UK Economy Needs to Upskill to Secure Future Growth

Steve Hill, Director of External Engagement at The Open University (OU), warns that businesses and universities must consider new ways of ensuring that the British workforce has the appropriate training to ensure growth, and argues that part-time learning is an under-utilised strategy for boosting productivity, growth and employee engagement

As construction and industrial production sectors experience on-going struggles, the UK’s digital economy is becoming increasingly important. A recent study by Accenture Strategy forecast that by 2020, the UK’s digital economy will grow to 33 percent of GDP, worth around £776 billion. If steps are taken to optimise the UK’s digital capability, GDP could experience an additional £59 billion boost by 2020. The on-going mismatch between the skills make-up of the UK workforce and the sectors which are experiencing growth must be addressed if this growth is to be realised. 

The Labour Market figures released by the Office for National Statistics at the end of January, whilst pointing to a promising reduction in unemployment, reveal a rising number of unfilled roles in specialist sectors. Vacancies are at their highest level since before 2001, rising particularly acutely in professional scientific and technical activities – an annual increase of nine percent – with information and communication also struggling with a 13.8 percent increase since last year. At the same time, the number of unemployed people per vacancy has been falling steadily, and The Open University warns that the business and academic community must explore new ways in which to train and develop the workforce to secure the UK’s position in sectors experiencing high growth.

Steve Hill, Director of External Engagement at The Open University, commented: “The UK is a highly-skilled economy but the pace of technological and economic change means that there is a growing need for upskilling and retraining current employees. Both business leaders and universities should consider the multiplicity of learning options they can employ to keep pace with these changes.

“Part-time learning remains an underexploited strategy for upskilling and re-skilling the UK’s current workforce, which has the potential to provide tremendous value. Investing in learning drives productivity and growth whilst contributing to the retention of businesses’ most valuable assets: their staff.

 “We’ve seen 86 percent of FTSE 100 companies sponsor staff on OU courses, recognising the value of part-time learning for their businesses. It enables people to stay in work whilst they are upskilling, bringing together academic learning with work-based application to ensure that the UK remains competitive across key sectors.”

Over the past 45 years, The Open University has pioneered a distance learning model that is synergistic with delivering part-time learning; enabling consistent quality learning, to be delivered at scale, to dispersed workforces. The Open University delivered this education to over 170,000 UK students in 2014/15, 76 percent of whom studied whilst working full or part-time.