Panel: Transforming our approach to skills

By Future Talent Learning
HubSpot Video

Carl Ward 00:36
Good afternoon to everybody across the world who's watching today and involved in this panel session. I'm really pleased to be joined by four colleagues whose knowledge and breadth of understanding of this area is significant. 

Firstly, Paul Drechsler many things are chairman of London First and educationalist, business leader, philanthropist; Kirsty Mackay, Managing Director of Citizenship Consumer Affairs at Barclays. And last but not least, least Craig Benton, Director of Strategy and Operations UK and following on from Andre and good friend at the Foundation for Education Development session. 

We're now going to talk about how the pandemic has accelerated many years of people and talent tells us about time how can we address these challenges what we need to do and of course, the foundation's Education Development is interested in looking into the future of education in England and of course across the world. And this is something that is near to our hearts and the foundation. So we don't address our first question, which is young people's education has been particularly impacted by the pandemic. How can we ensure that the skills gap between education and employment doesn't widen? And I think I'll come to Kirsty first tell me what thanks.

Kirstie Mackey 01:46
Great, thanks, Colin. I think first of all schools have done a fantastic job during the pandemic. And I think those of us who are homeschooling have even greater respect for teachers than they had before. 

But understandably, this isn't endless been a pause on those Careers and Employability Skills that we know are so important for young people, and there's a danger that that's going to take a backseat. So I think there's a few things that we need to do. So one is employers need to really define what skills are looking for that and then begin to need in the future to help the education system understand what it is we're looking for, to make sure these young people are employable. And secondly, we need to make sure that educators are aware of the benefits of employability skills.

So we know from running a programme I've been running a Barclays called Life Skills. We're helping young people raise their confidence or raise aspirations and it gives them an insight into what their world could look like. And that really does happen with their academic studies. And I think the last point I'd like to make is just also thinking about those from disadvantaged backgrounds and how we can particularly help them because we're seeing the gap widening during a pandemic, and that's only going to become worse. So how can we work to charity partners to really help those young people get more intensive support to put on the first steps towards their career.

Carl Ward 02:44
Thanks very much, Kirsty. There's some really interesting points there that perhaps Craig could pick up next. 

Craig Fenton 02:49
I agree with everything Kirsty said and you know, when reflection will build is that COVID has the COVID periods presented somewhat of a paradox on this. The skills, the skills gap, that's both widened the gap to some extent, that's because COVID acted as an accelerator it's it's caused many businesses that perhaps were mostly offline to pivot online. As a matter of necessity. It's forced us online for the most parts of the education as well. 

So on the one hand, that sort of widens the gap in some in some respects, but at the same time, it's accelerated this progress, I guess, to digital familiarity, you know, my elderly friends and relatives who perhaps weren't as familiar before, with some of the ins and outs of E commerce are now online, and many of you are young people who are already pretty digitally advanced or even more so. Now, so I think one of the biggest takeouts that I would have is, let's see that that COVID period is both a trace and an opportunity and with all of the advancement and acceleration that it's caused, I think the biggest risk is that we revert to muscle memory and go back to where we were before, rather than harnessing some of those those new skills and building on them in this, this period of digital acceleration. Thanks, guys.

Carl Ward 04:07
Thanks, Craig yet yeah, I think you're absolutely right, going back to some form of normal without necessarily thinking of what we've learned is, is a risk for us, isn't it? Ann, over to you, what are your thoughts?

Dame Ann Limb 04:18
And yeah, I agree with Kirsty and Craig and schools and colleges have done a good job but actually, of course, employers have done an amazing job throughout the pandemic as well and the the pressures on all of you in the workplace cannot be underestimated. I know this because I'm chair of City and Guilds and we've just done a skills Index report that has surveyed employers and the approach to skills training in the workplace and how they have or have not been able to keep that going. 

And just to make the point about the way in which the gap is widened, both working age people are those in the workplace now are not confident. In our survey, it was nearly 40% not confident that they have the skills that they need for the jobs over the next five years. And indeed, over half the employers told us that they thought their businesses didn't have the skills that they needed. So you know, the evidence is out there.

What can we do to bring it together? Well, that's what we're trying to address today. And I thinka better conversation a better definition, as Kirsty already said as to what those needs are, and something that bridges that skills, gap between provider and employer, between students and parents, and the workplace is really what's needed.

Carl Ward 05:31
And so, the survey you mentioned is a fascinating read, and I encourage anybody across the world to access the findings for that survey, and take a greater look and Paul, what your thoughts?

Paul Drechsler 05:42
Delighted, delighted to be here and to be with such a fantastic panel. I want to be able to one what it has said though, because let's be very clear that long before the pandemic we had a significant an increase in skills gap, and that manifested itself most strongly. According to the postcode. So where you lived, where you brought up was a major determinant of your life outcomes. So that's the world in which we were living in pre pandemic. It wouldn't be easy as Craig said, to go back to that. So that's our start point. 

But I think in all my experience with the Confederation of British Industry, and now at London first, when you talk to businesses, and ask what they're looking for in terms of employment ready, they seldom have concern about the knowledge that you learn in school. It's the skills that they develop under work readiness.

And when I think about COVID, and its impact, I think beyond knowledge and skills there are three areas we need to think about understand what has happened to the confidence of children, what has happened to their team working skills, which would have been developing rapidly pre COVID And what's actually happened to the mental health. So I don't think there is one magic global solution to post pandemic at closing the skills gap. I think we have to analyse it case by case and person by person and have quite a specific plan to help people catch up. And on top of that, with the help of technology, not just catch up, but get ahead. And that's a common task we have across every country in the world.

Carl Ward 07:12
Thanks for listening to Andrei Schleicher, as I've done on many occasions before, and sort of the work that the OECD is going to do on on human flourishing moving forward. It strikes me that even before the pandemic, quite a lot of development that needed to understand the effects on how digital and human skills play together the effect of of AI, for example, and how that decontrol route will enable people to develop their skills in the future. 

So I'd like to move on now to that area of how do digital and human skills play together and probably start with Craig you know somebody from Google, right? And you must be thinking at a strategic level in your realm about this whole time within Google. What are your thoughts?

Craig Fenton 07:54
Thanks, Carl. I absolutely love this question. I'm gonna say something that perhaps sounds counterintuitive coming from a technology guy I firmly believe that the digital age is more than ever a human age. The digital age is more than ever human. Age. And yes, of course, there will be certain tasks and roles that will become automated. And that's been true for many, many years. Predating the computer age and in fact, but here's the thing. The technology in and of itself has no value. The value is created in its application. And it's us. It's people who think that application is people who end up using it in application whether it's an augmented assistance from an from an AI or some other technology. 

So, you know, there's there's a wonderful, innate human skill that we need to tap into I think now more than ever, which is this imagination ability that we've got, we as humans uniquely are able to imagine a future write a fiction, if you like, that is different from today, and then go and create it and these skills. Paul talked about skills. I think one of the most important skills is actually nurturing the skill of creativity. 

It's, it's those of us who can see around those corners and harness that innate human imagination and think of these fantastic new uses that are going to be the superheroes and creativity in this context, I believe is a superpower. So I love the question. I think the human age, the digital age where there's more than ever a human age for these reasons.

Dame Ann Limb 09:19
Cool. Can I just come in there because I think it's interesting to note that during the pandemic, the increase in the number of jobs in health and social care, so nursing, caregivers, physician's assistants, and the increase in the need of job opportunities in the digital world in cybersecurity. 

In digital engineering, they've both in both increased which really makes the point that the digital and human are very intertwined in a way complementary and actually we need to be training and supporting children's schools and training people in the workplace to marry those in a very creative way as Craig says. 

Carl Ward 10:00
and he's going to continue next anyway for the city guilds perspective and and you know, as a trainer, a large training provider, you must be considering how to how to move forward in this digital human skills play together scenario. Is there anything you'd like to share with us from from that perspective?

Dame Ann Limb 10:18
Well, just to add one thing to what I said it goes back to the first question we were commenting on about the acceleration of digital across the whole of the world, we in every walk of life I mean, as well as across the globe. We as a charity and as a business consulting Gilson as an awarding businesses as much as the provision of training that we do through and through some of our own companies. 

We've had to digitise our own business and and actually in terms of the assessment of skills and qualifications, we've not gone as an education system halfway enough towards realising the potential of digital and we kind of need governments also to wake up to the fact that you can do examinations in a different way as we have had to do that, as we've seen through the pandemic. Anyway, so there's there's still an awful lot of learning. And I think learning from each other, from from different areas of the workplace from from different parts of the world, actually, about how we can take this learning forward in the future.

Carl Ward 11:18
Yeah, you've raised some really good points there on that may want to come back to later on in the conversation but I'd like to move to Paul now for you, you know, you you've represented business, very highest level with the CBI Are you chair with London first now? You have that knowledge of the way that the business feels and thinks across the globe? What are your thoughts on the digital human skills play together discussion?

Paul Drechsler 11:38
Well, you know, I take this to thoughts I have I mean, the first is I mean, I don't think it is really digital V. Human. I'm very much with Craig, when I look at the next generation, they have kidnapped they have taken over digital and I think they're so far ahead of us that we need to be more worried about the adult population. And the children population when it comes to digital skills are perhaps the most exciting thing about the digital revolution. The digital progress is the access and opportunity it gives to people all across the world, not just those of us who live in the developed nations, but in all the developing countries that are fantastic opportunities to learn, to engage to have a much better life. Because what digital can do so if I learned something from COVID is less about getting digital capability to the world is about getting digital access. 

I think that's what we saw a lot of our poor children in the UK it wasn't their digital skills that were in short supply. It was how many children under 16 per chair, one mobile telephone, that was the sort of challenge so I do think there's something quite exciting going forward about not just digital skills but digital assets.

Carl Ward 12:42
Thanks Paul. Kirstie, welcome to you next to your role at Barclays. You've had an incredible reach over over the period of time that you've worked on, you know, you must have some significant thoughts into this area. Big organisation like Barclays the work that you do across you know, the communities of England and further afield. What are your thoughts?

Kirstie Mackey 12:59
Yeah, well, I'm like Craig said, I agree that digital skills are not enough without the human skills and I'd like to add a few superpower skills to creativity to Craigslist. So I think problem solving is incredibly important. And also resilience as well, and communication. And I think these are some of the core transferable skills that we've been looking at. So I've been looking at what those future roles are going to be out there and how we can help make sure young people are leaving the school equipped with those. 

And it was impossible for me to predict exactly what jobs are going to be out there. So we focus on this core transferable skills. We've got seven of them and trying to teach young people the importance of those and embed them throughout the curriculum. So I think it's an incredibly important area and for us at Barclays but also, you know, for society as a whole. 

And the other thing I'd like to add is also having the right mindset as well. So encouraging young people encouraging actually your employees to have a curious mindset because things are changing so rapidly and so fast, that you need to adopt that sort of mindset of lifelong learning and wanting to see what opportunities are out there to take forward and I think that's it's a study we can do with young people will be to really get them to be curious and think about sort of like learning themselves and identifying their journey that will help them go through their careers.

Carl Ward 14:00
So moving on I've listened to Andreas slackers presentations on regular currencies over the last two, three years. One of the things that most struck me in a recent presentation was that he referred to and in conversations with the UK Government that's been confirmed that the UK is one of the most unproductive countries in the world in terms of now in other people listening got into this across the world. And that really struck me shocked me from that point of view. And I guess there are different ways to look at that. One way is through this lens, which is what responsibility do we employ for upskilling and rescaling their employees in an inclusive way and I guess transferring proof in the UK is point of view, that element of productivity that I didn't realise was one of the lowest in the world. So insurance companies are looking to you for, you know, with your business hat on what do you say about that? 

Well, interestingly, in a lot of the work that we did, we do a lot of research in the CBI around national productivity and there were two common themes right across the country. The first was to what degree were people in small organisations meeting organisation, taking advantage of technology and to what degree were they investing in training and development? 

So to me there's there's two things that if you want to address productivity, you have to do you have to provide the education and training and then you have to capitalise on your competitive advantages. One is technology. But actually another which which I'm I'm I think is one of our most untapped opportunities, not only in the UK, but globally, and that is taking advantage of the creativity, innovation that comes from diverse teams. So I think looking at diversity in all its forms there is, in my view, an abundance of talent from every race, but what we're not brilliant at doing is taking advantage of that talent, creating the opportunities, creating the platforms, and that to me is the way to if you want to accelerate progress, make the best use of every human and piece of technology available to you.

Thanks, Paul. Ann, what are your thoughts?

Dame Ann Limb 16:02
Yeah, well, I absolutely agree with Paul about in workplace training, and that's why when you get a survey that says a third of all employers are not providing workplace training, at least a third of the people in the workplace have not had any workplace training for five years. Is it any wonder that we've got a country that is lagging behind in terms of productivity, so that absolutely has to be tackled? I once worked with an employee who said, you know, so anybody who doesn't train shouldn't be allowed to trade? 

I mean, I think that's a bit harsh, but there is an issue for employers in the UK anyway about the real understanding that if they put some money if they invest in their employees, they will keep them as opposed to perhaps some might say an outmoded idea, but it is certainly, I think, behind the productivity issue, that if you invest in somebody, they'll go off and leave your company and go and get a job elsewhere. And this is pretty I mean, we've got two large companies in Google and Barclays here but you know, the bulk of industry in the UK is through SMEs startups. And growing businesses. And so that attitudinal thing Absolutely. Has to be tackled.

Carl Ward 17:13
Thanks, Craig. I'll come to you.

Craig Fenton 17:16
Yeah, I love what I put an answer there. I'm gonna build from a slightly different angle, rather than talking about upscaling and rescaling as a moral and social imperative, which it clearly is, I want to talk about it as a business imperative. Now, if we look at the you know, the history of where we've come from over the last 50 years, these innovation cycles, largely driven by technology are getting closer together and more significant in each in each stage the half life of companies is reducing in some thrive in that environment. 

We live in an environment a business world with a small compete, the large it's democratised and flattens the playing field to some to some extent. And you know, and if you look at the bigger companies, as well, the largest companies by market cap today are entirely different than the top five, even even 10 years ago, and who knows what it'll be in five years from now. So the reality is that change is constant. That's true in business as much as it is in life. And in order to continue to keep up with it and in fact, lead change you need to innovate and to innovate. You need an environment in which experimentation thrives. We live in a world now, where there's no such thing as mastery the world moves on before you get to become an expert. 

So our current reality in business is that in order to drive innovation, you need to have that mindset of relentless restlessness. And that means embracing a collective will to retrain rescale. And always try and be better tomorrow than you were today. And I think that requires a few things. psychological safety, the permission and freedom to fail and experiment and trip over and know that your friends around you and your colleagues around you will pick a pick yourself will pick you up and have their arm around you. So it's not just about classroom training. The best form of upscaling and rescaling is just by doing it. And for that you need an environment in which failure is welcomed, rather than punished. Second, I want to double down on this diversity point. If you have a narrow band of thinking, if you look at the world through a sort of narrow lens, of experience, background, etc, you'll get a narrow band of innovation. 

And if you have a narrow band of innovation, that's a fast path to obsolescence. So diversity as well as being an incredibly important moral and social cause, actually is a business imperative. It's a source of innovation. And finally, I think, you know, just from an organisational and individual point of point of view, we need to relax in the knowledge that we're never going to have mastery over anything. But the exciting news is that means we can continue growing and look forward to exciting variety and change just as an ongoing constant and businesses have a huge role in powering them.

Carl Ward 19:49
Thanks, Craig, some thought provoking comments there, Kirsty over to you.

Kirstie Mackey 19:54
Yeah, so I think I'm taken to Anne's point earlier, we did a piece of work the British Chambers of Commerce around the future proofing the work the workforce in a post pandemic world. And as you'd expect that capability to shift training priorities was was high on the agenda and for smaller businesses, but what was interesting was their definition of workplace training. So it wasn't just giving them the skills, but it's also everything's we talked earlier from mental health or well being digital skills and innovation as well. So it was a very, very broad range of that workplace training skills that they really wanted to have. 

And I think that's something if I look at what we do at Barclays obviously, it was a lot of the training the skills we've had to shift to do much more about virtually and during the pandemic, but we do do a lot around supporting colleagues with their well being and also in, as Craig said, to create a diverse and inclusive workforce because at the end of the day, we bank, you know, half the adult population of Barclays and we need to make sure that our colleagues are representative of the society that we represent.

Carl Ward 20:42
Those Kirsty we're not too far off the end of our time slot today. And I want to take some final thoughts and I'll call to Paul for us to do that in a moment. But I suppose one thing you know, I'm always interested in long term approaches to things because I think that's how you tackle the big problems with the day new unlock potential. 

So looking at our conversation, he said through a long term light, and in some of your final comments, you know, what would you like to see happen positively in the next 10 years to achieve these aims poor come to you first and last I've got. 

Paul Drechsler 21:13
I think that's a huge question. I think the first thing I would like to see is a level playing field in terms of equal opportunity for every child, no matter what their background, no matter what the race, colour, what country they live in. That to me is our ultimate declaration of commitment to be able to work off that platform and seize opportunity. You have to have the opportunity to learn to learn in a modern way and to adapt in a rapidly changing world. 

So I think bring it into the school curriculum into life curriculum, the essential skills that people need, and you heard from Kirstie at some of those earlier but I do think it's a combination of listening, speaking, problem solving. Creativity, staying positive, aiming higher leadership and teamwork. I think if you get those eight essential skills, you can win. So that's what I wish for everyone. Thank you.

Thanks, Paul. Kirstie, what are your final thoughts?

Kirstie Mackey 22:04
Well, that was a brilliant summary by Paul I'm not sure I can really add much more to everything everybody else on the panel is probably struggling to think that yeah, I would love for there. To be at an equal playing field as well, particularly for those more disadvantaged for there. To be at an equal playing field as well, particularly for those more disadvantaged young people to have access to same opportunities to see those insights into the workplace. And when there's a high proportion of young people who live and work as household they don't have any insight into how the world works and work expected or they didn't have the networks. 

So that would be one of my greatest things and also to make sure that there's the link between education employability is far clearer, and young people can see the path they're going from school into employability and can see the connections between what they're teaching in school taught in school and the real world.

Carl Ward 22:39
Thanks, Kirsty. Great your final thoughts? Yeah, thanks.

Craig Fenton 22:43
I mean, I want to build on an earlier point that Paul made around access. You know, I think it's not just up to the education system and professional educators to educate, it's up to all of us. And if each of us took a pledge to help just one other person who perhaps doesn't have the access or opportunity that we enjoy in society would change very rapidly and there's a teaching opportunity actually in both directions. So I'd love to encourage that sort of bridge and into responsibility we all have as members of society to reach out and help somebody different to us, I guarantee we'll learn as much as they do from us.

Carl Ward 23:19 Thanks Craig. 

Dame Ann Limb 23:24
I think employers could help governments or let's say the employers in the UK anyway, would help our government to prioritise education in the way that we prioritise the health service. It's got to, you've got to put your money where your mouth is to redress the issues that Paul's raised, and we don't get it and we don't resource it in the way that we should in this country. So that will be my one wish.

Carl Ward 23:54
And collectively, putting all those last final four points together I think will be extremely powerful. For any government or organisation. They moving forward with funds over the coming period of time. I can't think of a better way of spending half an hour on a Thursday afternoon and it just leaves for me to say thank you. 

This panel of education industry experts, chaired by Carl Ward, Chief Executive of City Learning Trust, considers the skills required for the changing world of work and why greater emphasis must be placed on core transferable skills like creativity, problem-solving and innovation. 


Key points

  • COVID-19 widened the skills gap, but it has also accelerated digital adoption and ability. This needs to be harnessed - we need to build on the skills we’ve been forced to acquire. 

  • Creativity is a human superpower. Technology in itself has no value - its value comes from its application and it’s people who apply technology. We need to tap into human imagination and creativity. 

  • We need to encourage young people to be curious about learning and identify how it can help them in different stages of their careers. This is particularly important in an ever-changing, volatile world. 

  • Including all perspectives and individuals improves productivity and accelerates progress. Talent isn’t the problem - providing opportunity to all people is. 

  • Upskilling is a business imperative. Change is constant, and in order to keep up with and lead change, you need to innovate. To create that, you need an environment where people can experiment. There is no such thing as mastery - the world moves on before you become an expert. 

  • Essential skills include listening, speaking, problem-solving, creativity, leadership, teamwork, aiming higher and staying positive. 


More about the panellists


Paul Drechsler is an Irish businessman and former president of the Confederation of British Industry. He is currently chairman of the International Chamber of Commerce and a non-executive director at Schroders. At the time of the conference, he was chairman of London First. 


Dame Ann Limb is an educationalist, business leader and philanthropist. She is vice-chair of the City & Guilds London Institute and the current chair of the Scouts - the first woman to be elected as chair of trustees in the organisation’s history. 


Craig Fenton leads Strategy & Operations at Google UK and Ireland. A business leader and entrepreneur specialising in the technology industry, he is also an author, angel investor and adviser to several startups. 


Kirstie Mackey is responsible for driving citizenship through Barclays UK and serves as the organisation’s managing director, citizenship and consumer affairs. Since the launch of Barclays LifeSkills, more than 6.7 million young people have participated in the programme. 


Carl Ward is chief executive of the City Learning Trust and chair of the Foundation for Education Development. Over more than 25 years in education, he has worked across a range of schools and positions, including ASCL president between 2017-18 and as an adviser to the government. 


Future Talent Conference 2021 

This talk was filmed at the virtual Future Talent Conference 2021 on Transforming Skills and Inclusion. 


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