About Nesta

Nesta is an innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality and changing lives for the better. We use our expertise, skills and funding in areas where there are big challenges facing society.

Four things Nesta has learnt about adult skills and lifelong learning

The world of work is changing rapidly. This is partly a result of technological progress, but is also affected by developments in society that include people living and working for longer, and facing political and environmental uncertainty.

These changes are influencing the types of skills that people will need in the future; some jobs will cease to exist, while others will change and/or expand rapidly. One fifth of the UK workforce are currently in occupations that are likely to shrink over the next ten years. The government, employers and training providers need to collaborate to create a future where everyone can access the skills they need for the jobs of tomorrow.

Nesta is generating the knowledge and evidence urgently needed to shift skills systems and create a more positive and inclusive future of work. We recently responded to the government’s Adult Skills and Lifelong Learning Inquiry to share our learnings and recommendations on the subject. Here are four key points from our response:

1. Big data can help us to understand what skills are needed now and in the future

There’s a lack of information on what skills are needed now and in the future for workers, employers, training providers and the government to use. Where this data does exist, it’s not easy to access or for any of these groups to act on so they can make the most of emerging opportunities.

Big data has huge potential to provide fast, frequent and granular insights into the labour market. Our Open Jobs programme uses data to help individuals, organisations and governments in the UK take more informed decisions about jobs. We’ve developed the first publicly available data-driven taxonomy of skills, using 40 million UK online job adverts. A skills taxonomy provides a consistent way of measuring the demand and supply of skills, and can help people learn more about both the skills that they need, and their value in the labour market.

We recommend that the government take steps to open up new sources of data to create a smarter labour market for both workers and employers.

2. To find out what works for lifelong learning we need to test and learn

There’s little high quality evidence on what works in upskilling and reskilling for adults. In order to invest in training wisely, the government, training providers and employers need significantly more research into innovative and effective approaches. For example, labour market data and AI could help improve information, advice and guidance.

Nesta runs a number of programmes, including FutureFit and the Adult Learning Technology Innovation Fund to test different ways to support adults in refreshing their skills or learning new ones. We’d like the government to take further steps to strengthen the evidence base for what works in adult learning, including provision of career information, advice and guidance and online learning.

3. We need to increase participation in the innovation economy

In the UK, we look to high-tech innovation-led firms to drive economic growth. However, these firms are concentrated in specific geographical areas. For example, investment in research and development per capita in London and the South East of England is over three times that of Wales.

Meanwhile, the innovation workforce is dominated by privileged, white men. Only 8% of people filing patents in the UK in 2015 were women (the proportion has barely changed in the last 15 years). By excluding all but a narrow segment of the population from jobs in innovation, we are denying the majority a chance to realise their full potential.

Nesta's research shows that broadening participation in the innovation economy is a way to improve productivity and well-being of wider society. To do so, we need to reform the education system to prepare the next generation for the labour market of the future. This includes teaching the mindsets and skills relevant to future jobs, and creating a system where all young people feel they can take part in society on equal terms.

4. There’s a lot to be learnt from ‘Digital Frontrunner’ countries

When the government is looking to develop effective models for labour market policy, the Nordic and Benelux regions, Canada and Singapore are all frontrunners that it can learn from.

These countries have a joined-up skills strategy, with clear governmental leadership and cooperation between key stakeholders. In the Nordic model, regular dialogue between policy makers, employers, unions and training providers is used to address labour market issues effectively. Partnerships like the Danish Technology Pact and Disruption Council bring these stakeholders together to reach consensus on the way forward.

Through our Digital Frontrunners network, we bring together policy makers and experts from across Northern Europe, to collect learnings and share examples of best practice.

At Nesta, our vision is for a more positive and inclusive world of work.

Through our work, we aim to help people prepare for and navigate the future of work, while levelling the playing field for all who are affected. Nesta’s research shows that there are effective alternative models for adults skills retraining. We’d like to see the government explore the approaches we’ve outlined above. Meanwhile, we’ll continue to explore and test innovative ideas for labour market policy.

Read our full response to the Adult Skills and Lifelong Learning Inquiry here.


Georgie Whiteley

Georgie Whiteley

Georgie Whiteley

Senior Researcher, Future of Work and Skills

Georgie worked on the research needs for the Digital Frontrunners and Futurefit programmes.

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