How colleges can support the jobs of the future

The world of work is changing – but colleges can keep pace with the skills future employees will need, says Peter Cheese

Peter Cheese

We don't know exactly what the jobs of the future will be - but colleges can provide the right kind of skills, says Peter Cheese

Even before Covid-19, it was clear that the world of work in 2030 is going to look considerably different than it does today. Tasks, roles and entire jobs are set to be transformed, as technology rapidly changes work, drives up demand for new and higher skills, and increases the incidence of skills shortages and job displacements.

In this fast-changing world, it has never been more important to support individuals to reskill and upskill as the economy, jobs and industries change. The Covid-19 pandemic has only accelerated the need for action, increasing the need for governments, educators and business in each of the four UK nations to come together and support retraining and helping people to deploy across jobs and sectors.


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Yet, despite the pressing need for action, for far too long businesses have underinvested in training their workforces. Coupled with chronic underinvestment in lifelong learning, this means that the UK lags considerably behind other developed nations. 

Colleges can, and should, play a central role in responding to these challenges, but to date they have been underfunded and underutilised, unable to realise their full potential. Today’s report from the Independent Commission on the College of the Future sets out a powerful vision for a reinvigorated, revitalised and networked college sector across the UK nations and regions.

Colleges can deliver future skills

At the heart of this vision is a radical shift, with colleges becoming a central place to deliver on lifelong learning, supported by a funding system that allows individuals to upskill and retrain throughout their lives. Colleges are integral to community-based learning, vocational learning and working closely with employers. This means funding colleges to develop and deliver learning opportunities that are more flexible and personalised, providing learners with access to bite-sized and buildable learning, certificated through micro- qualifications or credits, and which can be packaged up over time into more substantive learning journeys and qualifications.

Alongside this is the need for colleges not just to support the development of technical skills but also core essential or employability skills such as communication, team working and problem solving. Given the pace of change, there is a growing recognition that while it is difficult to predict, with any certainty or level of detail, the jobs of the future, it is these truly human capabilities that will be increasingly important. And the crisis itself has already placed another strong focus on transferable skills.

Colleges are uniquely positioned to support that development of these key essential skills. Yet a major barrier is that these skills can be difficult to understand because employers and educators use very different language when describing them, creating a confusing landscape for learners to navigate. So, if we are to make real headway, all this needs to be underpinned by an agreed and common language to describe these skills and a common framework to define, measure and assess them.

In recognition of this challenge, over the past two years, the CIPD has been collaborating with leaders in the education and skills sectors as part of an Essential Skills Taskforce with a shared ambition to create a common language and framework for skills that would span education and employment, enabling people to develop these skills throughout their lifetime. This essential skills framework sets out the core skills that employers require to complement technical skills in the workplace, and can help education and training providers to prepare people for employment.

Increasing participation in lifelong learning must be a priority. If we are to address current and future skills gaps, we need to have a clear vision and a long-term strategy, underpinned by sustainable funding, with colleges at the heart of it. 

Peter Cheese is chief executive of CIPD (the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development)

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