Upskilling the British workforce is top of the UK’s political agenda

Last night, Prime Minister Theresa May called  for the ‘up-skilling’ of Britain’s existing workers in order to meet the steep UK economic demands facing the country and ensure the smoothest possible Brexit leaving process.

“One of the crucial things we need to do in this country is ensure that actually we are enabling people here in the UK to be skilled up to do jobs,” said May. “I think sometimes, sometimes what we’ve seen is people being brought in from overseas because we haven’t done sufficient in this country.”

The need to upskill the UK’s current workforce has never been such a relevant issue as it is today. The threat of a nationwide talent drain, due to Brexit, has meant that this issue is at the top of the agenda for Britain’s three main political parties, according to Julian Wragg, EMEA & APAC VP at Pluralsight.

>See also: How businesses can solve the UK’s digital skills conundrum

Britain’s three main political parties each made significant pledges around technology and skills in their manifestos. We’re currently enjoying a boom in the digital sector with innovations in data analytics, artificial intelligence and the ‘Internet of Things’ all poised to radically reshape society. We could be on the edge of something special, but for Britain to be the best innovation economy in the world, it requires a political party that will truly nurture our digital potential.

“Four out of five people in the UK now work in the services industry, and though we have very low unemployment, we are staring at a long-enduring productivity crisis. Ultimately this is leading to underemployment and stagnant wages. One measure to address this would be to refocus on training employees in needed areas such as coding, design and digital skills that will make more of a difference at work.”

The Conservatives have already committed an investment of £250 million to improve skills by 2020, along with a range of tech skills-based initiatives, such as T-Levels. The party also pledged to introduce the right to request leave for training, which Wragg said will be needed for industries like teaching an healthcare. However, “when it comes to digital upskilling there is no reason it can’t be done on the job.”

>See also: Digital training in the UK gets a boost

This digital re-skilling necessity will fall flat on its face if traditional face-to-face ‘classroom’ training alone is employed, according to Wragg. He suggested that online and on-demand training needs to be available to ensure it can scale nationally.

“Micro-learning, where you learn for 10 minutes at a time of need, has been shown to boost productivity and efficiency. By rapidly upskilling employees for certain objectives such as a product launch or transformation project, companies can move faster and be more agile. This approach to on-demand training is also excellent for helping people out of work or returning back into the workforce to learn new skills and build up their confidence. Digital mentors also need to be considered, so that people that are learning can also get micro-sessions of help to boost their understanding.”

As mentioned, this tech skills drive ambition is not only on the Conservative agenda. The Liberal Democrats have committed to keep coding in the UK schools curriculum. Wragg praised this, but suggests it could go further: “The UK has been a pioneer of the knowledge economy, so it’s essential that young people learn the digital skills that are becoming prerequisites for employment. And, we need to ensure that the curriculum caters beyond coding – for instance promoting multi-disciplinary approaches to design.”

>See also: Digital skills gap: How to prepare a generation for the modern workplace

Labour have also pledged to introduce incentives for large employers to over-train numbers of apprentices to fill skills gaps in the supply chain and wider industry, said Wragg.“On-the-job training is something we do well, and so giving young people a chance to get into the workforce and train from within could be a great economic driver – especially in technology. Finally, Labour’s commitment to set-up a commission on lifelong learning tasked with integrating further and higher education is another step in the right direction for understanding that people increasingly seek career change, and that we’re working longer.”

The times ahead are uncertain for the British economy, and indeed its technology sector. As Brexit looms, job security and the quality of the British workforce to maintain its current high standards will come under scrutiny. It is encouraging to see, however, the main British political parties putting this issue of digital skills at the top of their respective agendas.


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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...

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