The UK economy has proven its resilience and ability to successfully navigate change many times throughout history. But we can’t take this for granted. It’s critical that we remain competitive, retain our strength in innovation, develop and attract the skills our economy needs and convert that to inclusive growth and prosperity for all.
The good news is that while technology will undoubtedly change the role of the workforce, our new research shows there is one constant: the unique value of transferable, ‘human’ skills. This research is the third part of our Power Up series, which explores the challenges and opportunities facing UK business and government. We have found that workers with the strongest transferable talents, such as analytical, communication and strategic skills, have proven most resilient to economic shocks and automation.
With rapid progress in technology, today’s students may face very different working practices. It is crucial students understand employers’ changing expectations before they leave education. An online forum of over 350 educators, recruiters and experienced workers identified the ability to work alone, be self-sufficient and build relationships digitally as the most important skills for workers in the future. In contrast, the ability to work in a team was recognised as being far less important.
What’s more, our analysis offers a different scenario to the doom and gloom of technology-fuelled mass unemployment. Throughout history, advances in technology have led to more and better-paid jobs and so far in the 21st century, things have been no different. We know that the type of jobs we do and the way we work will change but our research shows transferable skills are more highly valued in growth occupations, so opportunities will exist for workers to transition between industries and occupations. As a result, businesses and workers must be more flexible when recruiting and policymakers should focus more on developing skills rather than knowledge through education and training.
The length of time for which knowledge remains relevant is declining rapidly and the concept of a single career with a fixed knowledge-base will become less common. Workers will no longer be able to rely on predefined career paths. Our analysis of the five occupations that have lost the most jobs since 2001 revealed that they all possessed transferable skills desirable in growth occupations. For example, while the number of typists and post office clerks has declined since 2001, the number of medical secretaries and teaching assistants has increased and these roles require a similar level of transferable skills.
In addition, our research found there are regional differences in the level of transferrable skills that we analysed, but these are marginal. Since the average level of skills in the workforce is relatively consistent between all regions, there is reason to be optimistic about improving regional equality. Looking closer to home, in Scotland, other key findings of the report show:
- the average probably of automation is 37%, slightly higher than the UK average (35%), though equal to Wales and slightly lower than Northern Ireland;
- the percentage share of overall job growth is slightly lower than the percentage share of its population (-1%);
- the average salary in Scotland (£27,026) is lower than the UK average (£28,306), although it is marginally higher than all other regions except London (£41,111) and the South East (£29,534).
Due to the present industrial landscape, the probability that a significant proportion of jobs will become automated is slightly higher in Scotland than the UK on average. Combined with a lower share of job growth compared to others parts of the UK, there is some cause for concern about how we future-proof our workforce to create inclusive growth.
Dramatic structural changes in financial services and the oil and gas industry illustrate why workers in Scotland need to be flexible and adaptable to unanticipated changes. Employees must be ready to take advantage of emerging opportunities in areas such as Fintech, A.I and software development, and the sectors that support and, in turn, will grow from the development of these technologies and industries.
Government and educators will need to work with businesses to consider how to prepare workers for technological change and start challenging preconceptions around traditional, static career paths. Exposure to different challenges and different working environments from an early age will help young people build a strong foundation of transferable skills, as well as the confidence to apply them in many settings.