'Brexit means we must up-skill our workers'

As City & Guilds Group celebrates its 140th birthday, its chief executive Chris Jones looks to the UK's future skills needs

Chris Jones

Brexit, Citizenship, Politics, Primary, Secondary, Community

140 years ago, the City of London and 16 livery companies recognised that the nation’s workforce needed to be trained and skilled if our economic success was to be guaranteed.

They came together on 11 November 1878 and the City and Guilds of London Institute was founded.

A lot has changed in the world since 1878. With continued developments in technology and engineering – and rocketing population growth – businesses have evolved, and the skills needed by workers today are vastly different.

We have also gone through extensive changes in our own organisation. 140 years ago, 202 learners sat our exams. Now, we see over 3 million individuals worldwide using the City & Guilds Group services and products to enhance their skills every year and it’s our ambition to grow this number significantly over the next 10 years.

'Pace of present change is different'

One thing that remains true is that our economic success relies on a skilled workforce.

What’s different is the pace of change we are experiencing today; from a rapidly changing workforce through to technological advances that are constantly reducing our skills’ shelf-life.

We need to ensure businesses and employees are prepared to keep up with this pace of change and to do that we all need to be prepared to learn new skills and refresh our skillsets throughout our lives – whether aged five or 65.

Technological disruption on the horizon

The last 140 years have undoubtedly been punctuated by advancements and developments in technology.

Today, technology is blurring the lines between all things physical, digital, and biological, affecting almost every aspect of our day to day lives.

And when it comes to the world of work, we are only just starting to see the impact artificial intelligence, robotics and automation may have.

At this point, we can only make predictions. One of the “Big Four” accountancy firms PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) estimate that artificial intelligence will eventually replace 7 million jobs in the UK.

Yet it will also create 7.2 million jobs – many of which have yet to even be conceived.

Nurturing soft skills

So, while robots will likely take on some of the more monotonous, unskilled tasks, our roles will be centred on what many refer to as the “human touch”.

We’ll need to nurture our soft skills like creativity, empathy, communications, teamwork, adaptability and problem-solving.

As our heritage in the evolving world of education clearly demonstrates, change isn’t anything to be feared as long as we’re prepared to keep up with it.

Just as workers in the age of industrialisation had to adapt their skill sets to new ways of working, the fourth industrial revolution will demand a new breed of employees – ones that are willing to embrace change and continually adapt their skillsets throughout their careers for the changing world of work.

Continuous learning is the way forward

Today, at this time of uncertainty for businesses and the economy, when skills deficits are already rife, and rapid technological change means capabilities are becoming obsolete faster than ever before, training and development has never been higher on the agenda.

According to our research, 83 per cent of British employees say the skills needed to do their job have changed over the last five years and 81 per cent believe the skills they need will change over the next five years.

This is a worrying sign of what’s to come if we don’t increase investment in skills development. It’s also a stark reminder of the imperative to take action now.

The good news is that learners are aware of the need for development: 76 per cent of British workers believe it is important to continuously update their workplace skills, regardless of age or career stage.

Brexit uncertainty

However, businesses are failing to invest in critical workforce skills. Less than half (46 per cent) of the UK’s workers say they are getting enough help and support from their employer to develop the workplace skills they need.

Failing to up-skill and re-skill their current workforce will see businesses struggle to compete in a rapidly changing environment.

And, with Brexit uncertainty casting doubt over the future access to international talent, employers must focus on their current workforce, and look at how they can plug gaps by training and re-skilling their existing staff.

The future skills landscape

As in 1878, today the UK stands at the threshold of economic and societal change. And as skills continue to be at the heart of economic success for individuals, companies and nations, we need to focus on fostering a culture of continual learning – vital to safeguarding our success now, and in the future.

City & Guilds Group has experienced over 140 years of change first-hand. We’ve learned a lot on the way and are still learning today.

If there’s one piece of wisdom to share with leaders, it’s that there is no one group that can solve the skills gap single-handedly.

Governments, businesses and individuals need to come together and share responsibility for developing the skills needed to help everyone progress and thrive.

Chris Jones is the chief executive at City & Guilds Group

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