Social mobility and the UK skills revolution
May 19, 2021
A skills revolution in the UK was promised in last week’s Queen’s Speech, with legislation announced to support a lifetime skills guarantee to provide access to high quality education and training throughout people’s lives. It comes as our latest Future of Government research, highlights the importance of skills and education in creating a socially mobile society and in levelling up the UK.
We polled 4,000 people across the UK who said that the primary barrier to success was not learning the right skills during their education. It’s clear that addressing skills gaps is vital in ensuring people are able to fulfil their potential and access future opportunities in growth industries, including green jobs.
With industries going through disruption, the focus on lifelong learning is welcome, addressing those who have either fallen through education gaps or are facing barriers in their later years. Our New World New Skills Upskilling Hopes and Fears Reskilling research highlights that upskilling in particular will be key to addressing social mobility and skills challenges in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, ensuring those who have lost jobs can access the support they need to re-enter the workforce. Our polling also highlighted the need to balance a focus on technical skills with soft skills, such communication, networking and working in diverse teams. This reflects the growing need for fusion skills to be successful in the changing world of work.
While our research warns that the progress of social mobility in the UK is at risk of serious setbacks as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, it also reveals some of the actions required by both government and business in response. Collective action is needed to ensure that inequality gaps don’t widen further, and will require government, local and national, as well as educators, business and the third sector, to work together more closely than ever.
The most effective government interventions in addressing social mobility, identified by our public polling, include improving the quality of education in schools (43%) and expanding apprenticeship programmes (39%). As we look beyond the pandemic and towards a recovery in education in particular, there’s an opportunity to reform education more widely and ensure children are getting an education that sets them up with the skills - soft and personal, digital and technical - they’ll need for later life. With both education in schools and apprenticeships, there is an opportunity for government and the public sector, business and educators to collaborate on practical solutions that bridge the gap between education and the world of work.
Meanwhile, business has a vital role to play in improving the social mobility of younger generations, with calls from the public for better access to opportunities, work experience and career pathways, greater investment in apprenticeships and skills, and opening up non-graduate routes to employment. At PwC we’ve seen first hand the significant impact that businesses can have in supporting skills development and driving social mobility. Particularly with initiatives such as the PwC tech degree apprenticeship programme, which equips young people with the digital skills in high demand within our firm, demonstrating the benefits of close collaboration between businesses and educators.
The announcements set out by the Government are a step towards recognising the skills challenges we’re facing. But this is too big a job for the Government alone.
Across all industries and sectors, we have an important role to play in driving social mobility, and ensuring that people have the skills they need will be key to creating a fairer society.