The publication of the Taylor Review into modern employment practices last week called for higher quality jobs. But how we build and recognise skills needs to be moved up the agenda if workers are to compete in an increasingly digital employment market, says Chris Jones, chief executive of the City & Guilds Group.
She may regret some of her recent choices, but one of the best decisions Theresa May made last year was to commission a review of modern working practices by RSA chief executive Matthew Taylor.
The attractiveness, and indeed availability, of the nine to five office job with a nice pension at the end has been replaced by a much more fragmented, flexible, complex and dynamic set of employment options — flexible working, the “gig” economy, a “portfolio career”, frequent career changes and global employment market are all part-and-parcel to today’s working world.
Taylor’s review, published last week, offered a wide-reaching look at what he called ‘good work’ – challenging government, business and society not to only focus on employment figures and job creation – but on creating good quality jobs.
While the headlines focused on Taylor’s proposals to replace “worker” status with that of “dependent contractor”, more should have been made of the inexorable link between relevant skills and “good employment”.
There are two key points from the review that I’d like to highlight, which didn’t get much ink in the comment pages – the opportunity that technology presents and the necessity of getting serious about investing in the skills of our people.
Race for skills
In fact I’d suggest that Chapter 11, which focuses on skills development, should be on the reading list of anyone thinking about the changing nature of work – in Government or in business.
On the horizon, the mass application of automation and artificial intelligence (“the rise of the robots”) is looming, and other technologies are emerging, such as augmented and virtual reality.
The race is on to create the conditions in which individuals and businesses can not only survive a potential mass job displacement, but thrive in this new world.
I agree with Taylor that instead of dwelling on the threat of technology destroying jobs, we need to remember that technology also presents opportunities to improve the quality of work by removing “drudgery” and creating space for higher value, more productive, more fulfilling activities.
Digital platforms, for example, can make it easier for employers to deliver useful, targeted training – from short, sharp “just in time” training modules to immersive, multi-cultural learning experiences which don’t require a plane ticket or a seven-figure budget. But this potential is still going broadly unrealised.
Employers can make better use of these existing tools by keeping an open mind to trying new approaches. For example, Taylor points to the potential offered by digital “credentialing” to make skills learned in formal and informal environments visible and shareable.
The review cites work by ‘World Chefs’ in conjunction with DigitalMe and City & Guilds to create digital credentials with international transferability and credibility in the culinary sector.
Individuals can submit evidence of achievements – such as successfully using a culinary technique or effective team work. If they meet the requirements they are then awarded a digital credential as a visible, shareable way to prove their competenc
With people constantly moving between roles and businesses, capturing this sort of information matters both for recruitment and for making employers aware of any gaps so they can plan training accordingly.
But as Taylor says, “while work has become more flexible, too often learning and skills does not match this flexibility”.
Another opportunity, according to Taylor, is articulating a consistent spine of employability skills – or in other words taking a common approach to defining skills such as communication and teamwork.
This, he said, could help ensure that “every job enables people to develop their future employment potential”. He’s spot on and indeed this has been talked about in the sector for years. It’s time to make this a reality.
Overall, the Taylor review could be the start to a wider national conversation about the workplace of tomorrow. Some of the challenges ahead may be unpredictable – 15 years ago few of us could have envisioned things that are now routine, from Alexa and Siri to never needing cash for a taxi.
But what’s clear is that technology is already shaking things up, and this is happening against a complex background of demographic shifts, globalisation, widening skills gaps … and of course we can’t forget the giant elephant in the room that is Brexit.
If we are to navigate these changes successfully, policymakers and employers must recognise that technology is an enabler to creating good working conditions for all, but only if people have the skills to effectively use and benefit from that technology.
There’s no point in creating “good jobs” if we don’t have the skills to fill them.
As the Government explores its policy response to the Taylor review, we must encourage them to take on its broader points around skills and people development and avoid the temptation to simply respond to the more headline-worthy elements of the report.