News & views

Need help now?

Our advice centre has a lot of the information you need.

Read more

Become a Union Learning rep

Help yourself and your colleagues get on at work by becoming a Union Learning Rep

Read more

Skills challenge is one we must overcome

Roy Rickhuss
Roy Rickhuss
10th February 2020

“There are huge responsibilities for all of us to get this right…”

Roy Rickhuss wrote for Unions 21 about the skills challenge facing the country.

The changing work landscape brings with it a number of challenges not just for unions but for employers, policy makers and government too. One particular area will be the very real skills challenge amongst our current and future workforce. The Industrial Strategy Council found that workers are even more likely to be over-skilled or under-skilled by 2030: eighty per cent of that workforce are already in work today.

An additional 7 million workers (20% of the current labour market) could be noticeably under-skilled for their job. This matters a great deal to our economy and comes at a high cost for employers and workers alike.

A skills mismatch further hampers our productivity, which is currently at its lowest level since the start of the industrial revolution. This then impacts on the pay, living standards and job satisfaction of workers while also affecting competitiveness for UK businesses.

It is a stark concern that the supply of skills across our workforce will struggle to keep up with demand over the next decade. Without action, skills such as teaching and training skills that will impact re-skilling efforts, digital skills, leadership and management skills, as well as specialist STEM skills will be deficient, but all are vital to our future economy.

The UK has one of the lowest levels of government and business investment in adult training among OECD countries, yet re-skilling the existing workforce will be one of the major challenges between now and 2030.

Photo of Roy Rickhuss speaking at the Industrial Strategy Council skills event

Roy Rickhuss speaking at the Skills Mismatch report launch


Skills challenge

If we don’t rise to this challenge, not only will the workforce struggle but so will our economy in ensuring successful adoption of AI and the increasing automation of our economy.

Importantly, workers must be agents throughout the changing work landscape and economy. With the demand for more existing skills, as well as new skills, change cannot be something that simply happens to workers.

The spread of automation and increasing use of technology in the workplace has great positive potential. It is dramatically reshaping the jobs people do and how they do them. It could boost productivity and pay, reduce inequalities, give workers more agency and improve the quality and enjoyability of work. But it also has the potential to displace lower-skilled jobs in some sectors, and workers could be let down by failure to equip them with the skills they need to confront the coming change.

Current government policies and initiatives of targeting the areas where skills mismatches could occur do not look sufficient in scale to address the skills gaps that are predicted, as well as which workers are currently being impacted.

Workers will need to be given the tools to be flexible and agile and have the motivation to return to learning throughout their working lives.

There are huge responsibilities for all of us to get this right, with a long-term vision, continuous investment in skills and technology, and a diverse and engaged workforces.

Trade unions will be crucial in working with individuals, government and employers to deliver training and upskilling opportunities to ensure workers are equipped and are resilient to the changing world of work.

We must overcome the skills challenge, because, in the end, it’s working people who are the foundation of our economy, and our changing work landscape must be built with them and for them.

This comment piece was first published on the Unions 21 blog

Skills is the theme of one of Community’s current priority campaigns.