Nine in 10 UK employees will have to reskill by 2030 as a result of the pandemic accelerating changes to the world of work, according to a report from the Confederation of British Industry (CBI).

The report, based on analysis by McKinsey, found that in the next decade 26 million workers would require upskilling to keep up to date with technological and business developments as their role evolved. Meanwhile, another five million would go through a fundamental job change and require retraining, it discovered.

Kirstie Donnelly, chief executive at City & Guilds Group, said coronavirus had created a hugely challenging environment for employers and workers, adding that it had forced “millions of people into unemployment” without adequate skills to form a new career.

“With unemployment set to rise above 3.4 million by the end of year and potentially a no-deal Brexit on the horizon, what we need now is a clear vision for lifelong learning that is focused on helping people to identify the transferable skills they have and develop the new skills they will need both now and throughout the rest of their working lives,” said Donnelly.

While the CBI report welcomed the government’s renewed focus on skills as a result of the coronavirus, including the promise of a lifetime skills guarantee, it pointed out that changes to the world of work, including new technologies, had been putting jobs at risk long before the outbreak. It said the roles most at risk of automation – which, according to ONS data, were waiters, shelf fillers and elementary sales occupations – also had the lowest rates of training, the highest unemployment rates and the lowest wages.

Workers in low-skilled jobs that were at high risk of automation also had a 40 per cent lower training participation rate than for higher-skilled workers. Additionally, half of those in the lowest socioeconomic group in the UK had received no training since leaving school, the report said. 

Lizzie Crowley, skills policy adviser at the CIPD, said the report raised a number of critical issues around reskilling the workforce for the future. “It’s recognising that technological change, Brexit and the challenge of the pandemic show a real need to focus and invest in reskilling to ensure employers will have the skills that are required by the changing economy,” she said.

Crowley added that L&D budgets were “under pressure”, but that a case needed to be made for the maintenance of these activities in organisations. “We will risk getting left behind as a country, as employer investment in training has been in long-term decline in the UK,” she said.

To prevent new skills gaps emerging, the CBI predicted the UK would need to spend an additional £130bn over 10 years – equivalent to £13bn a year or an additional £4,300 per worker – on adult education, marking a 25 per cent increase on current expenditure.

“[The] economic impact of Covid-19 makes starting now only more urgent,” said Carolyn Fairbairn, director general at the CBI, adding that much more needed to be done to “hardwire a culture of lifelong learning”. She called on unions, education providers and the government to ensure employees working fewer hours had opportunities to retrain and reskill, and suggested the apprenticeship levy should be turned into a broader flexible skills and training levy – a call also being made by the CIPD.

“A failure to act will leave businesses facing skills shortages and workers facing long-term unemployment,” she said.

Simon Ashworth, chief policy officer at the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, also issued a warning about the current state of apprenticeships. The number of new starts had “slumped alarmingly” before the outbreak, he said, and pandemic restrictions had exacerbated the problem.

“Approximately 45,000 existing apprentices can’t complete their training because they can’t go into test centres or their workplaces to be tested for functional skills in numeracy and literacy,” he said.

“Instead of regarding this as an issue for training providers and awarding organisations, ministers should be putting the interests of apprentices first by allowing them to progress with their careers in these unprecedented circumstances.”

This article was originally published on People Management.

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