Why Labour-shaped digital skills development is not a sexy accessory but a necessity

"Labour, as the party of the workers by its very name, has to shape the future of work and prevent the Conservatives plan to give ownership of digital skills development solely into the hands of companies. "

With the current skills policies UK workers will not be equipped to master the digital revolution of the workplace. Labour has to take up its leading part before people will be hit by the Tories mismanagement.

 With digitisation on the march, the world of work is already under transformation and this process is far from being finalised. We are in the midst of a change many compare to the industrial revolution in terms of its impact. We do not know exactly how work will look like in a few decades. However, change will affect all sectors, some more intense than others. Technology and intelligent systems will increasingly be integrated into work processes, demanding employees comfortable with technology. It is a truism that technology is changing fast, but this has not been translated into the culture of up-skilling and training yet. The British economy needs a workforce being able to encounter those changes with the appropriate skills.

 The UK is in a bad position to meet this aim: the Tory government analysed the situation quite well and comes to the uttermost absurd conclusion that employees have to ensure up-skilling and training.  This complies with the understanding of a self-corrective mechanism in markets but totally fails to see the wider picture as this means nothing more and nothing less than putting the weight of making an entire nation ready for change on the shoulders of private businesses. The latest announcement that government wants to tackle Post-Brexit skill gap by providing maintenance loans for Tech-students can be understood as a drop in the ocean to solve the issue.

Records do not shed a promising light on business as advocates of skills-management. In 2013 companies spent 45.3 bn GBP on training. Two years earlier, when the domestic economy still recovered from the financial crisis, the number was five percent higher. One can argue that falling numbers are due to ‘smarter’ training, but evidence paints a different picture: according to the UK’s commission for employment and skills more than one sixth of British Employers see some of their staff not fully proficient. More than 70% of large companies and around half of Small and medium enterprises complain about a tech skill gap. This matches with results of a BBC Survey, which finds one in four adults lacking basic online skills. Given UKs productivity gap, one can doubt that employers will voluntarily increase their budget for training, especially among small and medium enterprises, which still spent comparatively more per head.

  The evidence shows, that the Tory’s approach to provide digital literacy in school and leave the rest to the market is in fact a threat to the British economy. In contrast, a progressive answer carries the proposition that a meaningful and affording work founds a self-determined life and must therefore be possible for everyone. Workers must be given the chance to undergo training also independently from employees. This demands financing solutions. The SPD-led German Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs installed a dialogue programme on the future of work. One result is a ‘Labour-Insurance’ as a successor to the concept of unemployment insurances: it could offer finance strategies for necessary training and provide support for the challenges ahead.

 The Labour party and the Unions should join ranks to promote a new culture of life-long learning. Labour, as the party of the workers by its very name, has to shape the future of work and prevent the Conservatives plan to give ownership of digital skills development solely into the hands of companies. 

Marie Shroeter is a Young Fabians member

Photo by Tehmoor Khalid

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