Skills for the Future Round Table

On the 8th of February 2017 The Centre for Work-based Learning held a roundtable event on Future Skills for Scotland. The event was chaired by Deborah Roseveare from the OECD with input from a range of Scottish and international attendees see agenda and delegates (PDF). Here are some of the highlights of the discussion:


A complex and ever changing environment

We are living in an increasingly complex world facing big challenges. As we consider how the skills system could look in the future, the known and unknown impact of these changes on Scotland’s economy and society, and the way they interrelate, create an incredibly complex environment to design within.

Even if we are optimistic about the future, there are many who see change as a threat to their way of life and feel fearful about their place in society. We need to make sure our work improves the life chances of everyone in Scotland.  It is vital that we take an inclusive approach to any change we create.

Most global discourse on the future of work suggests that advances in technology will determine our future – and that the impacts could be both positive and negative. New technology brings many opportunities, and it is vital to consider how human performance can be strengthened, so that the people of Scotland can use their skills and abilities to drive positive change themselves.


Skills for the future

Skills Development Scotland in partnership with the Centre for Work-Based Learning have been doing some initial research to understand the future skills that will be required to enable people to thrive in a future that looks very different to the present. The group discussed a range of skills & capabilities and identified a number that were considered vital to drive a productive and competitive economy.

These skills are not all new or unheard of, but their relative importance has increased and the ways in which they can be effectively developed in individuals are important to understand.  New economic, environmental and social challenges mean that the way we describe and organise skills needs to be considered afresh - allowing for different way of thinking about them and providing a valuable framework to guide change in the skills system.

The group discussed how the classification of these skills could:

• build on the strengths of Curriculum for Excellence and Graduate Attributes

• influence how staff are developed within the workplace

• help employers be clearer about the skills and qualities they are looking for in their staff

• help learners recognise the skills they develop and enable them to be used and developed consciously

A shift towards less traditional working structures, such as an increase in contractual work means that these skills for the future cannot be seen as purely skills for use within the workplace. If we view them as skills for life, they can support people to find value and purpose and provide them with the drive to find their own pathways through the world of work as it evolves.


Evolution of the skills system

How these skills are developed needs some further investigation but there was a consensus that there would need to be change within the existing skills system to produce these highly performing individuals. It became clear that the advancement of work-based learning will be crucial as it provides a more effective means of delivering these skills than more traditional routes.

“I have learned more throughout my working life than in any institution”

These skills cant be learned context free – in books or by attending lectures - we need the context of a subject matter to develop these types of skills effectively. Many of these ‘skills’ such as adaptability and creativity are qualities we are born with but are often unlearned as we move through the current education system.

As work and society evolves, building a skills system that is flexible, responsive to ongoing change and self correcting will be key. A critical question is how work-based learning can develop in sectors where work is structured differently and where there are more and more people working freelance.

“How can apprenticeships work when people are working for themselves?”

As the sectors, industries and job roles begin to merge in the future; we will also need to break down existing boundaries in the skills system to deliver these skills most effectively - cutting across subjects, faculties, disciplines and institutions.


The role of the workplace 

It became clear that thinking about the development of skills in isolation is unhelpful; to make significant change we need to think about how skills are developed and used in the workplace and in wider society.

Environments where people are encouraged to be creative, autonomous and to practice and develop their higher level skills are vital to enable our businesses to be high performing - building strength in the Scottish economy. Everyone has a responsibility for learning - viewing employers, managers and peers as ‘teachers’ on a learner’s journey will help drive this.  This means minimising organisational cultures and practices such as high levels of bureaucracy, risk aversion and top down management structures that are known to stifle innovation and could negate skills advancement.


What do we need to do next?

We agreed that in order to create change we will need to build a shared understanding and common narrative on what we are trying to achieve. It’s important to keep the language simple and free of jargon (we are trying our best to do that here!) so that all parts of society can get involved to help shape and own the vision.

The ideas thoughts and opinions from the day have already shaped our next steps for the work. We look forward to following up with a series of other events and discussions on this and other related topics to drive the future of skills delivery in Scotland.


Skills for the future round table from The Centre for Work-based Learning in Scotland

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