Whatever the future holds we must be ready for itby Anne Milton / November 14, 2018 / Leave a comment
Not too long ago, a robot called Pepper appeared before a Parliamentary Select Committee in Westminster to answer questions from MPs about how we are going to care for older people in the years ahead.
Pepper, who hails from Middlesex University, was asked by chairman Robert Halfon to explain the artificial intelligence (AI) Caresses project, which promotes independent living in order to reduce pressure on the health service.
Not only was Pepper helping the MPs in their discussions, it was also demonstrating how robots can be used to support learning and how robotics will transform the workplace and classrooms of the future—proof, if any were needed, that we are living in a time of rapid progress.
Technology has always changed the way we live. Take the mobile phone: not that long ago, telephone calls on the go were a novelty—now they are a part of almost every aspect of our daily lives. But technology can also become obsolete overnight. I remember typing pools and secretaries taking letters in shorthand—they vanished as soon as everyone in the workplace had their own computer.
The significance of technological progress for the labour market, and also for education, is huge. We have to future-proof what young people are taught so that by the time they leave school they have the skills they need for the workplace. Crucially, they must also have the skills to adapt to what the workplace will demand from them.
Since becoming Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills last year, I have spoken to a great many employers. I repeatedly hear the same thing: jobs are hard to fill because people don’t have the skills employers need.
Our reforms are changing the whole system of learning and acquiring skills. Every young person will get a top-quality education that’s right for them and which will prepare them for a career in which they can reach their full potential.
To do this we need to make sure that education and training develops hand in hand with business. Apprenticeships are a key part of this. Employers are designing new apprenticeship standards so that young people can learn and earn. These new standards are not only going to be of the highest quality, with off-the-job training and proper assessment, but these apprenticeships will make sure that the people who take them can respond to the needs of business.
“Young people must have the skills to adapt to what the workplace demands of them”
There are already over 350 of our new standards now available in sectors including software development, cyber security and aerospace engineering. Eventually, there will be apprenticeships spanning the entire business and public sector workforce, from banking to stone masonry; from retail to marine archaeology; from fashion to automative engineering and from police officers to nurses.
We have also begun to roll out T-Levels. These new qualifications will put technical education on a footing with academic choices post-16. The first three T-Levels in digital skills, construction, and childcare will be up and running by 2020 and the next 20 are already in the pipeline.
Like apprenticeships, employers will have a big say in what goes into T-Levels. In this way we are making sure that young people studying a T-Level will be getting the skills and knowledge relevant to both future study and the workplace. By working with employers, we will make sure that T-Levels give people the skills they really need.
We’ve also set up national colleges—including one in digital skills and one in high speed rail—to increase specialist training for those jobs our economy needs, not just now, but in the decades to come. And the £170m we’re investing in new Institutes of Technology will deliver higher technical courses that will rival academic degrees.
The Institutes of Technology will work with course providers and employers so that the subjects they teach are not just good, but practical too. For example if there is a course on manufacturing trampolines it’s because businesses have said they need one. The Institutes of Technology, working with business, will focus on Stem subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and will anticipate the way that business needs are likely to change and develop as technology evolves.
But these changes are not just benefiting the young. We are also introducing a National Retraining Scheme, to give adults a chance to acquire new skills or learn a new trade—this is intended especially for people in jobs at risk of automation.
“If there is a course on manufacturing trampolines it’s because businesses have said they need one”
In schools, we are investing in maths, science and coding, while learning from the world’s best—such as China’s Shanghai province—in the way that they approach maths teaching. More students than ever are now choosing Stem subjects at A-Level, with record numbers of them taking maths and physics.
Some skills will always be needed though. We know that fluency in speaking, reading and writing English is an essential foundation for success, and that maths will be central to many jobs of the future. That’s why for those who need to continue studying maths post-16, we have committed an additional £50m to our new Maths Centres for Excellence programme and Basic Maths Premium Pilots. This is in addition to the £4.5m a year we already provide for professional development for teachers to improve the teaching of post-16 maths and English.
As a result of government changes, 71 per cent of 19-year-olds now hold a Level 2 qualification (such as GCSEs and functional skills) in both maths and English: the highest proportion on record.
These are just some of the ways we are developing a system that is flexible and responsive, where we won’t get caught on the hop by whatever new thing is round the corner. We must be, and will be, ready for it.