One of the most striking features of the UK Civil Service is that people regularly tackle new problems or change roles. This requires them to develop fresh skills as they expand their expertise and take on new policy areas or disciplines.
This is good for government, which needs broadly capable, flexible officials.
It is good for those officials, too: learning improves not just earnings potential but personal well-being. Though a relative newcomer to Whitehall, I can attest from my own varied career to both the challenges and rewards of acquiring skills at pace.
But how can we ensure that the UK workforce as a whole, and the economy, are reaping such rewards? Literacy and numeracy levels achieved by our younger generations are below the OECD average. The amount of training provided by employers is declining. People are undertaking less training as they get older.
In the 21st century, these are problematic trends.
Looking forward, we can all expect to work longer. As our population ages – with proportionally fewer younger people and more older people – and as we live for longer, the economy needs the continued labour of older people. The state needs greater public contributions to fund the rising costs of retirement and health and social care.
Now is not the time for limited skill sets. Workers need to continually learn and adapt. Nine out of ten positions already require at least basic digital skills. Within the next few decades, certain categories of job, administration and sales in particular, could become entirely computerised.
And in a globalised world, competition for high-skilled jobs will become only more intense. China and India between them are forecast to produce more than 60% of all STEM graduates (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) among G20 nations by 2030; Europe will produce just 4%.
The UK needs to protect and create jobs here – and we must have the ever-evolving skills necessary to occupy them. GO-Science’s Foresight programme has recently begun a project looking at lifelong learning and upskilling our ageing workforce. Working with leading UK academics and industry experts, it is exploring the implications of changes in technology and work for education and training across our lifetimes.
If you are interested or would like to contribute, contact the team via email@example.com.