What does it take for workers to be Future Proof in 2021?

16 Feb 2021

By Dr Al Mathers, Joseph Chambers & Tom McGrath

How can employability support help us ride out this turbulent storm? What role does the development of digital skills play? How can we come through one of the most challenging times, stronger and more positive about what we have to offer as workers?

We believe our new report with Accenture and Nesta - Shocks, knocks and skill building blocks - provides some of the answers, putting people like Liam in good stead for the next step in their careers.

Twenty-something Liam had been undertaking an ICT degree at his local college. He’d dropped out of his degree and had been unemployed. He felt his withdrawal from formal education had been a key reason for a drop in confidence, both in his IT skills and his ability to learn.

After being referred to a Future Proof: Skills for Work community partner, Liam met with one of the tutors, who talked with him about what he was looking to do, how the resources could help, and what challenges he faced with regards to learning.

Liam struggled with his confidence for two years but the signposted courses helped him. Crucially, Future Proof helped him enjoy learning again: the support from the tutor and the structure of the courses meant he was able to ease himself back into learning.

The UK employment landscape has changed forever

As the latest ONS data (January 2021) suggests, COVID-19 continues to have a significant impact on the UK economy and its labour market. People looking to enter or re-enter the workplace face an increasingly difficult task.

Data shows that 80% of all jobs now require some digital skills, yet 52% of the UK population lack the Essential Digital Skills for work (DCMS, 2019; Lloyds Bank, 2020). This mismatch in the demand and supply of digital skills, presents a digital divide that disadvantages people and the economy.

Approaches to address these issues and the labour market need have tended to be top down, with businesses requiring workers to quickly upskill or run the risk of being left behind.

The Future Proof approach

Working with our community partners, Good Things Foundation has been able to offer an alternative, more person-centred way forward to address this disconnect. This builds personal confidence and proficiency regarding digital skills for work, alongside a more accurate and up-to-date understanding of the job market, and positive behaviours that can help them thrive in the world of work.

Launched in late 2019, Future Proof: Skills for Work was a national test and learn partnership project between us, Accenture, Nesta, and thirteen community organisations across the UK. Throughout one of the most challenging years, the programme supported over 900 people to develop the skills and competencies they need to thrive in the workplace.

Learners were able to draw from a range of online career resources as part of the community organisations’ employment courses and support. As a result, 38 people started their own businesses, 52 found a job, 41 grew their existing business and 65 gained work experience placements.

Furthermore, 78% of learners noted they had improved their career management with a further 69% identifying they had increased their digital skills.

Future Proof workers

In Future Proof: Skills for Work, we sought to test and explore the influence of a set of behavioural and attitudinal competencies - habit, grit, resilience, relatedness, self-efficacy, motivation, goal setting and trust - on people’s abilities to gain digital skills and wider positive behaviours.

One person told us; “Continuing with my online learning helped me through some low points during lockdown as I felt I was doing something positive”.

People were also more confident and motivated to learn digital skills and could see how development of digital and employability skills were key to their future aspirations.

Another added: “I knew there were huge digital developments out there, but not to what extent they were being used. Taking part in the project helped me realise how much things had moved forward”.

Employability support that works

Future Proof: Skills for Work demonstrated the importance of holistic employability support for learners with lower digital skills, but also for those from higher education and professional backgrounds looking to return to work or progress.

We urge policymakers, funders and practitioners to seize the opportunity to embed and act upon Future Proof’s learnings and take forward our recommendations.

As the past year has reinforced, digital technologies are inextricably linked to our daily lives – both at work and at home. But too many people are being left behind by the rapidly expanding digital divide.

If we are to maximise the social and economic opportunities technologies can bring, we must now embrace and expand programmes like Future Proof: Skills for Work to ensure everyone is part of this transformation.

Want to find out more about our insight and recommendations from the Future Proof: Skills for Work programme? Join us for a free Webinar on Wednesday 24th February at 10.30am.