How will the UK create the skills that the economy of 2020 will need?

(Photo by Orange Tuesday)

I’ve been reading Edward Glaeser’s book “The Triumph of the City” recently. One of his arguments is that the basis of sustainable city economies is the presence of clusters of small, entrepreneurial businesses that constantly co-create new commercial value from technological innovations.

Alan Penn, the Dean of the Bartlett Institute for the Built Environment, made similar comments to me recently. Interestingly, both Alan and Edward Glaesar identified Birmingham, my hometown, as an example of a city with such an innovative, marketplace economy, along with London. They also both identified Manchester as a counter-example of a city overly dependent on commoditised industries and external investment.

Cities are fundamentally important to the UK economy; more than 90% of the UK population lives in urban areas. But many – or perhaps most – UK cities are not well placed to support innovative, marketplace-based, high-technology economies (see my recent post on this topic). For example, e-Skills UK report that less than 20% of people hired into information technology positions in the UK acquired their skills in the education system; and I agree strongly with Seth Godin’s views as expressed by the “Stop Stealing Dreams” manifesto that we need to question and change the fundamental objectives around which our education system is designed.

To create and / or sustain economies capable of organic innovation and growth, cities need a particular mixture of skills: entrepreneurial skills; commercial skills; operational skills; technology skills; and creative skills. The blunt truth is that our education system isn’t structured to deliver those skills to city economies with this objective.

Whilst the opinions I’ve expressed here are personal, I’ll shortly be launching a project at work for my employer IBM to look at the challenges in this space. IBM’s business interest is our need to continue hiring smart, skilled people in the UK; the interest of IBM’s technical community as individuals to commit their time to the project additionally involves personal passion for technology and education.

I’m enormously aware that I’m not the first person to whom these thoughts have occurred; and I know that I and my colleagues in IBM don’t have all the answers.

So if this topic interests you and you’d like to share your insight with the project I’m going to run this year, please let me know. I’d very much appreciate hearing from you.

About Rick Robinson
I’m the Director of Smart Places for Jacobs, the global engineering company. Previously, I was the UK, Middle East and Africa leader of the Digital Cities and Property business for Arup, Director of Technology for Amey, one of the UK’s largest engineering and infrastructure services companies and part of the international Ferrovial Group, and before that IBM UK’s Executive Architect for Smarter Cities.

4 Responses to How will the UK create the skills that the economy of 2020 will need?

  1. Pingback: The world is at our children’s fingertips; and they will change it « meme-too

  2. Joanna Hodgson says:

    Rick, do you distinguish between skills and capability here or does ‘skills’ cover both? The workplace will continue to evolve so it is important to develop capabilities that are transferable as requirements change, for example problem solving. Developing specific skills for a particular point in time will always be at risk from becoming obsolete.

    And, of course, education is about more than economics, the social and environmental must also play their part. The three (and more) are interlinked and ideally education addresses the whole system, not just one part.


  3. rickrobinson says:

    Hi Jo,

    I agree with you on all counts; I used “skills” in my post to cover both “skills” and “capabilities” a you’ve described them. The project I described is now underway and just last week we discussed the very point that you make – i.e. that there are some important transferable capabilities that have greater longevity of value than detailed, technically-defined skills.

    And in the current climate I can’t think of anything more important than the “triple bottom line” of social, environmental and financial value. I’ve written several posts on this blog about that – but not in relation to the topic of skills and education.

    By which I mean to say: now you’ve really got me thinking!

    Cheers – and I hope all is well, by the way, long time no see!



  4. June says:

    Please do contact me, I am based in Black Country and have undertaken much work in this area after working since 1977 in Systems development and implementation. On realising that the world has changed, but how we prepare people has not I undertook an extensive research project with a colleague.

    At the end of our assessment, which took us around 12 months to complete, we pledged to do something about it, identifying what should be done to make a difference too.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: