Yesterday, the Education Policy Institute and Pearson hosted the ‘Educating Young People for the Modern Economy’ conference. This was an opportunity for educators, researchers, and policy makers to discuss how we can best equip young people with the skills they need for the future.
It was widely recognised that the UK faces a skills problem, despite progress having been made in some areas. Rt Hon. David Laws, Executive Chairman of the Education Policy Institute, highlighted the numbers of young people leaving compulsory education with poor basic numeracy and literacy, whilst President of UK and Core at Pearson, Rod Bristow, underlined the importance of skills such as attitude and aptitude as the mechanism through which knowledge is turned into action.
Dr Sandra McNally of the LSE’s Centre for Vocational Education Research described the skills that employers appeared to want and described how young people choosing to invest in developing these skills tend to be rewarded with higher wages. She highlighted that returns to tertiary education had grown as demand for degree holders had grown faster than supply. Likewise, returns to some vocational qualifications including apprenticeships had grown, but there was a notable lack of intermediate technical qualifications being taken beyond those at Level 3. The routes after 16 in England are highly complex and difficult to navigate, and there would be value in people being better able to re-skill later on to adapt to changing economic circumstances.
Dr Anthony Mann of the Education and Employers’ Taskforce continued this theme, noting that as the labour market has become more complex, career guidance is needed more than ever before. Dr Mann stressed that those who engage with careers guidance or contact with employers were rewarded with higher wages later in life, and would be able to navigate the complex labour market with greater ease.
The changing nature of the labour market was a consistent theme. Professor Anne Green of Warwick’s Institute for Employment Research described how growth in jobs would be focused in IT, construction and retail, but that new opportunities in other sectors would continue to be created to replace moving and retiring workers. The overall pattern would be further losses of mid-level jobs, an increase in higher-skilled jobs, and a move away from the traditional employment relationships we see today towards professional freelancing.
But how should we respond to these changes? Professor Ann Hodgson from UCL’s IOE presented her research on the lessons learned from previous efforts to get employers and stakeholders working together at a local level, highlighting good examples in London. A shared vision, external catalysts or government funding, and historic relationships were often key. Claudia Harris, CEO of The Careers and Enterprise Company, noted that encounters with employers were highly effective for young people and that these needed to happen more. She outlined the progress made in appointing coordinators to help get businesses involved in ‘Cold Spot’ areas where young people are missing out on interactions with employment.
Antony Jenkins, Shadow Chair of the Institute for Apprenticeships provided an update on the formation of the organisation, and emphasised the importance of apprenticeships in tackling the skills problem, providing important opportunities for those who have been alienated in society. He described the process of appointing the Institute’s board, and gave assurances that a wide range of stakeholders would have a say in the setting of standards for the 15 new technical education routes.
The panel discussions continued the theme of how employers can support the education system to improve skill development. Paul Dreschler CBE, President of the CBI, stressed the role that business needs to play in helping to tackle the problem, and the importance business leaders attach to the matter. He argued that business has the capacity to create wealth and drive social mobility, and there were many examples of good work, but it needs the skills among its workforce, some practical guidance, and the confidence to engage with schools. The panellists agreed that predicting future skills needs is difficult, but given the flexibility and changing nature of the labour market, collaboration between partners and developing resilience in young people is vital. That resilience and a wide set of skills could be developed through out-of-school interactions with charities and community initiatives as well as employers, and the social benefits would extend through adulthood.
The conference tackled the significant issue area of skills and education with key insights from education experts and industry leaders. The need for greater engagement between employers, schools, colleges and others was emphasised as a vital way to help address the problem. With constant changes taking place within the labour market, the country’s deficit of skills was only going to become more pertinent.