The DfE must realise the arts are key to the future of engineering

1 May 2021, 6:00


Many of the skills and behaviours in creative digital qualifications are transferrable to the STEM sector, writes Ann Marie Spry

An estimated 11 million adults in the UK are now eligible to obtain a new qualification for free to help them gain in-demand skills. But it’s more urgent than ever that we address the creative digital skills gap through specifically designed digital courses.  

I recently attended a webinar hosted by the Prince’s Trust that looked at the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on young people. It is quite clear that there continues to be a missed opportunity to extend the lifetime guarantee list.  

My definition of young people takes us beyond the typical 24-year-old boundary and extends to individuals who are well into their 30s, with the working age increasing over time. 

Both industry and the government understand that only a large-scale skills programme can safeguard jobs as we recover economically. Free qualifications for adults are an excellent way to enhance career prospects and enable people to secure rewarding careers.

Nonetheless, education always has more impact when it really engages the learner because it is something they care about and enjoy.

Meanwhile, employers cite behaviour traits and transferable skills as vital to long-term sustainable employment – not a specific qualification.

‘Many skills are the same as in computing qualifications’

With under-25s accounting for three in five jobs lost, youth unemployment is due to climb considerably, even as the economy recovers. Now, more than ever, it is paramount that people gain access to life-changing education, particularly in areas that are not covered by the list.

I believe that including a broader range of qualifications would address both the needs and interests of potential students and the transferable skills element for employers.

Through digital creative provision, we can adapt to the new economic landscape we now face in the coming months and years. 

Many of these skills acquired are exactly the same as those in computing qualifications, with the added bonus of creativity, collaboration and innovation, developed by design. Music and film production, and editing, are other great examples. 

Strong policy reform, not only focusing on displaced workers but also looking at youth employment, will be key to ensuring opportunities for all. Central to this will also be small businesses as they will primarily be the key link to job creation.

Furthermore, employers need to work closely with the FE sector to understand and address gaps in the market. A more focused and agile approach to the curriculum will help ensure that workforce development is driven by creating opportunities to upskill.

The government’s own press release for the lifetime skills guarantee references The Squiggly Career by bestselling author and business leader Helen Tupper.

The premise here is that the old way of looking at the linear “training to career” path is outdated and being replaced by more flexible, organic and responsive journeys to success. 

‘We need to be future-proofing learners’

The ability to adapt, innovate and self-organise are key characteristics of creative students. When you add the greater self-confidence, self-understanding and enhanced communication skills that come with an arts education, you are future-proofing adults to enter this new landscape of employment.

A report called “10 reasons why arts and culture make a difference to young people’s lives” by the Arts Council identifies that arts and culture promote economic growth. The arts teach entrepreneurial abilities that are key to the future of engineering and the economy.

As a result, businesses that deploy STEM and art skills (STEAM) experience faster sales growth than STEM firms.

The increase in automation means that the jobs of the future are likely to require skills only humans can bring, such as empathy, creativity and enterprise.

There is strong evidence that involvement in arts and creativity increases cognitive abilities, critical thinking, problem solving, teamwork, communication and social competency. It also creates a higher chance of sustaining employment into later life.

We need the government to review the list to encourage organisations and awarding bodies to make more qualifications accessible, and designed to take into account employer needs, with more choice for learners that address skills gaps.

I therefore urge the Department for Education and devolved authorities to build a much broader offer.

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