Is edtech the answer to the UK skills shortage?

Recent Open University estimates suggest that skills shortages are costing the UK economy more than £2bn each year in higher salaries, recruitment costs and temporary staff. Demanding work and life commitments for adults, squeezed household budgets, and a dramatic fall in adult education funding since 2010 have only served to make the skills shortage worse.

Advancing technology is driving the need for new and expanded skill sets – something that could be seen as exacerbating the UK’s skills shortages – but there is a strong argument that technology also provides the answer in the form of education technology (‘edtech’).

The Government certainly seems to agree. In August 2018, the Secretary of State for Education Damian Hinds called on the tech industry to lead a ‘digital revolution’ in education, saying:

“Schools, colleges and universities have the power to choose the tech tools which are best for them and their budgets.

But they cannot do this alone. It’s only by forging a strong partnership between government, technology innovators and the education sector that there will be sustainable, focused solutions which will ultimately support and inspire the learners of today and tomorrow.”

This support for edtech as a solution was echoed by DfE, who cited the need for “solutions to lifelong learning to help those who have left the formal education system to get the best from online learning” as one of their five key opportunities where tech could create a ‘step change’ in education.

These were groundbreaking comments from the government. Despite being one of the largest exporters of edtech around the world, edtech often found itself on the periphery at home, unable to realise its full potential. Caroline Wright, Director General of the British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA), exclaimed that “after eight long years with next-to-no government guidance on the use of edtech in education… at last the government has a vision”.

So what exactly is edtech? Well, a brief look at this year’s EdTech50 list shows that edtech comes in a variety of shapes and forms – including educational hardware, blended learning delivery platforms (such as the model we have at Mindful Education), and an array of other innovative solutions.

Edtech solutions may be varied in scope and nature, but they all share one unifying feature: they know how important it is to meet the needs of the schools, colleges and universities they serve.

At Mindful Education, we know firsthand how hard colleges work day-in, day-out to meet the needs of students, employers and the wider economy – all of which contributes heavily towards meeting the UK’s skills shortage. With colleges and training providers as the natural choices for businesses looking to develop existing staff, as well as for individuals preparing for a career change, the potential coupling of further education and edtech is an exciting space that is full of promise. This is particularly the case when edtech isn’t solely seen as a teaching tool, but is instead embraced as a broader means of delivery to students and employers.

So, can politics, government, colleges, edtech and industry really converge to tackle the UK skills shortage? Only time will tell if all the parties can get on the same page and make it work on a national scale, but certainly the strategy stacks up and already pioneering colleges and training providers are leading the way.

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