IOE - Faculty of Education and Society


Missing generation’s skill gap must be addressed for sustained economic growth

27 August 2020

A task force of the G20 research and policy advice network that includes IOE academic Paul Grainger, Think20 (T20), has identified artificial intelligence (AI) based learning technologies as essential to overcoming current educational challenges.

Woman using a virtual reality headset. Image credit: Nan Palmero via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

They are also essential to ensuring existing and future employees are prepared to be a member of the future workforce.

With economies reeling from the repercussions of COVID-19, T20 research has highlighted it is not only the transition from education to employment that must be reformed but also the skills of those already within employment that no longer meet evolving market requirements.

Recommendations laid out within twelve research-based T20 Policy Briefs outline how G20 member countries can address their individual challenges to ensure economies can recover and achieve sustained growth, as the increased use of AI changes the employment landscape in the digital age.

As a viable solution to the generational skills gap, Task Force 6 (TF6) outlines four key recommendations G20 member countries can adopt to utilise AI-based learning, including: 

  • embracing and regulating industry micro-credentials;
  • government funding for workplace learning in traditional sectors and those working within the platform and gig economies;
  • the promotion of immersive, interactive AI for skills development as a learning aid and not in replacement of teachers;
  • the promotion of innovative technical and vocational education training (TVET) institutions with the backing of quality control and licensing bodies.

Paul Grainger, co-director for the IOE’s Centre for Post-14 Education and Work and co-chair of TF6 said: “The rapid technological migration businesses have been forced to undertake during 2020 has highlighted the skill gap among over 35s and the need to balance education reform between the youth population and the missing generation of adults whose jobs are being replaced by technology.

“Pre-COVID-19, the fourth industrial revolution was already rebalancing employment away from repetitive manual work, in favour of automated, AI-supported roles. Examples of this include robots replacing hospital porters, self-checkout systems in supermarkets and the high street, and online delivery reducing the demand for shop assistants, ultimately resulting in job losses.”

The Taskforce have identified various AI-learning modes to bridge the gap and begin to reskill and upskill people. Passive, program-based learning is not recommended for those looking to challenge the learner’s powers of concentration. While this method is cost-effective, it has been ranked by TF6 as the least effective. For educational institutions and businesses looking to fully embrace AI and provide the learner with a richer educational experience, a mix of human interaction and bespoke digital platform learning are best.

Discussing how the varying learning modes can be adopted, Paul Grainger said: “Adapting in a society where human proximity is dangerous but where social interaction is still the preferred method of training and learning is a universal challenge. However, each country must work to identify and implement a solution that works for them, or they risk economic suffering in the long term. Whether skills are taught directly, funded by the government, or indirectly funded by the sectors themselves, will vary. For many, a blended approach is likely the way forward. For example, migrating university lectures online while still conducting seminars in-person, to ensure students are receiving the social interaction they require during the learning process, reduces the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

“For all generations, the secret to educating those who find concentration difficult, particularly those who have not been successful in prior learning, is to make it a social act, and whether this is in person or via an immersive digital infrastructure will differ from country to country. However, the danger still prevails that if we don’t address the youth skill gap now, many countries will find themselves falling behind international growth figures as the nature of education and training has a direct impact on a country’s economy.”

The TF6 concludes that while cost implications will continue to be a barrier for success for many, a challenge exacerbated by the economic implications of COVID-19, the only way in which countries can affect any long-lasting, significant changes and move comfortably into the future of work is with unified, global cooperation on minimum standards within technical and vocational training.