In Lord Knight’s opening comments, he commented that the question of the changing nature of the labour market is one of the most profound questions of our generation. The changing pace of technology means that in some parts of the world it is cheaper to employ robots than train workers. The labour market is indeed changing at a quick pace, with skills gaps existing in project management roles and data analysis.
Lord Knight discussed the issue of longevity or the “hundred year life” where the child will be expected to work into the next century. As taxpayers cannot afford that child to retire before reaching the age of 100, where will they find work? This marks the end of the 20th century cycle of life: the idea that you transition from education to employment. The changing nature of the labour market means that people will work through various careers and will need to recreate themselves, thus presenting itself as both an opportunity and a challenge for our skills system.
Lord Knight commented on the outdated nature of the education system and its inability to keep up with these changes. Universities in particular, he claimed, are too narrow. To keep up with changes in the labour market, humans will need more than one specialism to prosper.
The discussion then examined Brexit and divisions in the country. Generally the majority of graduates voted to remain and non-graduates voted to leave. Lord Knight spoke about the need to make towns ‘smart towns’ in order to provide a greater sense of hope about the future through education and learning, and this is the prism of which we should think about the skills system. Schools are already innovating in the digital sphere and this should help to extend opportunities to all through taking advantage of teleconferencing and the creation of ‘pop up schools’.
Jim Knight raised a core concern for policymakers: how do you finance a skills revolution? Important questions followed from the audience, including a question from Baroness Garden about unfavourable perception of the skills system in comparison to higher education.Lord Knight responded by examining the role employers play, commenting that when employers stop filtering recruits on a basis of qualification, aspirant parents will change their minds about sending their children to Oxbridge.
In response to a question of the politicisation of education policy, Lord Knight explained that the opposition should go through exercise of assessing what they believe should be the legitimate concern to the government. In his examples he explained that the funding of education is a legitimate concern of the government, but the content of the curriculum is not and therefore should be governed by an independent body.