Reskilling: why the UK needs to reform vocational education

The UK could learn from the German model of vocational education, which fosters partnerships between learners, companies and unions to build skills in the context of real jobs. To make it a success, however, we first need to change our thinking.

Reskilling is much more than ‘reskilling’. Let me explain: you can reskill all you like, but without the context and the motivation, you are building cynicism faster than skills, and creating resentment more rapidly than jobs. Sadly, there has been a dogged belief in the value of giving people new skills without necessarily building new attitudes or new jobs for 50 years or more.

This aggressive commitment to re-tooling the workforce is a legacy of former UK prime minister Harold Wilson’s ‘white heat of technology’ philosophy and legacy from the 1960s. His opinion was that there was a new age of high-tech production for the UK economy, but in order to benefit from its opportunities, there had to be a rapid upskilling of the workforce. If we look at the subsequent collapse of that same economy right through the 60s and 70s, you might doubt the genius of those ideas – but they persist!


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