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New report launched on meeting Wales’ future skills needs

A new report from Universities Wales finds that the future of Wales’ workforce depends on more people of all ages studying higher education.

The report – Solving Future Skills Challenges in Wales – outlines how advances in technology and demographic changes could pose significant challenges for the workplace in Wales. The publication also highlights the importance of lifelong learning and higher education in preparing Wales for the future.

Technological change, artificial intelligence, and the increasing automation of the tasks that people regularly do in the workplace will pose a number of challenges for the Welsh economy.

There is a risk that large employment sectors in Wales will shrink. The three sectors considered most ‘at risk’ of automation – manufacturing, transport and storage, and public administration ­– account for a fifth of the Welsh workforce. Although it is expected that new jobs will be created to replace jobs lost to automation, those jobs will not necessarily be created in the same region or even in Wales.

The findings of the report show that graduate-level skills are a crucial factor for Wales to make the most of the opportunities offered by automation. Jobs held by graduates are considered considerably less ‘at risk’ to automation and areas with a higher number of graduates also tend to have higher levels of productivity.

However, Wales has an ageing population and the next ten years will see fewer new entrants to the workplace as a result of the current demographic dip in 18-year-olds. This means that finding ways to support people of all ages to upskill will be vitally important to guarantee a healthy and prosperous economy for Wales.

The report highlights the good progress made in Wales and the positive impact of the Welsh Government’s reforms to student support and higher education funding. This year has seen a 35% increase in the number of part-time students and a 58% increase in the number of postgraduate students receiving support.

However, the report also recommends the introduction of degree apprenticeships in a broader range of areas in Wales as well the need for government and universities to work together to increase the flexibility of higher education provision in the long-term.

Professor Julie Lydon, Chair of Universities Wales, said “The workplace is changing and, for Wales, there are risks but also opportunities. This report examines one part of what must be Wales’ response to these future challenges – how we provide higher level skills in ways which are flexible and accessible.

“Universities have an important role: in their communities working alongside partners, as education providers, and working with businesses. And by ensuring we have a post-16 education system that is flexible and responsive to the future needs of Wales, we can provide opportunities for people of all ages and all backgrounds to gain new skills and benefit from the opportunities that automation could bring to a modern and prosperous Wales.”

Gwyneth Sweatman, the President of the National Union of Students in Wales, welcomed the call to fully implement the Diamond reforms and spoke on the importance of part-time study:

“Giving people of all ages and backgrounds the opportunity to gain higher level skills will clearly be key in allowing Wales to adapt to the challenges of automation.

“This report sets out a roadmap to achieving that ambition and we fully support calls to make flexible study more accessible. The Diamond student finance reforms have already had a positive effect on the number of people choosing to study part time, and now the government needs to ensure the ambition of their reforms is realised in full.”

Marianne Shelley from Rhigos near Aberdare is studying for a Bsc in Natural Sciences with The Open University in Wales. She works full time and has a 16 year old son. She registered with the OU to develop her career. She said:

“The first thing I would say to people is don’t think that you can’t do it. My GCSEs and A level were all in arts, so science is a new departure for me. I would like to pursue a teaching degree and go into teaching afterwards.”

“My studies are really well structured for a working parent. They gradually build upon knowledge until you’re learning at a degree level. They don’t assume that you have any formal education which is great. Everybody starts on a blank canvas, and you don’t feel out of your depth.”

The report reveals that:

  • A fifth of jobs in Wales are in the three areas considered most ‘at risk’ to job displacement: manufacturing, transport and storage, and public administration
  • The number of people aged 16-64 in Wales is projected to decrease by 4.2% between 2016 and 2041.
  • Overall, the population of Wales has lower qualifications than the populations of England or Scotland. In 2017, 37.4% of the population of Wales was qualified at level4+ compared to 40.7% of the population of England and 47.2% of the population of Scotland
  • Estimates suggest that occupations held by those with relatively low levels of education (level 2 or lower) have a much higher risk of automation (44%) than those held by those with a level 6 qualification or above (11%)
  • A number of reports have identified increasing demand for higher level skills in the UK. The CBI’s 2018 education and skills survey found that by 2024 almost half of all jobs will require workers who have completed some form of higher level education (level 4+). The survey also found that employers in Wales were less confident than employers in Scotland and England about their ability to access employees with high level skills.
  • Labour market projections by the UKCES Working Futures programme suggest that between 2014 and 2024 the number of people in the workforce in Wales qualified at level 6 or above will increase by 150,037.
  • Future demand will also require a spread and combinations of subjects, with broad-based knowledge areas such as English language, history, philosophy, administration and management associated strongly with occupations projected to see a rise in workforce share.