Blog: The UK “Made Smarter” : Up-skilling one million workers in digital skills to exploit the digital opportunity

Blog Written By Phil Smith CBE

Together with the Royal Academy of Engineering, Semta and the Tech Partnership, we have engaged hundreds of workers across the nation – all passionate to have a say in the UK skills debate. The dialogue’s centred on defining what we need to prepare the country for the future of work in the light of job automation.

Why is reskilling important and why now?
By 2030, two-thirds of the UK workforce will have already left mainstream education. This means if we continue focusing our efforts on changing education at the school level alone, we are going to miss the first wave of workers.

Those in most critical need are those who have already had their job automated, followed by those holding jobs that are about to be automated – IPPR estimates this to be around 1 in 3 UK jobs over the next 20 years. The outlook is worse outside London. In the North East, 48% of jobs are at “high risk” of automation by 2024.

Given that technology automates the lowest skilled and lowest value work, we must focus here - to skill the workforce ahead of the automation curve and avoid having a profound impact on employment. This requires a systematic approach to reskilling and upskilling workers.

What’s concerning is that compared to other European countries, reskilling is less ingrained in our culture. UK companies spend half as much as the European average on vocational training and investment per employee declined by 13.6% between 2007 and 2015. A big part of the issue today is that SMEs make a relatively high investment in training their workers and absorb a relatively high risk in having a trained employee leaving before a return on the investment has been made.

We need to build a country-wide culture of reskilling – lifelong learning, to avoid automation causing an increase in unemployment. As part of this review, we calculated that we need to upskill a million workers. Below are the 3 recommendations, we made in the review to bring this vision closer to reality:

Skills Recommendations to “Made Smarter”

  1. Create a single national Skills Strategy and Implementation Group (SSIG) under the governance of the Made Smarter Commission. This group would act as a focal point for the engagement of industry and provide a forum for identifying future skills requirements, synchronising and focusing existing initiatives, and ensuring quality and consistency through a kite-marking mechanism.
  2. Establish a modern digital delivery platform providing scalable, relevant, timely and easily ‘digestible’ (modular) content for upskilling and reskilling. This would enable all companies, but particularly SMEs, to play their part in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, with incentives and networks in place to drive adoption.
  3. Establish an incentivised programme, by industry and government, to improve digital skills capabilities. The programme would take the form of personal training and reskilling allowances, which would be targeted at individuals whose jobs are being displaced by automation, workers whose skillsets need to evolve to next-generation capabilities. Read the report in full here.

Give your support
Industrial digitalisation could boost UK manufacturing by £455bn and create a net gain of 175,000 jobs specialising in the new digital technologies of the future. The opportunity is huge. This week, the government announces the budget. We have high hopes in seeing some of these recommendations adopted.