Rising to the UK’s Skills Challenges – CIMR Debates in Public Policy

The growing skills gap is set to be a major challenge for meeting UK industry needs between now and 2030. According to the Industrial Strategy Council, by this time, the most widespread under-skilling is likely to be in basic digital skills, core management skills and STEM workplace skills. With 80% of the workforce already working today, reskilling will be essential to meeting this challenge.

In this policy debate, the Centre for Innovation Management Research welcomed Dr Abigail Taylor, Research Fellow at City-REDI, University of Birmingham and Juliet Eccleston, CEO and founder of AnyGood?, to share their vision for an inclusive future for UK skills. The session was chaired by Matthew Jayes, Strategic Partnerships and Networks Manager, Chartered Management Institute and CIMR alumnus.

Learning from the Skills Insight Project

Dr Abigail Taylor began the discussion by sharing findings from the Industrial Strategy Council’s Skills Insight Project, which explored how economic growth in the UK is being constrained by the country’s weak skills base.

Digitalisation is projected to cause significant change in the workplace, while participation in adult learning has continued to decrease over the last two decades. The UK also stands out internationally for employers’ preference to recruit rather than train employees to acquire the skills they need.

The principle call in the paper is for a clear, overarching vision for UK skills, which Abigail argues should be part of a long-term commitment to skills development in partnership with employers and individuals. The importance of policy stability and continuity emerged as a key factor to enable employers to build successful skills systems, while a further important message was communicating the benefits and necessity of lifelong learning to employees to encourage a culture of reskilling throughout working life.

Implementation and best practice

Juliet Eccleston seconded Abigail’s call for greater collaboration and highlighted the recent growth of sharing economy platforms as an opportunity for sharing skills, education and experience. She noted successful examples that demonstrate what can be achieved in skills sharing, such as the CBI Redeployment of People Challenge and the Prime Provider Partnership. Juliet also argued that the skills gap should be considered in the context of the broader sharing economy, including gig workers. A further change required to achieve such a vision would be a shift in perceptions of vocational training and transitioning across sectors or internal mobility.

Discussion was led by Professor Ulrich Hilpert, who shared insight into the German skills system and suggested further potential pathways for skills development in the UK, such as large firms assuming responsibility for training in their local area and shifting the culture from a focus on hiring to one of training and reskilling internally. Questions from the audience considered the impact of AI on the future of UK Skills and the role of the public sector in encouraging training programmes in organisations.

A recording of this debate is available to watch on YouTube.