INTERVIEW Effective and innovative skills and employability underpins

the very fabric of modern life. We are all invested in our own learning or encouraging our families, colleagues, employees or peers to learn, develop and progress. As such, there is always scrutiny, quite rightly, on the best

approach to developing skills; to benchmarking academic attainment; identifying future challenges; creating a coherent pathway from early years education through to a fulfilling career; dealing with the current skills and productivity gaps… the list is endless. With so many active stakeholders - public and private -

and such an ever-changing academic, political and cultural landscape it can sometimes be difficult to see the wood for the trees, however searching for commonality and simplifying messages, Sandra believes, will be crucial as the work and discourse surrounding skills and employment is shaped and evolves. “It’s about reviewing individual needs and creating simple

pathways that really resonate with your goals and ambitions. The clear link between skills, progression and realising your own potential personally, and professionally is so important,” suggests Sandra. “Our role at Futures is to make things simple, hide the

wiring and be a trusted partner to help businesses and individuals make the right decisions on skills. “What people want are fulfilled lives and you get that

through education, a good job and earning a good enough income to lead a rewarding life. We bring the individual and the employer together and try to remove those complexities to raise the aspirations of what they can achieve.” While organisations such as Futures can deliver services in

a way that appears simple, the practicalities and realities are often more complex and, Sandra suggests, a degree of flexibility, trust and honesty needs to be achieved in order to deliver positive and long-lasting results. Consequently, the requirements of both current and would-be workers – and that of the employers themselves – can vary markedly from case to case. “Some people just need to have a conversation with one

of our careers guidance experts, and be signposted to where they need to go. They need minimal help in finding a job or developing in their career,” explains Sandra. “Then there are those with multiple barriers to

employment, ranging from housing problems, debt or mental health issues who need more intensive support. These people may be long-term unemployed and suffering low confidence but wanting to go back to work. It’s about having a variety of services and tapping into the qualities of staff with different expertise to help those individuals and also to provide a network of other services that can be called upon - we’re not experts in everything but have developed strong partnerships with other services that can provide support where we’re not able to.” Those partnerships will be required to work more closely

in the years to come as the employment landscape changes and, consequently, the skillsets required alter accordingly. “In 2014 UKCES published Working Futures 2014 -2024

where it estimated that by 2024, two million new jobs would be created in higher skills occupations and of the total people in employment, 54% would need to be at level four or above so the stats are out there,” says Sandra. “It’s a case of looking at how, as an organisation, we can

prepare people for that because in a digital and more technical demanding world they need to be open to ideas that probably don’t even exist yet. If you’re a five-year-old, the job that you will do may not have even been invented.” So looking holistically – from education providers,

business leaders, policy-makers and many other influencers - how do we ensure future and current workers have the skills and knowledge they need to lead fulfilling lives, enhance businesses and contribute to economic prosperity and is the Government’s recently-published Careers Strategy December 2017 and the current Apprenticeship reforms a vehicle that can affect positive change? “In terms of three- to five-year plans, we can see how the

immediate future may pan out and we have research which suggests where those jobs and higher level skills are likely to be but it is also about being agile and being able to adapt as an organisation,” she says.

36 business network June 2018 The Careers Strategy is informing and empowering young people

‘If you’re a five-year-old, the job that you will do may not have even been invented’

“The Careers Strategy is focused on ensuring careers

provision is world class and helps people to really understand the range of opportunities available to them in today’s economy and acquire the skills and qualifications they need to succeed in the workplaces of the future with Apprenticeships and Higher Apprenticeships playing a key role. “What we are trying to do is support businesses by

educating young people and adults, empowering them to make positive career changes and to take advantage of opportunities in relation to their current or future careers. “How do we ensure the future generation in particular are

really successful and have the opportunities to broaden their minds and think about things when they’re entering the world of work? It’s all about linking business and education and the Careers Strategy delves into this to an extent that I don’t think has been seen before. “We teach young people in schools how to use subjects

such as maths and English in the world of work however what we don’t do so well is prepare them with business knowledge and link business and schools more closely together to actually use that to educate them not just in curriculum and qualifications but also how businesses work and operate. If they don’t have exposure to businesses and different careers then they are going to leave education not necessarily armed with a knowledge of the bigger and wider picture, so it can take a lot longer to find the path that is right for them.” The future of skills and employment set against a

backdrop of change may, Sandra suggests, lie as much in developing an individual’s own personal attributes and outlook as it is on developing specific work-related skills. “What employers are wanting more of these days are

those critical thinking skills - individuals who can work collaboratively, who are flexible, adaptable and resilient. Individuals have got to be curious - is there a better way of doing something, for example. An employer can train somebody to develop a skill but those personal skills make that person – whether a young person or adult – a lot more employable. The more we instil critical thinking, the better prepared and adaptable current and future employees become.” So, with all this in mind, how does Futures position itself

moving forward? While the requirement to be adaptive to change and able to develop accordingly will clearly feature prominently in the organisation’s drive for future success, its values will remain deep-rooted and essential to all it does. “It’s about supporting business to develop their people to

achieve their potential and supporting individuals to make well informed career choices and addressing social mobility, that’s the key,” concludes Sandra. “We’re a future-focused social enterprise and it is about

working with business and other stakeholders to really address these issues. We need to look at innovative ways of doing that work and I don’t think that will ever change.”

Supporting business: Sandra Cowley

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