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'Personal learner accounts could reshape learning'

The rapidly changing world of work will require retraining throughout careers, Patrick Spencer writes

Personal learner accounts could be the nudge to a more equitable Britain

The rapidly changing world of work will require retraining throughout careers, Patrick Spencer writes

Predicting the future is not an easy task and is often fraught with error. However, there is near unanimous consensus that the world of work will continue to change dramatically in the twenty-first century.

For instance, the former UK Commission on Employment and Skills found that the workplace of the future will be much more fluid with more external partners and a more flexible workforce that operate across multiple teams.

The emergence of the gig economy reflects this, fewer of us work on fixed contracts to a single party, many more are self-employed “hired guns”, who work project by project, and are paid accordingly.

Globalisation will continue to enforce the increasingly global nature of our working lives. Many can expect to work across national and cultural boundaries, sell to clients and consumers across the world and play a part in elongated supply chains that could mean handling goods as they are made in the East and sold in the West.


Read more: Labour mayor: Create ‘individual learning accounts’

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Background: Scottish government's Individual Training Account scheme launched


Technology will eradicate jobs that were considered indispensable just a few years ago – personal assistants will be replaced by artificial bots that record, organise and notarise events. Tech has and will undoubtedly create more jobs, whether it is in biometric monitoring, big data analysis, hardware design or cyber security.

Whether it is technology becoming more ubiquitous, even greater forces of globalisation, or organisations changing shape and size, it is likely that our children’s working lives will be very different to our own, and almost unrecognisable to our parent’s generation.

These seismic trends have two significant effects for the workers of today and tomorrow. First and foremost, skill demands are changing. Employers want both higher order hard skills and more developed soft skills.

Being barely numerate and unable to read to a good level is just not acceptable. Tragically 9 million people across Britain have low or no basic literacy and numeracy skills. The percentage of job vacancies that demand a higher education qualification has doubled to 40 per cent since the 80s, it could double again over the next 30 years.

Mid-career retraining

Second, we are all growing older which means we will work longer and can expect to have more than one or two careers across our working lives. It is highly likely that someone entering the labour market today could still be working in their seventies, meaning they’ll still be working in the year 2071.

Can you imagine the social, economic and technological changes that will occur in that period? Our education system cannot, even in a perfect world, prepare someone for all the possible eventualities.

Consequently, we need to radically rethink how we prepare and improve our workforce for the future, which means we need to completely rethink how we encourage and enable workers to retrain mid-career.

It is for this reason that the chancellor of the exchequer Philip Hammond /node/730706announced the creation of the National Retraining Scheme in 2017 and why the Centre for Social Justice released its most recent report A Vision for the National Retraining Scheme earlier this month.

A nudge policy

We argue that the NRS should take the form of a Personal Learning Account for everyone in the country. These would be similar to Independent Learning Accounts introduced in the early noughties under Labour.

Workers would commit 0.5 per cent of their pre-tax income to their account every month, while employers would match that commitment. The accrued savings could then be used for accessing training opportunities at regulated and recognised providers. For someone starting work at the age of 21 on £16,900 a year, we forecast they could save up to £1,728 by their 30th birthday.

The Personal Learner Accounts are a nudge policy, designed to trigger people in to thinking and investing in their own skill capacity. The pension auto-enrolment policy was similar, and now nearly 13 million more people have a pension.

The concern from some is that it won’t be the most vulnerable workers in Britain, the low paid and low skilled that will take up this opportunity.

FE has seen considerable cuts

However, the government could budget for a cash incentive for vulnerable unemployed people of up to £500 to get this group thinking more about retraining.

Combine this with greater information on the benefits of retraining and encouragement for employers to talk more about career advancement with staff, we believe that many millions of the most “at-risk” workers will take up the opportunity.

In our report, we also recommend the government reconsiders the funding arrangement for FE colleges in Britain. Further education has seen considerable cuts to budgets since 2011.

Colleges play an increasingly important role in our education framework, whether through provision of apprenticeship training, increasing support for post-secondary education or adult learning.

'More equitable solution'

A more equitable solution between education pathways should be found in the upcoming spending review.

Giving workers the power and opportunity to retrain could be a huge economic stimulus for Britain. government figures calculate the benefit to an individual for increasing their educational attainment by one level to be approximately £7,860.

If half of Britain’s workforce take up the opportunity to retrain, the British economy could grow by £125 billion, approximately 6 per cent.

More importantly though, it will give many the opportunity to have longer and more prosperous working lives.

Patrick Spencer is the head of work and welfare at the Centre for Social Justice

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