Ksenia Zheltoukhova 24 July 2020

Maximising innovation will help people in a challenging world of work

The impact of coronavirus continues to cause major employment concerns, with estimates suggesting that the UK’s unemployment rate could rise by up to 15% by the end of the year. Alongside this, the rise of automation and the shift to a green economy – among other drivers – are leading to significant shifts in the jobs available and skills required; Nesta research shows that more than six million people in the UK are currently employed in occupations that are likely to change radically or disappear entirely by 2030.

Now more than ever, people need the tools to understand how their skills and experiences can fit into the changing world of work. Automation will transform a wide range of roles in sectors including retail, manufacturing, construction, transport and healthcare – with more tasks progressively replaced with technology.

In addition, millions of people need to retrain or upskill to prepare for the green economy jobs that will emerge in renewable energy, manufacturing and construction. Our recent report on preparing for the transition to a net-zero economy found that 21% of employees in green industries are taking part in adult learning, compared to only 11% in highly polluting industries. Much more needs to be done to ensure that workers have the right skills and opportunities to thrive.

The Government’s new £3bn green investment package – which could support 140,000 jobs – is certainly welcome; as is its £1.6bn investment to scale up training and apprenticeships for people looking for a job. But underpinning everything is the need for people to be able to find those jobs and opportunities, which requires them to have access to clear information on the jobs in their local area, and understand how to secure them.

Harnessing the power of technology and innovation – to make job information and skills training as tailored and engaging as possible – is a vital part of this. Technology can help make information, advice and guidance on relevant jobs more targeted to people’s individual needs. For example, technology can gather information from job adverts to share insights into roles that are in demand, and the skills required to secure them, to help people explore careers which they might not have otherwise considered.

People who might benefit most from training are currently the least likely to be doing it, which is another challenge that innovation can help to tackle. Workers whose jobs are at high risk of automation have a 21% lower participation rate in skills training than those in low-risk jobs – so it is crucial to find and scale innovations that bridge this gap, and tackle people’s barriers to learning. Barriers like a lack of motivation or access, or time and money to learn, can in part be tackled through technology, with smartphones making training and careers advice more targeted and relevant.

To help ensure a more secure future of work, Nesta and the Department for Education, through the CareerTech Challenge, have identified a wide range of promising innovations to equip adults across England with the tools and skills they need. We are providing expert support, funding and mentoring to help 20 innovators with digital solutions which improve careers advice and guidance, and a further 11 with online learning offerings which improve learner motivation.

The range of ideas we’re supporting highlight the wide-ranging potential of innovation. For example, the Heart of the Southwest Local Enterprise Partnership is working with Dutch start-up Skilllab to adapt their skills assessment tool for mature workers in Devon, connecting them with relevant learning opportunities to help them transition into secure work.

Another, DMH Associates, is building partnerships in Bristol, Derby and Newcastle to design their chatbot to help users identify local learning and work opportunities. Agent Academy’s ‘Switch’ will increase students’ employability by enabling them to complete real-world work packages which are automatically generated into work portfolios that can be attached to the student’s CV. CENTURY will adapt their award-winning AI education technology tools, to provide a personalised learning journey for adults.

Over the coming months, many of these innovators will be working with local authorities, community organisations and large employers to provide their support to people across the UK as early as Autumn 2020.

The significant changes to the job market can seem daunting. But by harnessing technology and innovation, we can help make a complex situation clearer, and move people from being precarious to prepared.

Ksenia Zheltoukhova is executive director of people at Nesta

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