• Colin Marshall, Senior Manager |
4 min read

In the second blog in our series on the future of skills, Rhiannon Keen argued that employers needed to be more inventive in how they tackle skills shortages. And that means looking within and reskilling staff, rather than always looking externally.

It’s a view I wholeheartedly agree with – employees in roles that are no longer needed can be transitioned to in-demand roles. But while employers may in some instances pick up the cost of reskilling their existing workforces, who funds learning for those already in the job market?

The Skills and Post-16 Education Bill, currently in the House of Lords, revisits how employers are involved in the skills agenda and aims to improve access to adult further education. On the whole, it’s a significant step in promoting skills training.

It stems from the need to address the current skills shortage by giving employers a greater say in how future employees are trained. It recognises that the system we have at the moment isn’t equipped for a fast-changing skills landscape.

Considering how industries and jobs are evolving, we need a new skills level currency for education. It needs to be crafted to prepare people working today for jobs of tomorrow. Importantly, to make this transition, you don’t have to start from scratch.

I believe it starts with rethinking skills. What people can do is not always captured in the degrees and certificates they have. The skills and experience they bring to the table go far beyond. Because we’ve codified learning within qualifications, we easily miss treasured skills individuals have. By identifying and certifying these skills, we can find this treasure in the heart of organisations.

We can make the most of their experience and create shorter learning pathways. We can also top up core skills with in-demand skills using a new stackable model. People looking to get reskilled can rely on bespoke skills ladders for targeted job roles.

Starting with skills, not qualifications

Our current qualifications fall short of meeting employer needs. Qualifications gained in the classroom do not always translate into skills used in a workplace. And this is not the first time we have identified this; we’ve been here before.

I first became aware of further education (FE) through my parents taking evening classes in subjects that matched their interests.  The courses were affordable, bitesized and not always linked to qualifications; they were designed to deliver skills. Back then, we used to talk a lot about lifelong learning and the potential benefits of ‘community learning’. Adult education classes were a significant part of the curriculum in the early 1980s.

But since then, our technical and vocational training programs have become part of larger qualifications. Our system with degrees, apprenticeship standards and T-Levels is focused but unitised and requires significant commitment of time and money. The flexibility offered in the form of optional units is insufficient. The approaches for accreditation of prior learning and experience are often poorly applied which increases the cost and time of training.

In many cases, certified training programs haven’t caught up with emerging needs. Outside of professional qualifications, employers find it difficult to know what to expect from people. Overall, our qualifications are inadequate, inflexible and too complex for employers to navigate.

I think the solution lies in replacing qualifications with skills bridge programmes.

Creating a new bridge for in-demand skills

We need shorter programmes with new skills combinations that directly cater to business needs. Combined with lifelong learning for existing staff, developing a fungible workforce can be a lot more efficient. With new skills certifications, many people wouldn’t need a three-year degree or full apprenticeship to transition to a different role.

The first step to create a skills bridge is to have a granular view of the skills people have. Then we need to look at the competencies needed for a job role and factor in the impact of emerging technologies on different tasks. This can give us a deeper understanding of the skills individuals need to acquire.

A singular view of skills, tasks and in-demand jobs can help shape training requirements for specific job profiles. For example, our Faethm analysis tells us that sales assistants, customer service and administration staff could be a good fit to work as care workers or teaching assistants by developing existing skills such as active listening, decision making and monitoring.

This can pave the way for relevant sector or location-based micro-certifications. We can also better align skills to qualifications by using skills insights for relevant use of Accreditation of Prior Learning and Experience (APEL).

Imagine what such an approach and ability can mean for employers who struggle to fill job positions with specific skills. The hidden treasure within organisations can certainly offer a lot.

To discuss what the changing skills and qualification landscape means for your business, you can reach out to me at Colin.Marshall@KPMG.co.uk.

Who is Faethm

Faethm is an AI platform that provides insight into the impact of emerging technology on workforce size, shape and skills for an organisation, industry or place. KPMG has unique access to UK economic data on the Faethm platform, bringing our Workforce Transformation Framework to life, so we can support our clients to take advantage of the opportunities brought about from augmentation and automation.