Future-proofing the workforce

Published: 8 August 2023

A collection of pawns; all are cream-coloured with the exception of one, which is red.
Generative AI tools, such as ChatGPT, Bard and other large language models (LLMs), are at the cusp of revolutionising the global workforce. 

This piece was first published in The MJ

Clerical and secretarial roles are most at risk; AI/​machine learning specialists and engineers stand to benefit; and high-growth green jobs, such as heat pump engineers are AI-resistant.

Local authorities must act now to recognise the opportunities and risks presented by these technologies, and re-shape local skills provision to match future workforce demands.

At Social Finance, we help local authorities address employment barriers so people can access lifelong skills provision and meaningful work.

Following research we conducted into global skills trends and best practice for City of London, we offer five strategies that local authorities could deploy to prepare their communities, particularly those most excluded from the labour force, for the widespread adoption of AI by local businesses.

Double down on basic digital skills provision

An estimated 22% of people in the UK do not have essential digital skills for work, and 8% are almost completely offline.

Digital exclusion must be urgently addressed before populations can benefit from the transformative powers of AI.

This includes providing training and support for older workers who may be less confident with technology, and collaborating with schools and education providers to ensure digital skills training is robust from a young age.

Councils should draw down adult education budgets to create lifelong learning opportunities, and leverage Local Digital Skills Partnerships to develop digital skills training that is up-to-date, inclusive and fit for purpose.

Map local economy skills gaps

Traditionally, job vacancy data is published retrospectively, rendering it outdated by the time it becomes available.

Tech jobs have a high number of vacancies, two million in 2021. Councils need real-time understanding of the needs of their local economies to identify skills gaps, and match jobs to vacancies, drawing inspiration from initiatives like the Open Jobs Observatory. Vacancy data should be combined with proactive employer outreach so councils can get ahead of future demands.

Develop AI-focused skills training for people excluded from the workforce

AI could provide an exciting opportunity to help people historically excluded from employment find jobs, such as people with long-term health conditions, and prison leavers.

Recent research shows AI-specific jobs may not need advanced qualifications. The backbone of tools such as ChatGPT is the AI prompt engineer: someone who creates prompts to train the model. Anyone could theoretically be trained to this role, it just requires political commitment to ensure training reaches those who most need it.

Jobs like these can be done remotely and without coding skills, making them fit for purpose for those with accessibility needs. Local authorities should partner with FE colleges and private training providers to identify and design opportunities to connect these groups with the jobs of the future.

Deploy innovative finance to fund outcomes-focused pilots

Public-private partnerships and outcomes-focused finance mechanisms could be leveraged to provide the skills needed for the future workplace in high-demand industries, and empower individuals to re-train.

Councils should consider social impact bonds, career impact bonds or income share agreements to support access to on-the-job and external training opportunities for learners. A funder could provide upfront investment or loans for individuals to invest in training, with repayment either from local authorities or from individuals if certain outcomes are achieved – skills certificates or jobs above an income threshold. This approach enables skills providers to focus on real jobs available today, rather than accreditation that may or may not lead to work in the future.

Continue to focus on fusion’ skills

Skills that cannot easily be substituted by AI include creativity, critical thinking, decision-making and social interaction. It is more important than ever to instil these transferable or fusion skills in local populations.

The Department for Education’s Employer Skills Survey found that two-thirds of skill shortage vacancies were at least partially caused by a lack of people and personal skills, and the need for these skills will only increase as AI makes more manual jobs redundant. Councils should prioritise discovering and promoting programmes which teach these skills, ensuring people get a holistic and future-proofed skill set that combines both softer and more technical skills.

It is easy to paint a doom and gloom picture of the impacts of AI on the workforce.

It is harder to understand local skills gaps, eliminate digital poverty, and broaden access to high-quality skills training for everyone. Local authorities can play a powerful role in protecting and empowering their communities, and it starts today.

Read more in our Global Skills Trends and Best Practice report. And get in touch with us if you would like to learn more.

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