or how to achieve Competitiveness with Social Inclusion
A Sustainable Information Society
by Chris Yapp, Managing Consultant, ICL Lifelong Learning
Competitiveness lies at the heart of much of the debate about the emerging
Global Information Society. It is argued that globalisation and technological
change are changing the basis of competition. Increasing the economic value-added
of the UK economy requires us to raise the knowledge and skills of all our
At the same time we are seeing major changes in the structure of employment
in the UK with increased emphasis on Small and Medium Enterprises, SME's
as the engine for job creation rather than large organisations. Increases
in self-employment, part-time and casual working are all well documented.
What this adds up to is a changing lifestyle for individuals, away from
a job for life to a search for lifetime employability.
Where as, only a generation ago, a single set of skills acquired by the
age of thirty or so would have carried most people through to retirement,
the need to retrain to stay employable is recognised at all levels of the
workforce. But is 'Lifelong learning for all' merely a slogan, or could
we actually achieve it? Furthermore, is it actually desirable and affordable
Lifelong learning for all implies a number of issues that need to be addressed:
It is here that the technologies of the so-called information superhighway
come into the picture. It is quite clear from the macro economic data that
scaling up current expenditure on education and training by both public
and private sectors using current models will not cope with a need to retrain
the whole workforce maybe three or four times through adult life. The promise
of the technology is the ability to re-engineer existing expenditure to
deliver more effective education and training.
- Creating a national culture that values lifelong learning
- Access to lifelong learning
- 'Content' relevant to each individuals lifelong learning needs.
But this leads us to a 'cultural' problem in the UK. Surely, IT is for white
male anorak nerds of 25 and under? If you're over 40 you're effectively
brain dead and will never adjust. If we take the last two sentences seriously,
then we will create a serious problem for all of us.
If we create an environment in which we have information haves and have
nots, then the proportion of our adults who will fall below the minimum
skills for employability will increase with increased social costs on industry.
A situation where fewer and fewer companies become more and more competitive
will not create a competitive UK PLC.
But wait! Isn't it also true that SME's are slow to spend on training? Do
they find it hard to justify in both costs and time? This may sound quite
gloomy! It is very easy to end up in a spiral in which we can't afford to
do it and we can't afford not to.
Over two years ago ICL started working with the South Bristol Learning Network
on the development of Cyberskills. Over that time we have trained people
from 17 to 84 in a variety of technologies including CD-ROMs, the Internet/World
Wide Web and Video Conferencing. These people have covered all social and
economic classes, abilities and public, private and voluntary sectors. We
now have a dozen Cyberskills centres in the UK and our first US export.
What is significant is that the materials for the sessions were developed
and delivered by previously unemployed people with no experience of IT,
some of whom were in their 50's.
What has been a delight is to see some of the debilitating myths that I
outlined earlier demolished along with many pleasant surprises on the way.
If sensitively handled age, gender, and ability prove to be limited obstacles
to the use of new technologies. Furthermore, even in areas of low expectations
and attainment we have seen positive outcomes. With school children, even
where education is 'uncool' it is OK to be good at sport and IT.
In our educational trials we are seeing many children engage with learning
through IT when traditional classroom practise has been unsuccessful. With
adults, even if they 'failed' at school, they didn't fail at IT because
it wasn't around. We have seen many examples where IT has been a catalyst
to re-engage adults with the learning process and raised their perception
of their own capabilities. This has led us to an approach that we call "People
First, Technology Second".
Our experience to date suggest that there is a great appetite in the UK
for learning in all sectors of our society. The goal is to harness this
energy for economic and social well-being.
Looking at international comparisons of UK performance in educational and
training performance, the general picture is that the UK's top 10-15% of
education and training is globally competitive, but what dogs our competitiveness
is the bottom quartile in particular. In the Department for Education and
Employment's Lifetime learning consultation document there is an estimate
that the failure to achieve basic skills costs the UK £5bn. Anecdotal
evidence indicates high levels of learning difficulties in the prison population
compared to the population as a whole. Industry , government and all of
us are paying the costs of under performance.
It is my contention that the way out of the can't afford/not to paradox
is to look at the costs we bear as a society already. It then becomes apparent
that the purpose of 'educational superhighways' in the UK context should
be to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative. That is to say,
build on our best practice and eliminate the costs of under performance.
I am not suggesting that there is a quick fix or that it will be easy. But
surely it is in our enlightened self-interest to address our selves to the
UK's long-term systemic concerns? Full employability is needed if we are
to ever approach full employment.
Social inclusion and competitiveness are often portrayed as incompatible.
I believe that globalisation and technical change make this a damaging fallacy.
We live in an era where the old rules don't work anymore. Too much of the
focus in the debate is around technology and not the people and the society
we wish to build. If we use our brains to address the real issues , I have
no doubt that British ingenuity is up to the task of building a competitive
and more inclusive society .
Chris Yapp firstname.lastname@example.org
Managing Consultant, ICL Lifelong Learning
stories from South Bristol Learning Network
The Cyberskills Association
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