Millions of people around the world urgently need to develop new skills to find meaningful work as we recover from the pandemic. Mark Hall outlines how the RSA, in partnership with Bayes Impact and the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth, aims to help people on this journey with a new digital careers coaching platform.

The world of work is changing. Prior to the pandemic one in two people globally believed technology would greatly affect their job. Covid-19 has now driven many businesses to accelerate digitalisation, increase automation and adopt artificial intelligence. This will have a major impact on the labour market, with many jobs at risk both from accelerated automation and the effects of the pandemic itself.

For example, in the UK, industries such as hospitality and parts of manufacturing and construction are now at extremely high risk from both automation and Covid-19. Many more job losses will follow as government-funded programmes, such as the UK’s furlough scheme, come to an end later this year.

The skills people develop while in education and early in their careers will not be sufficient to maintain good jobs or build a meaningful career. People will need to become much more adaptable throughout their lives; upskilling, reskilling and critically adopting a lifelong learning mindset.

Shift towards lifelong learning policy

In both the UK and France there has been a policy shift towards lifelong learning. In recent years the French government has invested heavily in vocational training (spending around €32 billion annually) and given people more agency to design their own learning journeys. A Lifetime Skills Guarantee was recently announced in the UK in an attempt to level the playing field between university graduates and those who pursue other paths through vocational training, apprenticeships, or direct entry into the job market.

These interventions are much needed. In both the UK and France less than 43 percent of people spend a significant amount of time on learning each year. It is too early to assess the impact of these schemes but we cannot expect people to develop a lifelong learning mindset without the tools and support to navigate this transition, particularly those who have spent less time in education or lack support from their immediate networks.

As unemployment rises and the global job market becomes more competitive, training and skills will become ever more important to those looking for work or needing to change career path. Governments that cultivate lifelong learning eco-systems that involve employers, individuals and social innovators will create the best opportunities for their citizens to thrive.

In France Individual Learning Accounts (ILAs) were established via the ‘Compte Personnel de Formation’ (CPF) in 2015. Under the French scheme, citizens receive €500-800 worth of training credit per year depending on their level of education (training credits are accumulated over time and capped at €5000 – 8000). French citizens can search and access training via the CPF website and smart phone app. Initially the scheme was predominantly used by those out of work with 8 percent of jobseekers accessing training via the CPF in 2016. Engagement from employees looking to upskill has increased over the last few years and in 2018 there were more employees participating in the scheme than jobseekers.

The portability of ILAs is an important and attractive feature for governments’ to consider when designing a training system to support the needs a more dynamic labour market as the account is linked to the individual rather than a single job or employer. A recent OECD report highlights that ILAs’ effectiveness depends critically on their design. The features of a well-designed scheme include: simplicity; adequate and predictable funding; greater generosity for those most in need; provision of effective information, advice and guidance; a guarantee of access to quality training, and an explicit account of links with employer-provided training. Without these features, the OECD warns that ILAs can widen pre-existing gaps between over and underrepresented groups.

France is not alone in exploring ILAs. Skills Future in Singapore is a national movement to provide Singaporeans with the opportunities to develop their fullest potential throughout life, regardless of their starting points. Citizens can access a range of programmes to support them at different points in their careers and everyone receives $500 opening credit at the age of 25 to start them on their journey.

ILAs were also one the key policy recommendations in the RSA’s 2020 report blueprint for good work which outlines eight ideas for a new social contract, including lifelong learning.  As policymakers shift the focus from managing the pandemic to longer term solutions, ILAs could be a big part of the global policy debate.

Empowering people at scale

Whether through ILAs or other access points to the training and careers system, there is a role for social impact organisations to enhance the digital tools available for people to navigate their lifelong learning journey. Innovative tech companies can support and enhance government programmes by making them more accessible, user friendly, and reaching more people. A key focus should be on reaching those who may not traditionally take advantage of these opportunities, including young people (particularly those not in education or training), the unemployed, workers currently in jobs or sectors facing significant risk of automation, those on low to median-income and low-skilled workers.

The RSA’s journey with Bayes Impact – which uses technology to tackle social issues at scale – began during the RSA’s Economic Security Impact Accelerator with their platform Bob Emploi, a free online platform that utilises AI to help over 250,000 jobseekers assess and improve their employability with data-driven advice.

With the support of the RSA and the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth, Bayes Impact are now building a new platform that will enable users to explore different career options and access personalised recommendations based on their skills and interests. By leveraging labour market data, the platform will guide users to training pathways leading to good attainable jobs. This is not simply about finding short-term training opportunities but helping users shift to a long-term career development mindset and linking pathways to concrete employment opportunities.

Critical to the success of the platform will be how it fits within the existing training and careers eco-system. Bayes Impact is exploring partnerships with key system actors, including Caisse des Dépôts (who operates France’s Compte Personnel de Formation), to develop a strategy to reach 100,000 French users over the next two years.

Shifting the system 

At the RSA we will be working with the Bayes Impact team over the coming months to understand how this tool can be adapted to the UK market. Through a series of interviews with key stakeholders in the UK including the Kickstart scheme, major employers, leading job search platforms such as Google and LinkedIn, and existing career navigation tools like FutureFitAI, we will aim to uncover deep insights about the current system. Our aim is to understand the barriers and opportunities for change, learning from initiatives such as the National Retraining Scheme, understanding government priorities for investment and identifying where digital integration can enhance current training and careers pathways.  

Our proven change process, the Living Change Approach, underpins all of our work and enables us to effectively support social innovators around the world to understand the challenges of our time and identify the actions needed to create lasting change. Building on the insights generated with key system actors we will design a bespoke process to generate supporting ideas that can improve the conditions for innovation and spot opportunities for change.

This will lead us to a series of policy and service interventions for lifelong learning in the UK that understands the dynamic relationship between top-down policy reforms and social innovations.

Working with the Bayes Impact team we will reflect on this system exploration to adapt their prototype to the UK market, building partnerships with key stakeholders and developing a roadmap to pilot this platform in the UK. Drawing on our experience of testing this innovation in France and the UK, the RSA will lead a global systems analysis to explore where this platform could scale at pace and outline the policy conditions that would be necessary to enable this. 

The world of work is changing fast and governments need to adapt quickly. Social innovators such as Bayes Impact will have an important role to play in ensuring everyone can develop the skills they need to navigate the future. At the RSA our Living Change Approach supports these social innovators to design and test interventions that tilt the system and deliver impact at scale.

The original version of this article was originally published on The RSA by Mark Hall.