Amid some of the General Election’s less gratifying headlines, it’s encouraging to see a serious discussion of the future of skills and learning unfolding.
The Liberal Democrats have pledged to introduce a £10,000 “skills wallet” for every adult in the UK to put towards their future education and training, while Labour has promised free retraining for adults in England.
These proposals are symptomatic of a quiet but significant revolution currently taking place in the workplace.
Employees’ expectations of their own skills and career trajectories are fundamentally changing. They are no longer satisfied with the traditional path through which they receive an education and some training, before taking a job with a company and slowly making their way up the ladder.
Instead, employees increasingly want “autonomous” careers. These are characterised by more emphasis on training and a greater level of control coming from the employee themselves over their career paths.
The ubiquity of digitisation, not least in the workplace, means that digital skills sit at the heart of employee autonomy. If workers want their careers to be flexible and evolve, and if they want to be able to apply themselves and communicate across businesses, they need fluency in tech skills.
Businesses and employers themselves, therefore, need to rethink their skills and training programmes if they want to find, develop and retain the best talent.
As it stands, most companies are not doing enough. In a recent PwC study, 54 per cent of working UK adults said they were ready to learn new skills or completely retrain to improve their future employability, but less than half said their employers gave them that opportunity.
There are three simple steps businesses can take to change their training programmes and rectify this problem.
Businesses need to prepare for the unknown.
This involves think holistically, and building training programmes around the assumption that they are training employees for jobs that are yet to be created (65 per cent of young people will work in jobs that don’t yet exist).
The focus should be on teaching staff members how to learn and be investigative, instilling a culture of learning which, rather than dictating what avenues will be available to an employee, contributes to their sense of autonomy.
The bulk of corporate skills development as it stands is training for training’s sake.
Cut out the three-quarters of course content which employees will never actually use and nearly always forget. Instead, teach employees practically applicable skills, including tech.
Take training outside the corporate space, do away with the stereotype of the dusty old trainer, and relentlessly seek the engagement of the trainees.
We should move away from training courses being seen as just an obligation for companies and employees — they are where the interests of the employer and employee most closely align, and should be treated as such.
Changing employee expectations and the digitisation of work have dramatically changed the demands of the UK workforce.
For a business, maintaining the employability of its employees is an obligation, of course. But it will be those who go beyond looking at training for staff as a formality, and instead see it as a business opportunity, who will succeed and have the edge over their competitors in attracting and retaining the best talent.