Businesses must act now for skills that are fit for the future

Change is coming: Education Director Rachael Saunders and Employment Director Nicola Inge of Business in the Community on ensuring that companies are not left behind by a transforming market

The old adage ‘the only thing constant is change’ is never more accurate than when applied to our current world of work.

About 65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in roles that don’t yet exist.  About one in five jobs are at risk of automation by 2030, which will disproportionately affect people in low-skilled roles. 

This directly links to the UK’s economic development – according to the CBI Pearson’s education and skills survey (2017) businesses are concerned about finding enough people with the right abilities, with skills gaps seen by nearly two-thirds of respondents as a threat to the UK’s competitiveness. 

The issue is clear. People in work and education must be supported to build the skills they need now for our changing world of work, and the access to learning that will equip them to develop the skills they need for the future.  

The response

The way we think about skills needs an overhaul. Skills such as teamwork, creativity, leadership and problem solving are valuable now and will remain vital in the future. A shared language around these essential skills is paramount to solving the problem. It is only when we can be clear about what those skills are, and how they can be developed, that we can make sure we are able to measure and develop them so we are fit for the future. 

At Business in the Community (BITC) we are coming together, across our Education and Employment Leadership teams, to set out how businesses can play a role in supporting this vision of a shared language and preparing our nation for the future. 

This task must begin in schools. It is the first chance to we have to help young people learn essential skills that will support them throughout their lives. According to the Education Endowment Fund, these skills correlate with academic outcomes, financial stability in adulthood, and reduced involvement in criminal activities. 

With teachers under pressure from an inspection framework focused on knowledge, and school budgets squeezed, business has a vital role in making sure that children have the skills they need to succeed in the world of work. 

BITC is part of the skills builder partnership, led by Enabling Enterprise. The skills builder framework provides not only a shared language for these skills but also a step-by-step approach that makes it easy for teachers, youth workers and business volunteers to teach them explicitly – for young people to take ownership of the skills, and for parents and families to support them in doing so. This framework is well tested in schools, and we anticipate development of a connected tool for use in recruitment and progression in work.  

We have embedded the skills builder framework in our own education programmes, including in all our business class evaluations, and we are working with Enabling Enterprise to pilot skills builder training for business volunteers. Leading businesses such as KPMG, BP and UBS are using the framework in their own education programmes. For example, BP are working with Enabling Enterprise to integrate the Framework into its educational services’ teaching resources, and into their employee-led activity with schools.   

From education to employment

These skills, and how to talk about them, remain vital as young people enter the workforce and workers grapple with changing roles and technologies. Our pledge for a common language around skills is equally important in the workforce. We are calling on businesses to use this insight to first identify those at risk of automation and lacking the essential skills to be resilient, and then support them to take practical steps to help them build the skills and access the opportunities they need to ensure that they are not left behind by transformation.  

This language must affect the recruitment process, moving the focus away from qualifications and work experience to the evergreen skills we know will help workers be resilient to the one certainty of the future - change. We believe a common narrative on skills would enable this to happen to the benefit of jobseekers, workers and recruiters alike.  

It’s not only our vision. It’s one that is already being tackled by some of the biggest businesses in the UK. John Holland-Kaye, Chief Executive of Heathrow Airport and Chair of our Employment and Skills Leadership Team, has announced Heathrow’s commitment to develop and trial a skills passport for colleagues who work at Heathrow. This would enable greater deployment of transferable skills, and greater job mobility within the airport as individual and business needs evolve.

However, no business can do this all alone. Real and sustainable change can only be made when businesses unite, and we know our members will lead the way. We are excited to work with our members over the coming years to explore more opportunities to drive a focus on essential skills throughout education and employment, so that the fourth industrial revolution is truly inclusive and provides opportunities for all.  

Our If Only report, published in 2018, set out examples of where leading businesses are taking action.

See David Soanes, chair of the Education Leadership team, talk about the importance of a focus on skills here.