Artwork for podcast The Future of Work
Academic Perspectives with Chris Forde
Episode 616th June 2022 • The Future of Work • Leeds University Business School
00:00:00 00:33:32

Share Episode


Welcome to episode 6 in our ‘The Future at Work’ podcast! Here we listen to Professor Chris Forde, Deputy Director of the Digital Futures at Work Research Centre to explore academic perspectives surrounding skills you need for the future!

For more information, read our blog here!


Ellen: Hello everyone and welcome to the Future of Work podcast series. This is your host Ellen Wang from Leeds University Business School.

Marc: Hi, this is Mar from the Careers Service.

Ellen: In the last couple of episodes, we've focused on the conversation around the future of skills. We discussed some of the current trends and how they are going to impact on future skills from both employability perspective and also industry perspective. There is a lot of debate over the skills needed. What they are for the future and how skills, requirements, jobs are changing these there were reports in the news every day at the moment about skill shortages and how the pandemic has also had impact on this. Vacancy levels are highest distance record began in the UK and these often attributed to skills mismatches. So joining us today, we have invited back Chris Forde, who is Professor of Employment Studies at Leeds University Business School and also a Deputy Director at the ESRC Digital Future Work Research Centre. So I’m hoping to continue this conversation and dig a little bit deeper to discuss what skills are needed in jobs today and how are these changing? What skills are required in emerging industries in green economy? In cyber and AI spaces? Are these skills being displayed or transferred? What is implications for young workers and graduates and what can we do to prepare them? For the changing world of work, so there are definitely plenty to go through today and I think we should definitely get the party started. So welcome back, Chris.

Chris: Thank you.

Ellen: So let me start by asking, you know, opening question. You know, we talked about a lot of changing skills needed. What are these skills needed for the future and you know, they really that much difference for those needed today.

Chris: That's really interesting question. There’s a lot of research on this as you might expect. A recent report by the National Foundation for Educational Research has done a study looking at what the essential employment skills will be in the future, which ones will be in demand and which ones will be in decline and, their review count with some perhaps unsurprising findings. Here, the areas where there's going to be a growth include things like natural and applied sciences, digital and information communication skills, and industries like education and health and social care. And broadly, they look at declining sectors, being, manufacturing production and, in some areas of retail and admin and secretarial. Interesting in those last few areas, it's the displacement of people by technologies that’s driving that decline because retail work and employment is actually been on the increase in recent years but there, there will be some automation I think, and there may be changes in the number of people employed in there in the future. So this, this, this broad review by the National Foundation for Educational Research talks about some skills that are going to become more important and that, again includes some that we perhaps won't be surprised that given what we've covered in previous episodes of of this podcast, analytical and creative skills around problem solving, decision making, critical thinking and analysis, and some soft skills like interpersonal skills, self-management skills and interesting the emotional intelligence skills as well. And one of their key conclusions, I think is worth highlighting here. And they argue this responsibility both on the education system and upon employers in the workplace playing important roles in fostering those skills by providing the right education, but also in the workplace, ensuring the training and development activities happened and continue so that people’s skills a refresh and developed on ongoing basis.

Ellen: Yeah, that's really interesting question. Thank you for that. I think Marc, I don't know if you would agree there are definitely some common themes coming through, you know the from the first episode that we talked about and also the conversation with Nicole from industry perspective, the automation is definitely something that drives the decline in some of the job skills and in particular and you know that's what's impacting the workforce. And also some of the things that going forward is more to do with the emotional intelligence and soft skills, right?

Marc: Yeah, actually I agree, although obviously add technology to increase the number of jobs that will be available for young people and interesting that as I said yesterday or not necessarily yesterday, but whenever people listen to the with Nicole, the moment with the airports, one of the things that looks like they're going to be replaced is the customer service. And yet that's the thing that's been lacking. And in terms of assistance to help all those poor people been stuck in the airport. So, you know, as I said to her sometimes technologies introduced very quickly without thinking about the ramifications of that. So yeah, I mean, there will be a greater change. Most definitely. But I think one of the main things will be upskilling. So as Chris said, employers and education institutions will have to big big part to play with regards to upskilling.

Ellen: Absolutely. I mean they were coupled the areas that often being cited as important areas of growth, right? So they are data skills, digital skills, are these being supported and research told Chris

l Culture, Media and Sport in:

Ellen: That’s fantastic, Chris. I think with the 250,000 vacancies going at the minute, I think even if Leeds takes a 1%, that of what makes 2 00 jobs, that's going to keep you very busy, Marc.

Marc: It will indeed.

Chris: That’s a good demonstration of your quantitative data skills there!

Ellen: Thank you, I just hope I didn’t get that number wrong. I couldn't care service. So, yeah, market that that's going to be very busy, isn't it?

Marc: Absolutely, yeah, I think. The other thing is that you know, as Chris was saying graduates are going to have top learn about the data skills and what have you. Yeah. And I think you know, as long as there is a connexion between what employers want and what we are teaching is obviously the University is there to get students ready for work. And as long as there is a connexion between the employer and, the university, that's really important. I mean often, sometimes I'm not sure Chris has this as well, but a lot of students that go out on placement that I'm tutoring, the first thing they do is to do an Excel course because the excel seems to be much more so relevant to that employer. And I think that's quite key thing as well. So you know sometimes there is a slight disconnect. The employer feels that you know, our students or graduates may have the core skills already and of course they have skills, they definitely have, but are they necessarily relevant to that sector, that to the employer? I'm not necessarily sure. So you know, as long as there is a connexion, you know, things move very quickly as well. So the other thing is, you know, in terms of modules and the work that we that we have embedded in the curriculum. You know whether that moves the same sort pace as, you know, technologies affecting the world of work as well is quite interesting thing.

Ellen: Absolutely. Yeah, that's really interesting is that it is to keep up with the changing the pace and everything else. So I think we're covered, you know, quite a bit on the data skills. Just going back to the digital skills, Chris. What about the digital skills? What does that really mean?

Chris: That can mean a whole range of things, one common definitions splits it into basic skills and digital skills for general workforce, and then skills for IT professionals in particular on basic digital skills, it would be the sort things you would think every citizen would have to be digitally literate, so being able to use digital applications to communicate. In absolute basic internet searches, searches that sort of thing, digital skills for the general workforce would include those basic skills, plus the skills that you would need in a workplace. So to take Marc’s example, being able to use and manipulate an Excel spreadsheet for example is important in almost all contexts, I think. These skills are likely to differ across sectors, but there's going to be some minimum and standard requirements, I think to processing information will be relevant to most sectors, and then you've got skills, variety professionals. So all of the above skills but specific skills needed to work in the IT sector and that's going to be one which is growing I think in importance. Interestingly, many people do have basic Internet skills, but there is still some caps there, so some research for digit research centre by Becky Faith and Kevin Hernandez this year, and lots of this idea of digital exclusion and inclusion and families still some some important groups being digitally excluded. We assume that everyone’s access to smartphone and internet connexion. But it does vary across regions. Some groups are more likely excluded than others. Older workers, for example, those that are in poverty or long term unemployed, tend to have a high probability being digitally excluded. So there are important gaps. It is not just this, this is often this assumption. I think that they'll be a seamless transitions to a new digital world of work, but there are some real challenges and some gaps as well, I think.

Ellen: Sorry, I’m just going to ask one follow up question if that's OK. I mean, it sounds like from what you've described, Chris, that's going to create some inequality and how do you think that we could possibly mitigate that, you know, in the future please?

about where they might be in:

Ellen: That's great. Thank you. Chris, over to you, Marc.

Marc: I've got a question Chris. Can I just ask something about you saying, that's quite. It's quite interesting in terms of you know, a lot of our graduates, young people, that they're going to have to sort of learn these different skills, most of which are tech based or technology based, yet they may not actually be in the office. They may have to learn them remotely and yet they have to have the technology know how to be able to do that in the first place. I think that that's quite interesting point.

Chris: Yeah. So much like chicken and egg isn’t it. It’s this assumption that too to acquire these skills are going to have to you're going to have to be pretty tech savvy as you say to begin with. There has been this, this been a definite move even before the pandemic. I think there's been a move to the more online forms of training provision and I think they see that in many workplaces, number reasons for that. I think for many organisations they see it as fairly straight forward win for them that they can, they can deliver training in a fairly standardised package to a large proportion of their workforce, and often that's done for compliance purposes as much as anything. It does not necessarily driven by the thinking about along, the long term skills perspective all undertaken important training around sort of manual handling, for example health and safety. But often those I think are driven by the employers desire to show that their compliance with what they need to do in that area. And so I think it's important to think about, is online training delivery the best, the best mechanism and means for delivering a particular kind of training. It may be perfectly appropriate circumstances when other circumstances thinking about customer service examples you’re thinking about it, it's hard to imagine that that could be delivered effectively and ongoing basis to two employees, fully online. Because I think it comes down to thinking about what fits best. Workers I think, a lot of research around this value and, and like the idea of sort of face to face training and often in the past a lot of that training was one to one training through mentoring or buddying up with, with people to solve the things on the job. And I think if that sort of training disappears, an important part of your overall training provision and we move to sort to be online. I think that would be a huge loss. So I think it’s going to vary from workplace to workplaces, online might be perfectly appropriate some circumstances, but does require people to have some and some technical knowledge to be able to do that and that make up some people off from doing it. You know not everyone completes all these training even though there then this supposed to do these online modules and sometimes that may reflect. A reluctance to do it online because of fear about the skills or the lack of skills they’ve got in those areas.

Marc: Great and just another question. How has the pandemic affected young people skills in particular?

Chris: Without being too pessimistic here, there is actually some interesting research by Frances Green at the Institute of Education which does point to quite a gloomy picture and if you look at the pandemic, so half of 16-25 year olds in France's Greens research and it said that covid had actually worsened their job skills, and whereas only one in six said that increase their skills. Now we might say that some surprising in the pandemic, you know, lot places will lockdown. Figures were actually worse for those in education. So there 2/3 of people are saying their skills had worsened, whereas for those in employment it's it was only about 1/3 of people who said their skills had worsened. But it just goes to show those who are in education have been particularly hard hit I think by the pandemic in terms of their skills and acquisition.Those who managed to gain some work experience to replacement online or face to face during the pandemic whilst in education fared better or more likely to say that they thought their skills and that increased. I think things are getting better, there's certainly evidence that training provision is increasing now as we’ve come out with a pandemic and but there is this sort of legacy effects I think, particularly those industries where there's there was a lot of lockdown, retail, hospitality, food and beverages, it's it's, it's been a real challenge I think, and people working in those areas I think have, have really seen a decline in the amount of skills that they've been able to pick up.

Marc: Great, okay. I know we were talking earlier just about this, in terms of the way sort students perceive themselves and the skills we were saying as well how you know the lockdown, a lot of soft, the median and information out there, especially social media was slightly skewed because you know certainly, with some of the students and the graduates I've worked with, they had done really well. I think you know previously pre-covid they may have come in and not understood how to articulate certain skills, but they weren't anxious, whereas over lockdown, their anxious and they're reading a lot of, you know, headlines that were, were not exactly true. I mean, you know, we ran a webinar, myself and a colleague at Beckett, ran a webinar, based on one which ‘will graduates ever work again’. And that week, I remember everyday I'd seen at least one student had two or three job offers. It was just misinformation. So I think it's around sort of, you know, what they read, self-fulfilling. I don't you know, I think that may have an effect.

Chris: Yes, I agree.

Marc: What are the implications coming out of the pandemic for young workers and graduates then, Chris?

Chris: I think things have picked up, but there's some important things that there still bubbling under the surface. I think research by the Resolution Foundation. One of the big think tanks are looking at this area showed that there are also longer term issues. I think those are those of experienced on worklessness or unemployment during the pandemic. Young people that is, so to my people who are already in work here and will be at the start of their careers. They may be at risk of some sorts employment scarring over the longer term and those are have returned to work after a spell of unemployment at more likely found on a typical non-standard temporary contract. And also the share of young people who aren't participating at all in the labour market, so they are not in unemployment or enacting labour market, but then also full time study, seems to have worsened over the last six months or so as we come out of the pandemic. So, there may be some structural fault lines here to to think about as well, and that does really pose a lot challenging things for employers and policymakers. Policymakers have got to think and think about how to encourage those young people back into the labour market by supporting them, giving them the confidence and knowledge to find and apply for work and putting in place supporting mechanisms to do that. And also thinking about the labour market as a whole, and this is not something we're going to solve in this podcast, but is something that is worth raising. Thinking about the quality of work and the type of jobs that are available, ensuring that they offer sufficient hours of work, some degree of security and room for progression for young workers, as they look to move into these jobs. Those are big questions. I know we'll get it. Will get them to think more about the state of the UK labour markets and policy making around that, not just around skills, but I think there are a number of challenges there for employers and policymakers to think about.

Ellen: Great. Thanks, Chris. I think that's all. You know, very interesting and well, well covered in some of the research that you’re involved in, I think one of the questions that I have is that we talked a lot about, you know, skills and especially skills shortages and mismatches. So my question really is, you know, how can these challenges be dealt with? And in particular, I'm interested in how does that impact on company strategies, please?

Chris: There are big questions, aren’t they? I think. And then we could look at it in a big picture way. And also around what individual employers and individual job seekers, graduates and might do. So let's start with the big picture. I think there are some big mismatches is as you said. Some very high profile examples over the last year about skills shortages in particular sectors, and you look at some of those, and then try marry up with with research which suggests which looks at where workers want to work. And there are some big disconnects there. So a recent survey of 10,000 people of working age found that only one in five would consider working in food production, for example, and only one in four would consider working in social care. And these are two of the areas with the most acute skills shortages. Many sectors, where shortages have been heavily relied, heavily reliant on migrant workers, many of these sectors are also ones which historically quite low paid and they've got relatively poor reward, and the opportunities for progression, you often have quite a flat hierarchies and relatively limited opportunities for progression. There’s a lot going on here this, this, this, this impact of Brexit and there's the impact of COVID and these are these are creating almost this perfect storm around labour shortages and skills shortages within particular industries. Now going back to something that that Marc mentioned right at the start of this podcast. I think, I think it's really interesting point about automation and, and we did research for a project that we're doing the ESRC around the changing migration system, the ‘limits project’, it's called, and when we talk to employers they, they assumed, and then policymakers also assumed that as a result of Brexit, they would automate their labour processes, they would move away from their historical reliance on migrant workers after, after Brexit, but it's not straight forward to do that. It's really in a lot of areas, customer service roles for example, it's just not possible to automate all the processes, or when we do, it creates a very poor sort of customer experience and in those areas where there can be automation. Workers still need to be trained to use the technologies, and there's still that interaction between workers and the technologies that are coming in, and those technologies we talked about in previous podcast at their expensive to bring in. And there's often this focus I think on quite short term initiatives to solve skills shortages. The lorry driver visas, for example, was it was really good example of that, you know, was he was brought out very quickly and this assumption that by putting in place a quick, fast track process for getting lorry drivers from outside the UK visas, this one's this would solve the problem. But it didn’t actually appeal to that many. There was relatively limited overs who applied for those visas. Perhaps that reflects the challenges associated working that sector, the longer term issues around pay, reward, long shift patterns et cetera, which is not going to necessarily be solved immediately by a visa system. So I think this thinking about things that a sectoral level and national level about the nature of skills and the nature of work within particular sectors, is a very long term issue, but one which can, over the long term, perhaps help to address some of the skills shortages in those areas. And alongside that I think just a need for more investment and in training within the workplace. But again, that needs to be quite a nuanced approach. I think a sectoral and a local level. So thinking about what skills needs there are within a particular industry or occupational area at sectoral level. In Leeds, there is this step into care scheme, for example in social care, so around Burmantofts and just outside the inner city area they’ve tried to put in place processes and systems and local initiatives to encourage the local population to move into social care jobs, and into the NHS with the big hospital just very nearby. But this takes coordination. It takes time, it takes resources. So, I think this this need for sectoral level coordination, government investment in resource is and think about things at a local level as well to try and address some of these challenges. I think some of the solutions are often portrayed as being quite simple and straight forward to address these but actually they’re quite complex. They’re very sectoral specific, and they're also quite localised as well. I think in some areas... So not, not, not necessarily a positive answer, think about this, but I think it does make us think about the complexities of addressing some of these bigger challenges around skills shortages.

Marc: Great. Thank you. So that’s some of the big picture stuff, what about the individual employers and workers and graduates entering the labour market? What can they do?

Chris: You might be unsurprised when I'm gonna say here, given what just said, and I think maybe more encouragement to employers to invest in training. And I think this is happening. Apprenticeships in particular. I think it proves to be quite viable solutions to help reach skills gaps. We've seen growth in apprenticeships. From a relatively small base, I think, but there has been through the development of modern apprenticeships, higher level apprenticeships, et cetera. And these are quite a long term solution, I think they do require coordination between the education systems, employers. Almost as long term investment or commitment from the jobseeker and the employer to this source shared investment in training, I think that's a model, an approach which can work and perhaps can help to bridge some of the skills, gaps and recruitment concerns over the medium to long term. Lots of research suggesting that businesses do believe that apprenticeships and work based learning are critical and important to their long term success and evidenced actually after the pandemic, more employers are starting to turn towards apprenticeships and modern apprenticeships, and we're getting that just requires some sectoral coordination. It requires some coordination between the education system and an individual employers. The final point I think on employers to talk about, I think there perhaps is some change in the mix of workplace skills, employers are looking for and finding desirable within candidates. So when employers have been asked over last 12 months about the skills are more likely to become more important for them when recruiting things like IT skills and proficiency in using things like Teams and Zoom ranked much higher than they used to be an, as are things like technical and operational skills and decision making skills. These are skills which I think of a lot of employers place a lot of emphasis on now as well as industry specific skills and so there's a need, I think, for employers to prioritise upskilling, lifelong learning and also thinking about recruiting and progressing from within, as well to try and ease some of their skills gap challenges.

Ellen: That's a great to summary. Thank you very much. Chris. I think you know there were three points that I'm taking from this episode and I feel like we can go on forever. To be honest, there's a lot to talk about, isn't there, Marc? Yeah, but you know the three points that I've taken from this today's episode is really, you know, I think something that Marc mentioned before is to be aware, you know, the commercial arguments is really, really important to to be aware what's happening right now, what's going to happen in the future, you know, be aware of the trends. Be curious. That's curiosity always, you know, is is the key element of job seeking and be proactive, right. So those are the three points that I'm taking. And I think if you can do that then you know the future is bright. So I think that's all we've got time for today unfortunately. But thank you so much Chris, for joining us and sharing some of the really interesting research on various themes for the future of work podcast and is a great to have you on the show. I think we've had a lot of really interesting discussions and there's a lot to take away. So I think at this point, I really just wanted to thank you everyone for tuning in so far and I really hope that you have all enjoyed our discussions throughout on this really topical subjects with much to take away. In that case, then to conclude today’s episode, I shall leave you with a quote by Robert Greene. The future belongs to those who learn more skills and combine them in creative ways. Thank you for listening. See the next time. Take care.