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Getting meta: a recovery that supports sustainable, adaptable careers

Richard Eyre is a policy and strategy professional who has advised on education and skills policy on three continents. He currently works as Chief Programmes Officer for education charity, The Brilliant Club. Twitter: @RREyre

With a second coronavirus lockdown looming and predictions that the current recession will last at least until the spring, the need to get workers back into work is high on the political agenda. The Government has announced over £3 billion in job support schemes to “help those who unfortunately lose their jobs back into the labour market quickly.” But it is likely that many of the jobs lost during lockdown will not return in the same form, the same industries or the same places as before. The Learning and Work Institute has estimated that perhaps more than one million furloughed workers will be unable to return to their jobs, with certain sectors (retail, travel, hospitality) hit especially hard.

All this sits against a background of long-term changes in the world of work. Whether or not the robots are set to become our masters is still up for debate but, while estimates differ, it seems unarguable that automation and machine learning will reduce – perhaps eliminate – the demand for certain skills and occupations. In the fourth industrial revolution adaptability will be key, both for individuals and economies.

Amidst a global crisis, how can we prepare people for careers, the shape of which seem so uncertain? How can we ensure that the once-in-a-generation investment in the recovery is not wasted, but instead helps to create an adaptable labour market, ready for what awaits us on the other side?

In their article last month, David Gallagher and Matt Hamnett set out a vision for helping young people to train, find, stay and progress in work in spite of the current economic and labour market context. In particular, they posed a challenge about the ‘meta skills’ which underpin employability and could support young people to adapt and switch sectors as the economy recovers and changes. This blog explores the emerging debate about meta skills – what they are, how they can be developed and how impact can be measured – before drawing out some implications for policymakers.

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