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Skills gaps and the future of work. How EdTech can help?

Bear with me here, I know this story begins with a bit of drama and cloudy skies but ends with a silver lining.

With yet another recession potentially on the horizon, and unemployment predicted to rise, the skills shortage remains a significant productivity and growth issue for the UK. Businesses are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit and retain the talent they need to thrive. In this blog post, we'll explore the digital skills shortage in more detail.

The current skills situation

For the UK's tech sector, which is currently valued at over $1 trillion, the skills shortage is a major problem. Simply put, the number of people with the skills businesses need is not keeping pace with the demand. The skills shortage has also been exacerbated by political events in recent years, meaning companies are finding it increasingly difficult to attract and retain talent from overseas.

Right now, more than half of the UK's businesses are experiencing skills shortages; a survey of almost 500 leaders of medium-sized businesses across England and Scotland found that all thought the current UK skills shortage could pose a threat to their growth; while the FSB put this at 78% of members.

In fact, 93% percent of UK tech companies say that the scarcity of digital skills affects their commercial operations. Tech Nation cites that between May 2021, and May 2022, there were 2 million vacancies for tech roles from a total of 14.85 million vacancies across the economy as a whole, which includes part-time and contract work.

What are the predicted impacts?

There is no shortage of future gazing and modeling on this topic. So let's look at two perspectives. According to the Learning and Work Institute, even pre-covid, the then skills shortage would have the following impacts:

  • a potential to cost the country £120 billion by 2030

  • a shortfall of 2.5 million highly skilled workers

  • and an oversupply of 8.1 million people with traditional intermediate or low skills

Today, more recent data from the DCMS puts the cost of the digital skills gap in the UK at £63 billion per year!

Nesta predicts that by 2030, 1 in 5 jobs are at risk of automation. A complementary report put this figure a little higher at around 35 percent of the existing workforce, or about 11 million UK jobs could be automated by the end of 2030.

Over this period, an additional 4.5 million new jobs will be created. Some of these roles will be created in-country and met with local resources. Others will be globally and remotely sourced.

Skills Gap Ice Berg
Skills Gap Iceberg

If you're curious, you can always check how at-risk you are here:

Mind the Gaps

So, we can establish with a relative level of comfort that much of the current workforce will need to retrain, alongside those entering the job market for the first time.

We can also establish from either model, a widening gap in the skills needed for the future economy, the global nature of supply, and the future employability challenges facing millions in low to intermediate-skilled roles.

The World Economic Forum predicts that 40% of core skills will change for workers who remain in their roles and that 50% of all employees will need reskilling.

However, 53% of employers can not currently identify what skills they need to transform their workforce, and there's the nagging reality that 75% of digital transformations fail to deliver the promised returns.

Digital poverty is growing. The Digital Poverty Alliance reported, even before the cost of the living crisis became so systemically acute, that:

  • 1 in 5 children homeschooling through the pandemic did not have access to an appropriate device like a laptop,

  • 42% of young people are not adequately connected, lacking broadband or a computer,

  • 53% of people offline can't afford an average monthly broadband bill,

  • 2.5 million people were behind in their broadband bills.

The ‘hidden middle’ between digital exclusion/poverty and those with advanced digital skills - The Lloyds Essential Digital Skills Report 2021 estimates that there are around 11.8 million adults in the UK who are online, but lack the essential digital skills for work. This is also cited by FutureDotNow, putting the number at one-third of UK adults.

A silver EdTech lining?

It seems like an overwhelming challenge, and recent government initiatives such LSIP's, for example, are at risk of becoming notional if delivery mechanisms are not addressed.

However, I'm a passionate believer that the EdTech sector has the vision and ability to help close the gap by putting innovation and opportunity into the hands of educators and learners, employers and employees; leveling the playfield of inclusivity, and supporting those looking to skill, reskill and upskill.

Five quick areas from my humble perspective:

  1. Helping education and skill providers effectively identify skills gaps, improving access to relevant learning programs, supporting progress and attainment, and success into employment.

  2. Digital learning models that support intelligent prescriptive learning rather than ad-hoc or reactive interventions.

  3. A focus on efficacy rather than an activity to drive better learner insights.

  4. Talent retention - it's 2-3x times cheaper to upskill or reskill and retain an employee than recruit. L&G's 'Curiosity-driven learning'. (... I had to get that in there)

  5. Immersive, simulated, and live digital learning experiences all improve learner outcomes, capture 'real-world' behavioral insights, and improve knowledge and skill retention.

To close, there's a lot of talk and many well-evidenced use cases on the role of technology in education and its ability to help bridge skills gaps. We’ve looked at some ways that Edtech can help support learning, from identifying skill gaps to providing relevant learning programs and retaining talent through curiosity-driven learning. While there are many challenges ahead for Edtech, we believe that it has the potential to make a real difference in helping people learn and develop the skills they need for today’s workplace.

What do you think? Do you see emerging and innovative ways that technology could be used to help organisations and government-backed initiatives overcome some of their educational or training challenges?

Would you like more articles like this?

  • Yes please - helpful

  • No not really - just noise

  • Meh... just curious

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