much to be learned from them as we seek to create combined national and regional approaches towards skills development. You can explore all the initiatives outlined here in more detail by downloading the bulletin for free.

Olly Newton is Executive Director at the Edge Foundation @OllyNewtonUK

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