HotSW Digital Skills Partnership’s Proposal for Mature Workers Selected as Nesta Finalist

yellow robotic arm carrying cardboard box in warehouse

“Nesta  research suggests that more than six million people in the UK are currently employed in occupations that are likely to radically change or entirely disappear by 2030 due to automation, population ageing, urbanisation and the rise of the green economy.  

In the  nearer-term, the coronavirus crisis has intensified the importance of this problem. Recent warnings suggest that a prolonged lockdown could result in 6.5 million people losing their jobs. Of these workers, nearly 80% do not have a university degree”  

 Source: Innovatorsmag    

Following an approach by  Skilllab  in early 2020, the Heart of the South West LEP Digital Skills Partnership submitted a proposal to the NESTA Career EdTech Challenge to tackle the threat posed by  Automation on  the  employment prospects of individuals in Devon, Plymouth, Somerset and Torbay.    

 It aims to re-set and re-frame mature workers to be ready for the increasingly automated world of work; which  has increasing relevance in the context of the Covid-19  impact on the  job market.    

On  30  March, NESTA announced that the proposal  is  one of twenty finalists to take part in the 9-month NESTA Prize Challenge.    

Here, Charlotte Collyer from the Digital Skills Partnerships writes about their ambition for Skilllab  – a skills identification tool for disenfranchised mature workers to access an increasingly digitised world of work to mitigate that  risk.  

Skilllab  has developed an AI engine that analyses a person’s experiences across a lifetime and maps those experiences against the European Skills, Competences, Qualifications and Occupations framework (ESCO). The platform  to date, amongst other use-cases,  has  for example  been used  to help migrants who were finding themselves disenfranchised from their new  country’s  workplace for a variety of reasons; because job titles didn’t correspond, because of large gaps in employment history or unrecognised qualifications. Their platform through a mobile app, ‘quizzes’ people on their lives experiences to date – the more questions you answer the more accurate the AI engine then maps those experiences to skills that match to occupations. The mobile app can also show you which skills you are missing if you’re aiming for a  particular job  and this is where linking to Learn Devon’s adult education  portfolio comes in.  

The aim of the project? 

We felt it could be beneficial to  develop  the  Skilllab  AI tool to support mature workers, aged 50+ who fit the following personas; working in roles requiring low levels of qualifications, working in low paid roles or roles at risk of Automation. These individuals  by definition of  when they went to school were not educated alongside  technology, computers were not part of their formal education, and this naturally creates a lack of confidence and understanding of technology used in today’s workplaces. Often creating segments of the population that feel disenfranchised to apply for roles requiring digital skills, even in scenarios where they have more than adequate soft skills and life experiences and would be fully able to deliver the role with some additional digital training.   

Regional Context: 

We are an ageing society, by 2046, 1 in 4 people in the UK will be 65 years old and over. The Heart of the South West has almost reached this ratio, in 2018, 24% of the Heart of the South West population was over 65 and by 2041 it’s predicted to be 31%. Coupled with this we know that 20% of our mature workforce (50 to 64-year-olds) have a low level of formally accredited skills (equal to or lower than Level 2), and 12% of this age range have no accredited skills. What these individuals do have however is a vast amount of practical experience and a rich set of soft skills which we can support to access new roles through skills identification, recognition of comparable experiences and digital upskilling.  

The Effect of ‘New Normal’  

Our proposal into the NESTA Career EdTech challenge was written long before the realities of the Coronavirus and the devasting effect it has had on employment. Today and for the foreseeable workforce welfare and job preservation are forefront in employers and employees’ minds, not least for the conundrum they present. We are living and will be for a while to come in a physical world where social distancing is the new normal. Automation is one solution to public safety and welfare. As services move online and chatbots handle part of the customer service cycle, AI engines filter the inquiries and serve up responses, sensors track our shopping removing the need for cashiers and fast-food giants and  highstreet  pubs introduce self-ordering kiosks and apps. Long before the pandemic Automation, AI and robotics were cited as the key to unlocking greater productivity. A PWC analysis predicting it has the potential to contribute $15 trillion  by 2030  to global GDP but that,  hand in hand,  44% of workers with low education jobs will be redundant.  

Source: PWC      

Recently the Guardian shared  an  article  on  the effect Coronavirus is having on Automation which included findings from an EY survey. It found:  

“Almost half of company bosses in 45 countries are speeding up plans to automate their businesses as workers are forced to stay at home during the coronavirus outbreak. Some 41% of respondents in a survey by the auditing firm EY said they were investing in accelerating automation as businesses prepared for a post-crisis world.”  

Automation and Coronavirus  are  speeding up the change in skills everyone needs to be able to contribute to the  new  normal  world of work. Not everyone will need to know how to programme robots or to how to contribute to a scrum team building a new online service, but everyone needs to be included in the opportunities that Automation presents.    

There are opportunities around logistics, maintenance, analytics, user-centred process, design, creativity and training. Coupled with these  there are roles in traditional sectors whose stability will be enhanced through digital insights offered by analytics and we have an equal responsibility to support people to find work in these sectors that will continue to thrive; Food and Drink, Tourism, the Green and Blue economy.   

So for now, the hard work starts as we explore how to adapt the  Skilllab  web app to a UK audience, how we can encourage people to fine-tune the results and how we can map the learning pathways the app suggests to the digital learning offer of  Learn Devon and potentially other training providers. We hope this project will be effective at rebooting careers of mature workers and if it does are keen to expand the pilot to work with further priority groups; parents returning after a childcare break and Young People Not in Education, Employment, Education or Training. We’re also cognizant of national platforms being developed and will explore wider integration with other stakeholders. This is the start of a digital skills ‘re-set and reframe’ opportunity. We’ll post again mid-way through the project with an update on how it is going.  

Skilllab App

This  proposal is  supported by DfE and Nesta through the  CareerTech  Challenge.  Nesta is delivering the  CareerTech  Challenge in partnership with the Department for Education as part of their National Retraining Scheme.  You can find out more information about the programme here:  https://www.nesta.org.uk/project/careertech-challenge/  

Charlotte Collyer  

Heart of the South West LEP Digital Skills Partnership    

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