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21st Century Skills

27 Nov 2015


How do we create and maintain 21st century career paths?


We have had regular enquiries into shortages of what we now call “digital skills” for almost 50 years. The underlying cyclical pattern was identified in the 1980s. Recession accelerates the decline in demand for old skills and delays investment in training for the new skills that are taking their place. Recovery sees a “crisis”, often with staff turnover rates among those with the skills in current demand of over 30% p.a.; and another round of studies. No amount of effort in “trying to predict the unpredictable” in order to better target vocational education, will bring about significant change unless we reward employers who recruit trainees and retrain existing staff more than those who compete for staff trained by their customers or competitors, import supposedly skilled staff or export jobs. We need to break out of ground hog day.


It is currently more economic for many UK employers to compete for skilled staff or import from overseas, rather than train their own. We have to level the playing field between those who recruit trainees and retrain existing staff and those who import supposedly skilled “contractors”. The latter are often paid tax free allowances for travel and accommodation that are not available to UK contractors and can be exempted from national insurance up to year. We need to level the playing field.  


Given the growing unpredictability of demand we need to make it much easier to mix and match modules for just-in-time delivery (to meet immediate skills needs) with those for longer term career development across academic and professional disciplines. Colleges and universities could derive significant earnings from the delivery of short course modules (both residential and on-line) within the global apprenticeship and continuous professional development programmes of major engineering and financial services employers but are constrained by funding regimes which demand predictions. 


When seeking to predict skills needs, we need to distinguish between core disciplines (which change slowly, if at all, over time) and technology, product and service technology related skills where demand can change before the curriculum, let alone content, is agreed. We also need to find better ways of relating publicly funded and accredited qualifications and courses to current and emerging skills needs and employers' recruitment and training plans, without overloading those who do seek to plan ahead with “consultations” asking questions they cannot answer.


The topics include:

  • Making it more attractive for employers to retrain existing staff or recruit trainees let alone import skills or export jobs by addressing the tax treatment of trainees and training costs.

  • Levelling the tax playing field between UK and imported contractors with regard to national insurance and expenses, including training costs.

  • Encouraging the provision of lifelong learning, when, where and how needed, with local access to world class learning and training: from technical and graduate-level  apprenticeships to post-graduate continuous professional development.

  • Providing accurate, attractive, relevant and student-centric careers guidance for a world in which ever fewer employers offer in-house personal development structures or support.

  • Helping schools, colleges, universities, funding agencies and accreditation bodies to better respond to the challenges of rapid and often unpredictable change.  

How do you participate?


Please send  an e-mail with note of your interests and expertise, including relevant professional and/or political experience, to the CTF Vice Chairman, Policy Studies:

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