John Yates, Group Director – Corporate Learning at City & Guilds Group

The UK is falling behind in the global skills race, according to new research from the leading skills organisation City & Guilds Group. 

The new research published today (27 Nov) by City & Guilds Group, the leading global skills development body, reveals that the UK risks being left behind as employers across the world race to upskill their workers. As digitalisation and fluctuating economies transform the skills needed in the workplace today, employees are less confident than their bosses that they’ll have skills they need for the future.

The study, conducted by City & Guilds Group business Kineo, surveyed 6500 employees and 1300 employers across 13 international markets. It found that employers in developing countries with rapidly emerging economies are among the most likely to ramp up investment in upskilling their workforce in the near future, compared to developed economies such as the UK.

71% of employees worldwide recognise that the skills they need are changing but only 66% of UK workers think their employer is keeping pace, with only 54% of UK employers forecasting a rise in L&D investment.

A significant 92% of Indian employers and 78% of Kenyan employers surveyed predicted a net increase in learning and development (L&D) investment in the next 12 months, compared to just 54% of employers in the UK. This is concerning considering only 13% of UK employees would rate the L&D opportunities at their organisation over the past year as very effective, compared to 31% in India.

As technological advances continue to transform the way we live and work, employers in developing economies are feeling the impact most acutely.

While just 25% of employers in the US and 42% in the UK recognise the impact of digital transformation on their business, significantly more Kenyan (65%) and Indian (62%) employers consider this an important factor driving change. Equally, when it comes to automation and AI, the majority of employers surveyed in Malaysia (60%) and India (58%) found this to be a major driver of change, compared to just 27% of employers in the UK.

John Yates, Group Director – Corporate Learning at City & Guilds Group comments:

“Businesses worldwide are navigating a period of immense transformation – and this is particularly evident in emerging economies, where organisations are ramping up their investment in L&D as they embrace technology and hone the skills required to compete on a global stage. However, our study shows investment in skills is less of an immediate priority for employers in the UK – putting us at risk of lagging behind other, more future-focussed countries.

“With the workforce becoming increasingly mobile – and the influx of overseas talent crucial to the future of British businesses – UK employers cannot afford complacency. Employers need to listen their workers’ training needs and ensure they continue to focus on upskilling – or they risk losing talent to other markets who are making this a priority. Equipping workforces with the skills to succeed in the future is a marathon, not a sprint, but those who overlook the importance of skills investment risk dropping out of the race altogether.”

The research also showed that while 71% of employees globally recognise that the skills they need to do their job will change in the next 3-5 years, only 66% of UK workers think their employer is keeping pace with changing skills – lower than the global average.

However, UK employers are much more confident in their workforce, with 75% saying they’re confident they have the skilled staff they need for the next 3-5 years. This highlights a worrying perception gap, that – unless addressed – could lead to lower retention rates and compromised service levels and opportunities as employees seek out organisations who can better meet their training needs.

Paul Grainger, Co-Director of the Centre for Post-14 Education and Work, and Head of Enterprise and Innovation for the Department of Education, Practice and Society (EPS) at the UCL Institute for Education comments:

“With businesses around the world facing different changes and challenges according to the specific economic, cultural, political, demographic and technological factors of their location, they will have to react and develop the skills of their workforce in a way that is specific to their context.

“The foreseeable future is likely to be dominated by emerging digital technologies.  These can help individuals and communities to grow, become more agile, develop skills and network with a wider, global community. As these technologies are able to transcend borders, they help organisations and the communities in which they are based to adapt to the evolving needs of the community and the world at large. They support agility. And as workplace change is increasingly rapid, it is likely that those regions actively engaged in emerging markets will be better placed to manage the tensions between flexibility and predictability.”

Dr Kim Schofield, General Manager, HR Standards and Practice, Australian HR Institute, said:

"Work is changing every day and so you have to provide employees with development to meet those changes – employers are realising that to cope with the workplace of the future they need to be flexible and new skills are required. The organisation is becoming the place to learn now and so they need to provide learning experiences on the job – you can’t wait now”

Dermalogica: An organisation doing it right

Candice Gardner, Education Manager Digital & Content at Dermalogica, said:

“Effective learning is central to our business. Our culture is highly innovative and dynamic; when we are delivering new products, services and tools at pace in a competitive market, we rely on our people being trained to use, communicate and promote them well. We have employees in more than 80 countries around the world, so it’s important that our training can be easily adapted to reflect their needs.

“In order to deliver valuable training, we need to understand the context in which our staff operate, from specific regulations they are governed by, to the unique social and business culture of each market. Ultimately, whilst we aim for our core content to be globally applicable, we have to consider each market’s nuances and priorities in order to be relevant – skillsets, demands and trends can vary, and then we have to consider logistics and geography. For example, India doesn’t have formalised training for skin therapists, so we tend to put a lot of emphasis on the practical skills. In the USA, geography is vast and thus getting into a local office or training centre is not always feasible, so digital learning is key. In Russia - where they operate across 11 time zones - learning innovation is essential.

“Importantly, we always try to manage employee expectations by being very clear on the aims, objectives and desired outcomes of a session. Language, cultural norms and background can all affect how people interpret content, so we endeavour to test our approach in advance to ensure it meets the needs of learners in different markets. We’ve certainly learned that setting the right expectations more often than not means you achieve the right outcome.”

An employee at Dermalogica said: 

“The training at Dermalogica has played a big role in my development and motivated me to stay not only with the company but in the industry; I’ve been with the brand for 11 years and never once have I felt like I haven’t had opportunities to learn more.

“What makes it most engaging is the external insights that the trainers provide. In everything we do, we are helped to understand how it works in context and how it applies to the situation we find ourselves in. The learning becomes addictive – like an obsession because it is so relevant.”

About the research: City & Guilds Group surveyed a global sample of 6,532 employees in companies of 10 or more people and 1,304 employers in companies with 25 or more employees across 13 markets. The research was conducted by Vitreous World on behalf of City & Guilds Group in April 2019. Markets surveyed: UK, France, Sweden, Kenya, South Africa, UAE, India, Malaysia, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, USA, Argentina.

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