It’s time to counter political short-termism with an ‘OBR’ for future skills

An independent Future Skills Committee would report the latest evidence-­informed projections to parliament

December 07, 2022
© Alamy
© Alamy

Facing a future that is unpredictable, we can’t know precisely what competencies future generations will need. But we do know that they will experience an era characterised by climate crisis, economic volatility and the encroachment of automation into many sectors. These challenges should refocus attention towards the specifically human capabilities that young people will need to thrive: creativity, collaboration, resilience and problem-solving. 

Our curriculum and assessment systems are not being optimised to foster these competencies; in some cases they actively hinder young people. The UK has been left locked into an overly politicised debate pitting “knowledge" against “skills”; a zero-sum game that serves neither young people nor employers.

I propose creating an independent Future Skills Committee (FSC), which would report the latest evidence-­informed projections to parliament—much as the Office for Budget Responsibility does for the economy. 

We know that future generations will experience an era characterised by climate crisis, economic volatility and the encroachment of automation into many sectors

The FSC would serve as a central, independent and non-aligned authority on long-term educational policy, creating deeply informed scenarios on which to base educational provision of all kinds. It would be guided by the excellent data available on high-achieving educational systems worldwide, but would also draw on the lived experience of practising teachers, students and employers. Its mandate would be to replace ideology with pragmatism, considering education in the broad sense, for all ages. It would focus on the UK’s chronic productivity problem, following and mapping trends in careers, employment and family lives, while also considering  the deep societal need to foster good citizenship, which is the basis of social cohesion. 

This is not to pretend that anticipating (or even tracking) our skills needs is simple; we can’t manage out uncertainty. But the FSC could lead the way in developing novel modes of measurement and a shared language. It would draw from leading frameworks on foundational competencies (such as the OECD’s Future of Education and Skills 2030 initiative) and from the knowledge infrastructure in other countries (like Canada’s Labour Market Information Council) as well as its own emerging data sets. Sophisticated quantitative models would enable us to develop scenarios exploring how sectors are impacted by automation and other global trends. 

In the UK, spending on education in real terms has declined since 2010. The FSC would work to ensure that curriculums are relevant to a changing world and that funding matches the size of the challenge before us. Our future productivity as a nation rests on getting this right. 

This article first appeared in Minister for the future, a special report produced in association with Nesta.