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UK skills and innovation policies criticized
UK skills and innovation policies criticized
Current UK skills and innovation policies will not succeed in making Britain a high-performance economy capable of holding its own against international competition.
A report into skills and innovation in modern workplaces, funded by the Economic and Social Research Committee (ESRC), shows that the case for greater skills and innovation has become almost overwhelming and unquestioned among public policymakers in Britain, but only a new and more radical approach to workplace change will improve performance and raise labour productivity levels.
"The language of the government and industry about the importance of transforming the country into a high-skill information and knowledge economy may be inspirational, but the gap between its perceptions and the reality we face so often across many workplaces remains very wide", argued Robert Taylor, media fellow on the ESRC Future of Work programme. "We must reassess the state of the current discussion about future skills and innovation needs and question some of our underlying assumptions and public-policy prescriptions."
Research indicates that no serious attempt has yet been made to relate the need to promote skills and innovation to the internal modernization of companies and the way in which jobs are being organized or restructured in existing and new workplaces. Policymaking, to date, has focused almost exclusively on the introduction of measures to enhance the volume and quality of skilled workers in the labour market.
Robert Taylor continued: "The primary lesson to draw from current research is that Britain's productivity problem and the country's future as the centre of innovation would be immeasurably improved if we focused much more of our attention on the nature of workplace organizational change and not simply on the ups and downs of the labour market, not so much on individual employee needs and more on the framework of institutions within which paid work is being organized".
New research findings that underline the importance of organizational change in creating a more skilled workforce and highlight the failings of current policy in producing high-performance workplaces are outlined in this report. The key findings include:
Government efforts to improve the quality of the supply of labour are being hindered by the bewildering range of public bodies seeking to offer training opportunities. A coherent policy response to workplace realities is currently lacking.
Few UK firms give a top priority to the need to create a highly-qualified workforce because their basic business activities do not require them to do so. As long as companies can continue to prosper, or even merely survive, in pursuit of low-cost and low-value activities, there is little incentive for them to modernize.
New forms of public intervention are required if Britain is to stand any prospect of becoming a predominantly high-skills, knowledge-based economy. For example, giving much stronger public support to businesses in restructuring their product market strategies towards the provision of high-value-added goods and services through the selective use of public-sector purchasing and the encouragement of employers to pursue a quality-of-working-life agenda that links the drive for job redesign to more innovative forms of work organization.
Professor Peter Nolan, director of the ESRC Future of Work programme, pointed out that the emphasis in practice on the production of low-skill and low-value products and services remains powerful. "The barriers remain formidable to the construction of a vibrant, technologically-advanced and knowledge-intensive workforce", he said.
Ultimately, the most important message highlighted by the research concerns what kinds of public policy are best able to improve performance and raise labour productivity levels, argued Mr Taylor.
"Too much of the present approach remains top-down, ad hoc and fragmented", he concluded. "It is over-managerial in its tone and substance and concerned primarily with the implementation of supply-side external-labour-market measures. What is currently lacking is the development of a comprehensive skills and innovation strategy that is more in tune with the encouragement of workplace reorganization and institutional change. This is why public policymakers need to turn much more of their attention to the changing needs of workplaces and the actual structure and skill content of jobs."