The national skills shortage is often cited as a problem, but what does this really mean for students today? To answer this question, the Industrial Strategy Council, an advisory group comprising representatives of leading businesses, recently identified the qualifications, knowledge and workplace skills which are likely to face a mismatch in supply/ demand by 2030 as a result of the changing nature of work. They found that in just ten years, one in every five workers in the UK could be under-skilled for their job requirements. In particular, digital skills and STEM competences were highlighted as amongst the biggest gaps.
Students in full time studies today will make up 20% of the workforce in 2030. Therefore, it is absolutely vital that their education equips them with the right aptitudes and skills to address this large and widening gap. It is equally important that they receive the right advice and guidance to marry their career ambitions with the realities of the future jobs market. As the OECD’s Head of Education and Skills recently said: “Young people’s career aspirations increasingly bear little relation to actual labour market demand. Aspirations are influenced by background, families and knowledge about the world of work. Students cannot be what they cannot see.”
UTCs only exist because employers across a variety of industries (from digital to health, from engineering to creative media) recognised that the widening technical skills gaps in their businesses were not being met by the current education system. They could see that the world of work is changing, in terms of both the types of new job roles needed in the future, especially as a consequence of the digital age, and the skills required to fill them. At the same time, automation and artificial intelligence are eliminating a range of traditional jobs, as well as the requirement for certain capabilities, such as acquiring substantial amounts of knowledge in rote-based fashion and thinking in a step-by-step linear, or purely logical manner. Unfortunately, these actions are precisely those which computers are able to perform much more quickly and more reliably than humans, but which the school system, in general, prioritises.
Therefore, an education which truly prepares young people for the future needs to focus far more on active (as opposed to passive) learning, on technical skills (especially related to STEM subjects), and on personal and collaborative attributes. In other words, while knowledge is as necessary as ever, it is no longer enough. Knowledge also needs to be connected with the real world through practical applications. UTCs, through profound employer engagement in the design of the school curriculum and in the delivery of activities such as project-based learning, ensure that this happens. At the same time, employer mentoring and work experience enable our students to connect their career aspirations to the rapidly changing requirements of the workplace, equally vital if our country is to close the predicted skills gaps. By doing this, UTCs really do provide an education today for the jobs of tomorrow.