Steven Reilly-Hii talks to John Fallon, LCCI President and CEO of Pearson. Half of London companies trying to recruit during 2019 struggled to find the skilled candidates they require.
With an existing skills gap, Brexit set to present new barriers to attracting international talent to the UK, and a rise in automation changing the requirements of some workplaces – the need for London’s domestic skills system to get ready to face the challenges is clear.
In this context, John Fallon’s election as President of LCCI is both timely and pertinent. The CEO of global education and learning giant Pearson knows more than most about the link between skills access and career opportunity. And he’s led a radical digital transformation of the FTSE100 company, foreseeing and delivering a shift from hard copy-based learning to more mobile, tailored and personalised aids.
Speaking to him at Pearson’s London HQ on the Strand, I learned that the LCCI role appealed to him due to the alignment of LCCI’s skills and digital policy with his own experience, whilst presenting an opportunity to champion those causes for the benefit of all businesses and residents across London. “It is right that LCCI has a strong focus on tackling the skills gap for both businesses and residents”, he told me. “London needs a skills system that can best help young people make informed choices about the learning they require to be work-ready. But it doesn’t stop there, we need to provide continuous learning and skills pathways that allow all of us to adapt our skills and learning requirements as the world of work itself changes – as it will over the next twenty years, due to the disruption and transformation of automation.”
Fallon believes that the skills gap will become increasingly interlinked with our digital capability challenge. “The economy is going to change dramatically and some jobs of today will be at risk. We need to map out now what digital skills future jobs are going to need and ensure career relevant advice for these roles is provided at schools and down all education-to-work pathways”, he tells me. Fallon believes that there’s a real opportunity to spread the benefit of new digital skills and employment, both socially and geographically across the boroughs of Greater London. “In turn this may help to alleviate some of the transport and housing challenges we face”, he adds.
His passion for championing access to skills and lifelong learning has seen him pass the twenty-year mark with ‘the world’s learning company’ Pearson and led him to become head of the entire global business in 2013. He joined the company’s corporate affairs function in 1997 and on his way to the top role led varying parts of the Pearson portfolio, including its educational publishing businesses for Europe, Middle East and Africa, and then all its education businesses outside North America. Whilst skills and learning are at the heart of Pearson products, transforming them into a digital offer has been a key theme during Fallon’s time with the company. What advice has he for London businesses that are contemplating digital change? “Digital transformation for business varies sector by sector and differs according to the industry, but it is essential that you ensure that the transformation is based upon the customer and their needs.” It may be the right idea to provide a product in a digital format, and in the long-term it will likely be a more sustainable solution, but sometimes it’s just not the right time for that market. “You need to make sure you are assessing all available evidence, whilst also not using evidence just to keep you in your comfort zone of the old world”, he adds.
He outlines the need to ensure that the digital skills required exist within the staff base. “That can be a tough balance of hiring new people and reskilling existing staff. Data analytics, cyber security, digital transformation, user experience – all are imperative but so is the willingness of staff to adapt to change and to collaborate.” A global company with a proud London presence, Pearson’s passion for the city is shared by Fallon. “I’ve worked here for thirty years and it’s been home for me and the family for twenty of them. I’m fortunate to have travelled much of the globe, but London remains my favourite city. Its people, diversity, businesses, dynamism, creativity, architecture, all make it such a great place, as does its academic and university offer.”
That offer is added to by the company that Fallon leads in the shape of Pearson College – the only university to offer degrees designed and developed by a FTSE100 company. “The reason we established Pearson College a decade ago was to incubate and pilot a different type of degree that explicitly linked knowledge with the experience of work. We also work with a wide range of companies in designing those courses. Aside from Pearson College we’ve also recently worked with King’s College on developing an online graduate series. “London has built a world-class reputation for academia and international students add a lot of economic value. Many bring vital skills to UK business and develop into the next entrepreneurs and startup businesses.” Fallon was pleased that the government had recently changed the way in which it measures international students for the purpose of immigration. “The development of homegrown talent and access to international talent should not be an either-or.”
Steve Reilly-Hii, Senior Media Relations