Career Adaptability in the UK: If we want to get there, we don’t want to be starting from here

Amidst the melee of Industry 4.0, the internet of things and process automation, it can be difficult to see where people fit in.

The traditional workplace and the skills it demands have been changing rapidly. With companies and other commercial organisations increasingly reporting a skill shortage, their challenge is to recruit and/or retrain individuals to meet the ever-changing demands. The government’s task, both locally and at a national level, is to prepare and provide those suffering from the displacement in the new landscape with on-going support for navigating this dynamic landscape. The workplace was changing long before the spectre of Covid-19, but this virus has the potential to accelerate these changes at warp speed.

Career Adaptability

The new buzz-term is ‘Career Adaptability‘. That is essentially an individual’s ability or inclination to adapt their skills to meet changing demands throughout their working life. Companies need to engender this attitude in their workforce if they want to remain agile in the continuously transforming landscape. Furthermore, public authorities need to support individuals, if employers cannot, so as to maintain employability.

Mark Savickas’s formulated a four-pillared framework around an individual’s attitude to Career Adaptability, the Four Cs:

  • Concern: how much does the individual think about their future or is even aware of the issues.
  • Control: how proactive is the individual, how disciplined, organised and deliberate are they in pursuing their goals.
  • Curiosity: how much does the individual explore their options and ask the question “what will or could I do?”
  • Confidence: how much faith does the individual have in their ability to achieve those goals.

The essential message of Career Adaptability is the higher the individual scores in each of the Four Cs, the better they can adapt to the changing marketplace. Jennifer Brimrose of Warwick University added a fifth C – Commitment.

This provides an essential framework and is important because the theory is based on research that is especially related to workplace trauma, very akin to the situation we find ourselves in.

Using this framework, employers can embed the 4 (or 5) Cs into their Learning and Development strategy and performance measurement. This leads to better talent acquisition and succession planning, providing them with a flexible, resilient workforce that can adapt to the business’ strategic imperatives quickly and with less trauma. A great way to avoid the intensive redundancy-rehiring yoyo that many organisations seem to go through.

Woman working from home on Apple iOS Laptop

Progress to date

Identifying what needs to be done and the mechanism to do it seems simple enough. So, we just need to apply that and hey, presto! Everything in the garden is rosy. But how has the UK done on that score?

To answer that question, we can turn to the 2019 Adult Skills Report from the Social Mobility Commission, a non-departmental public advisory body to the UK government. This report pulls together findings from a range of research and other reports to assess adult education and its impact on various groups between 2010 to 2019. Amongst its key findings it reports; those most in need are the worst served. 

The poorest adults with the lowest qualifications are the least likely to access training – despite being the group who would benefit most. Graduates are over three times more likely to participate in training than those with no qualifications (30 per cent vs. 8 per cent in 2017), and previous research has shown half (49 per cent) of adults from the lowest socioeconomic groups have received no training since leaving school.

So, if we apply Savickas’ 4Cs are we to conclude that those from the lowest socioeconomic groups have the lowest concern, control, curiosity and/or confidence? Perhaps. But another factor is likely to be in play; support (or the lack of it).

About £44 billion was spent on training (excluding student loans) in 2013/14 with most training (82 per cent) provided by employers and much of the rest by individuals. The Government only funds 7 per cent of all investment in adult skills and in 2016-17 over £63 million of the adult training budget was unspent. UK spend on vocational training per employee was half the EU average.

The effect of these disparities leads to what the report calls “a ‘virtuous’ and a ‘vicious’ circle of learning.” Those with higher qualifications to start with are more likely to benefit further from higher levels of training, most likely delivered by their employer, during their careers. Whilst those with lower qualifications receive less on-going support and consequently fall further behind. Although geography does not directly correlate to socioeconomic groupings, ONS (Office for National Statistics) figures show a growing regional disparity in terms of gross disposable household income, the government’s index of “material welfare” over the same period:

  • GDHI in London rose from 121% of the national average in 1997 to 139% in 2018.
  • With the exception of Scotland, which rose from 91% to 93% and Northern Ireland, 81% to 82%, during the same period all other regions fell.
  • The most significant drops, each of around 6%, were seen in the North East, Yorkshire and the Humber and Wales resulting in a 22% increase in the gap between these regions and London.

On the basis of this evidence, it is not too big a jump to conclude that the benefits of the digital revolution and career adaptability have benefitted some but left many behind.

So how do we do things differently in the current climate?

The overall lesson from the Social Mobility Commission’s report is that there has to be a re-balancing of opportunity towards the lower socioeconomic groups. And it is these same groups who, anecdotally at least, are being hit hardest by Covid-19.

At the same time, as Molly Courtice noted in her recent UK Skills Landscape article, 56% of companies expect to be cutting training budgets this year. This means that spending by government and other public sector organisations will become disproportionately more significant and grow as a share. Unfortunately, that is likely to be a levelling down rather than levelling up.

Realistically, government spend is not going to be able to grow from its low base of 7% to cover all needs if we simply do more of the same. Clearly there is a need to do something smarter.

And maybe there is a clue as to what that “smarter” might be if we go back to Savickas’ 4Cs. Though for negative reasons, a rebalancing as a result of the pandemic can be expected: the individual is likely to see an increase in Concern and Curiosity, whilst at the same time a loss of Control and Confidence.

So maybe that is where we need to put our efforts – Control and Confidence – by giving the individual the tools and guidance they need to help themselves. Or, as our CEO Noorie Sazen, put it in her recent webinar focused on building resilient organisations, with Donald Taylor of the Learning and Skills Group: we need to provide a another C – Capability. This is all about considering whether the individual has the resources and support that is needed – whether these are cognitive, financial or physical.

In that same webinar, Noorie also showcased the work Saffron Interactive have already done in this regard; with our Value my Skills project for the TUC. Which has now been completely redeveloped into our Create Your Own Future tool thanks to Nesta’s CareerTech Challenge, in partnership with the Department for Education, to include a ground-breaking virtual coach.

This coach is an AI-enabled videobot, that guides the user through the 5 Cs framework discussed above and also puts thought into action. The mentor directs the individual through a self-assessment of transferable skills, and the output is then modelled to personalised job profiles on the national careers site, advertising current available positions. The platform also allows learners to complete some level 1 and level 2 qualifications as well as soft skills courses. The videobot cajoles completion, motivates the user and supports them throughout. Live human help is also available through the national careers service or through union learning representatives. Crucially, Capability can also be associated to an individuals financial resources. To combat this, Saffron have made the experience entirely free and available to anyone and everyone that needs it.

The current state of career adaptability in the UK leaves room for improvement and the need for change has never been more stark. Perhaps one silver lining of the pandemic is people’s changing attitudes, but resources for this endeavour will naturally be squeezed unless there is a radical shift in thinking. The CareerTech Challenge, funded by Nesta in partnership with the Department for Education, is one example of how we might meet the challenge. We look forward to seeing the insights from user data that Create Your Own Future will bring but also, more importantly, helping people back into work.

Want to find out more about Career Adaptability and how it applies to your industry? Get in touch, we’d love to chat!