The Time to Reskill is Now – Labour Article

The Time to Reskill is Now – Labour Article

The countdown has officially started. The end of the Covid-19 pandemic in the UK is insight. Now is the time to begin discussions of how the economy gets back on its feet and how those who lost their jobs are best reintegrated into the labour market. For this to happen, the UK’s workers must reskill. 

This matter is extremely pressing because the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has declared that 9/10 employees will have to reskill by the end of the decade. The Covid-19  pandemic has exacerbated the trend of automation as services are now increasingly delivered remotely, and manufacturing and data processing are conducted through the use of computer systems.

McKinsey & co (one of the worlds largest and most high profile consultancy firms) projected that employment opportunities in positions such as manufacturing operatives, textiles workers, transport operatives, secretarial and leisure service roles, will fall by 10-20%. As you read through these jobs I’m sure you will know many people who fit the description, and who are dependent on that income. A crisis is around the corner unless action is taken. The answer is to change the way we educate not just children but also adults and the key to this will be tackling regional, racial and economic inequality. 

The sectors projected for drastic growth in the future economy of the UK are automation and data processing. Positions within these fields require level 4 or 5 qualifications (Bachelors and above). Whilst more young people are attending university than ever before, adult education rates have collapsed in recent times. The Learning and Work Survey of 2019 indicated that only 17% of adults were engaged in academic or professional education (a 12 percentage point decrease since 2001).

Perhaps more worrying is the fact that only one in three adults out of work were engaged in education or skills development courses. Current government policy should not be totally discounted. The current approach targets adults who did not achieve A-levels and provides the opportunity to study at a local college. The aim of this article is not to criticise current policy. It is to encourage policymakers to take extra steps that will avoid a skills shortage crisis and an unemployment boom. 

Government policy that addresses universities and students has needed a rethink for some time. This was highlighted during the pandemic when students were a seldom-discussed topic in national press conferences. Many students were left paying bills and rent for empty accommodation that was not serving them. I hope that when the inevitable discussion about student welfare and financial support arrives the question of how to support and encourage mature students is not sidelined. We must boost adult education rates. With 15% of mature students dropping out of their degrees after a year, mostly due to financial pressures, it should be clear that a change in tact is required. 

I mentioned earlier that racial and regional inequality are two of the key subtexts that underline this oncoming economic crisis. The cities of the Midlands and the North which suffered in the Thatcherite economic reshuffle could be adversely affected again. This is because they are still far behind London in terms of wealth and skilled professional population. The move to automation, which has been termed the fourth industrial revolution, could bring mass unemployment to the working class. This is unless action is taken to create pathways that lead to careers in the emerging growth sectors. 

When assessing the educational or professional projection of different groups in society there is a significant disadvantage. This is amongst certain groups which contain a relatively high percentage of non-English speakers. Bangladeshi and Pakistani populations in England reported upwards of 20% non-English speakers. Amongst the different BAME groups, this correlates with them having the lowest hourly wages. As well as supporting mature students through educational or professional courses, it is imperative that we pay attention to those groups in society who face the biggest socio-economic obstacles. 

The solution I advocate for is the rebirth of adult education. The government should provide financial support both for the cost of education and to help cover the costs of childcare or other responsibilities that may be preventing adults from undertaking education or training. Coupled with this, the expansion of state-funded education centres outside of the linear school system is vital to allow adults who may not meet university entry requirements (i.e. those held back by a lack of English proficiency) to combat inequality. 

Written by Senior Labour Writer, Henry McKeever

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Point of Information

Job market realignment is no new phenomenon – A Conservative Response

High-level automation in a wide number of industries is undoubtedly on the horizon. That statement could have been said 20/30 years ago, however, and people would have believed it just as much. Henry is right, the pandemic has forced businesses to invest in technology that moves them in the direction of automation. This is something that is inevitable, and the pandemic has certainly sped up the process. 

What’s not so certain is the extent of its effect on the job market. Henry cites CBI figures on employment skill readjustment, suggesting 90% of the workforce will need re-education by the end of the decade. In comparison, Oxford Economics place the estimate far lower; 20 million by the end of 2030. I don’t wish to suggest that Henry’s figures are incorrect, merely that these shifts are difficult to predict.

Labour readjustment isn’t new; history is littered with it. With hindsight, the protestations against mechanisation, industrialisation, or even the complete closures of those industries when they are no longer viable are deemed short-sighted and regressive. But what’s for certain is that progress made in technology that results in short-term job loss improves productivity, creating further jobs. 

Henry is right, education is a key factor in ensuring that workers can more easily transition  Especially in the face of a job market ever placing value on technological competence. Encouraging STEM education, or higher education more generally, must be a high priority of this and future governments. If Boris Johnson is serious about his “levelling up” campaign pledge, a re-evaluation of educational priorities would be a good starting point for policymaking. 

The point Henry makes about the discrepancies between ethnic minority students and prospects based on education is valid, if limited. It must be highlighted that a recent report by MPs has highlighted the neglect shown to white working-class pupils. This is a demographic with some of the lowest exam result grades and lowest chances of gaining university entry. Education is for all and must be seen as such, not divided by class, race, or other social indicators.

To the wider point of the article, Henry should not be so despondent. The jobs market regularly shifts but has always created space for new opportunities. It’s all in the name of progress; the shifts in the job market are unpleasant when they happen, but jobs always reappear in new forms. 

Written by Guest Conservative Writer, Alex McQuitty

We need to destigmatize and expand vocational training to reskill – A Liberal Response

The labour market has been changing gradually for a long time. It is now rapidly trying to keep up with our recent technological advancements. Traditional ‘unskilled’ labour has been dying a slow and painful death since Thatcher’s day. However, as Henry astutely points out, the pandemic has accelerated these changes at a record pace. His call for rapid change is certainly justified.

Education is easily the best means of social mobility in our world. It can help to open up a number of doors and increase a person’s options. Therefore, expansion to education is, as Henry suggests, the only real answer. But I do not think the solution rests with the expansion of university education. Of course, if someone wants to go to university then they should be able to go, regardless of their background. However, making universities less ‘bourgeois’ and more inclusive, although unquestionably important, is not necessarily the focus of this article.

Many of the jobs currently most in-demand—including those in IT, software, and data manipulation—do not necessarily need a degree. In fact, many of the so-called graduate jobs do not really need a degree either. Yet for some reason, it is often a requirement. Thus many individuals still choose to go to university because it is seen as a necessary stepping stone for many ‘white-collar’, reputable jobs. And it’s this elitist snobbery that is preventing the expansion of vocational training.

Boris Johnson, who I do not often find myself agreeing with, has called to end the “vacuous” distinction between the academic and the practical. During the same speech, he talks of creating and expanding ‘digital boot-camps’. The aim of these is to teach necessary IT skills to adults who lack formal education. Moreover, he pledges to change the funding model to make it as easy to study engineering for a year at a college as it is to get funding the same way current university students do. At present, however, these ideas are still solely empty words. I sincerely hope they will be put into practice soon.

Therefore, although it is paramount that we keep pushing to make universities more inclusive, it should not be sold as the only option. Nor should it be regarded as the ‘better’ option. We must expand and destigmatize vocational training. I truly believe that these courses will be greatly beneficial in these rapidly changing times. However, most importantly, they can help to open doors for the many people who have been locked out and left in the dark for far too long.

Written by Senior Liberal Writer, Beccy Reeves

Henry Mckeever
Senior Labour writer | Website

I am entering the third year of a BA in History and Ancient History at the University of Exeter.  I have a fascination with the past otherwise and you would hope so, otherwise I may have chosen the wrong degree. But, writing for POI gives me the opportunity to talk politics which is something I simply can’t avoid.

Alex McQuitty
Beccy Reeves

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