Future skills: we all have a role to play

Work is changing and the future of work is on the minds of policy-makers, employers and employees alike. However, the question of the future of education receives much less attention and change is slow. Nesta is building partnerships with businesses, charities and philanthropists to work together to support innovation in our education system and help children to thrive (in more than just exams). Read on and get in touch if you or your organisation can help us take on this big challenge.

The low take up of STEM subjects by girls weakens future innovation capability and retains gender pay gaps. In 2016/17 female students accounted for just 9.4% of examination entries in computing, 21.2% in physics, and 39% in mathematics. Females made up only around 8% of STEM apprenticeship starts, despite representing more than 50% of all apprenticeship starts overall, and around 38% of enrolments on undergraduate STEM courses. With the UK’s exit from the EU, the skills gap is only going to widen as it will impact on the availability of skilled workers. Women are the greatest untapped population to become the next generation of STEM professionals. So it is crucial that UK invests in growing its talent pool.

There are gaps not just in technical skills but also in essential creative and social/emotional skills needed by employers. As the Sutton Trust report shows, we need to ensure we close these gaps in access to broader educational programmes so that these essential skills become a driver of social mobility. Only 13% of schools knew where to get information to support the development of those skills in their pupils. If young people lack information and inspiration about the future or lack confidence and resilience to adapt to the workplace then they will not be able to navigate the transitions of adolescence well, however good their subject matter learning is.

Flower diagram on areas which should be covered in education.

Innovating education is a priority. We must better equip all learners to thrive in work and life in the future. This means giving all young people the opportunity to reach their academic potential, not just in technical skills but also in creativity, collaborative thinking skills, social skills and emotional resilience.

The current focus of education is largely on academic skills (that’s like focusing on one petal of the flower instead of the whole flower as illustrated above). Nesta is working to prepare young people to be active members of our economy who are empowered to think entrepreneurially and can create positive social change in society. So that they can be learners who are healthy, happy and have a positive relationship with themselves, others and their society. The purpose of education is composite: academic performance, personal objectives and professional goals.

Research has shown that this approach needs to be challenging, relevant and crucially, constructive. So what can we do about it? Schools are under enormous pressure, with falling budgets and growing problems. But there is a role for a much wider range of organisations to make a meaningful contribution and help prepare children for their futures. Whether through expertise and insight, financial support for innovation, together we are able to achieve much more. Nesta is looking for businesses, philanthropists and other funders who want to work with us to lead this transformation.

The RSA argues that education needs to be designed for more than exams & earnings. Schools ‘need the help of businesses, professional bodies, arts and cultural organisations, colleges and universities, all of whom can give young people the sense of agency and creative possibility that come from realising how limitless are the ways to find meaning and create value in the world.’

To build supportive communities, Nesta is looking for businesses who want to partner with us and lead this transformation. There are three ways you can get involved today:

  1. Attend our free event ‘Shaping the Future, Shifting the System’ on 28 Feb 2019. Join us for a day-long conversation with education leaders, teachers, businesses, innovators, entrepreneurs, policymakers and funders to ask how our school system can be made more 'fit for purpose'.
  2. Participate in our survey The Skills Survey: What are employers looking for? We are interested in learning more about the skills that employers prioritise and how they identify these skills in new employees. Have your say about what's important to your business to influence our future interventions.
  3. Talk to us about phase two of our Future Ready Fund, which is awarding grant funding to help impactful and innovative interventions that help young people develop skills to thrive in the future. We want to bridge the gap between how employers define these critical skills and how educational institutions are teaching them.
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Future skills


Joysy John

Joysy John

Joysy John

Director of Education

Joysy was the Director of Education and led Nesta's work in education across innovation programmes, research and investment.

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