A Skills Revolution or Escalating Skills Gap: The UK's Pivotal Crossroads

The United Kingdom is on the precipice of a skills revolution.

As the world of work continues to evolve rapidly, nurturing individuals with future-ready skills is no longer a luxury but a necessity.

Earlier this month, Keir Starmer, leader of the Labour Party, presented his argument for skills development in the United Kingdom. His mission speech suggested that human skills such as oracy, communication and confidence are crucial for workplace success, ultimately contributing to the social mobility of the disadvantaged. 

Starmer’s speech coincided with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak sharing his vision for the UK to become a global frontrunner in AI. At London Tech Week, the Prime Minister stated, “I want to make the UK not just the intellectual home but the geographical home of global AI safety regulation.” The government has also promised to crack down on “rip-off” degrees that don’t lead to graduate jobs. The Office for Students (OfS) will be tasked with regulating the enrolment numbers for university programmes that fall short of producing graduates entering the workforce, engaging in further studies, or launching their own businesses. The government has not yet indicated which courses or degrees are “rip-offs”.

As the discourse on skills development intensifies, the United Kingdom stands at a pivotal crossroads. The urgency for decisive, informed action has never been greater. While Starmer and Sunak are correct in their focus on human and AI skills, a breakthrough in skills development is only possible when policymakers, in alliance with organisations, invest at scale to develop a multi-skilled workforce. If the UK falters in these efforts by underinvesting or misdirecting focus, the risk of expanding an already looming skills gap becomes a reality. 

This crossroads presents two options for the modern workplace: either boldly advance by developing a multi-skilled workforce, or stumble into a future where growth is stunted and defined by an entrenched lack of skills. 

For Corndel, the choice is clear—we choose advancement.

The future of work belongs to the multi-skilled

As we come to terms with the evolving landscape of work, it is becoming increasingly clear that a significant proportion of the workforce will need to develop a diverse skillset to keep up with rapid change. No longer confined to their niche, many employees across a wide range industries will be required to blend technical proficiencies with human skills, fostering an ability to adapt across varied roles and challenges. This multi-skilled approach is fast becoming the new norm, equipping individuals to navigate the complexities of a rapidly changing business environment.

The age of specialisation, where one skill could carry you through your entire career, is being replaced by an era where breadth of knowledge is just as important as depth. McKinsey claims that “by 2025, smart workflows and seamless interactions among humans and machines will likely be as standard as the corporate balance sheet, and most employees will use data to optimise nearly every aspect of their work.” Soon, the most effective teams will be ones where interdisciplinary skills and knowledge cross-pollinate, fostering innovative solutions that would be impossible in a more traditional structure.

Preparing for an increasingly complex workplace

This shift in skills requirements for the modern workplace isn’t just about individual roles; it’s about the longevity and survival of businesses in a rapidly changing world. Due to the speed of change, the average lifespan of a company is predicted to decrease. The only viable way to stave off obsolescence is by building agile businesses, with a significant part of this agility deriving from a multi-skilled workforce.

Why is this shift happening? The simple answer is complexity. McKinsey (2023) identified the most significant shifts facing organisations today; at the top of this list was to ‘increase speed, strengthening resilience.’ To be able to do this, organisations are required to “give power to their people and develop a culture of continuous learning.”

As organisational landscapes become increasingly more complex, this can present significant opportunities to reskill. A diverse, adaptable workforce increases value, boosts productivity, and promotes organisational growth. This emphasis on versatility enhances individual productivity and contributes to organisations’ agility and competitiveness in an age of ceaseless innovation.

Human skills are more critical than ever

In the wake of continuous digital transformation, concerns persist that rapidly evolving AI capabilities may render human labour redundant. Instead, the increasing integration of AI into organisations is creating more demand for AI-supportive roles than ever before. McKinsey highlights this trend, revealing that in 2022, 39% of organisations employed software engineers, while 35% hired data engineers for AI-related positions. A Forbes Advisor survey supports this, demonstrating that an overwhelming 97% of business owners envision ChatGPT as a value-adding asset to their operations.

Undoubtedly, the rising tide of automation and AI is reshaping the workplace landscape at an extraordinary pace, transforming roles and entire industries and necessitating robust technical skills. Yet, despite these advancements, it is human attributes that machines cannot replicate. Human skills like creativity, critical thinking, emotional intelligence, interpersonal skills, and ethical decision-making will drive the workforce of tomorrow and play an essential role in the sustainability and success of organisations.

The societal implications of skills development

According to the UK’s Social Mobility Commission, only 35% of UK adults believe that everyone has a fair chance to go as far as their hard work will take them, with 46% believing that societal position is determined by one’s background and parents’ status. Against this backdrop, education is a critical pathway to improving social mobility. However, there is an increasing sentiment that the education sector, has been slow or has failed to adequately respond to the rapid changes in the world of work.

This reluctance or inability to adapt threatens to widen the skills gap and foster a digital and social divide. Within this context, a multi-skilled workforce becomes more than a business necessity; it becomes a societal imperative with the potential to enhance social mobility on two fronts. On an individual level, those equipped with a broad set of adaptable skills are more likely to advance in their careers and seize diverse opportunities. Societally, a multi-skilled workforce can contribute to a more resilient and inclusive economy. As industries evolve and job roles transform, a workforce capable of quickly pivoting and acquiring new skills can help prevent unemployment and ensure economic stability. 

In the face of growing complexity, the world of work demands a blend of technical acumen and essential human skills. For organisations keen on achieving growth and staying ahead of the curve, empowering a workforce with a fusion of skills is not just an option, it's an essential strategic need.

At Corndel, we recognise that more than technical knowledge is needed to succeed. We champion the intersection of tech skills with human skills, empathy, creativity, leadership, and ethics, as drivers of innovation, problem-solving, and effective communication in the workplace.
The apprenticeship levy can help

The levy, or apprenticeship levy, is a government initiative introduced in April 2017 to promote professional training in the United Kingdom. It aims to close the skills gap, boost workforce capabilities, and support economic growth.

Organisations with an annual pay bill exceeding £3 million contribute 0.5% of their total pay bill to the levy. These funds are allocated to a digital account, expiring after 24 months if not used. Organisations should actively utilise their funds to deliver skills development training for all levels of skill and competence. 

Corndel has helped 20,000 learners access high-impact training programmes and degree apprenticeships delivered by Corndel College London (CCL). These training solutions can be fully funded by the levy, highly customised and tailored to each organisation’s strategic needs, having a tangible impact on business growth and employee satisfaction.

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