Why training needs more investment

New Department for Education figures show training was at its lowest level in a decade last year. The need for training – and reskilling – is even greater now. It needs to have greater prominence and investment.

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The Department of Education’s Employer Skills Survey 2019 has revealed that workplace training hit its lowest level in a decade last year. It found that in the year to December 2019, fewer than two-thirds (61 per cent) of employers had offered training to staff, down from 66 per cent in 2017. This is despite many employers identifying skills gaps in their workforce.

The survey took place before Covid-19, which is likely to have made the situation much worse as employers struggle to survive. A Confederation of British Industry report says nine in 10 UK workers will need to learn new skills or be retrained entirely over the next decade – not just because of Covid, but due to other trends, including automation.  In a report based on analysis by management consultancy McKinsey, the CBI says more than 30m people will need to reskill by 2030, costing an additional £13bn a year.

Experts warn that, without major investment and reform of the adult education system, initiatives such as the Government’s newly announced lifetime skills guarantee to reskill workers will not work. The skills guarantee funding comes after years of cuts to adult education. It also comes at a time when the Government is reported to be ending its support for the Union Learning Fund, a work-based education fund.  Although the government’s annual funding for the programme is only £12m, the coalition led by the TUC says it helps more than 200,000 workers a year to get access to education and training that they would struggle to receive elsewhere.

The need for action

It is not just a question of filling skills shortages within certain organisations. The Covid-19 pandemic means that many workers in hard-hit sectors will have to retrain to find work, at least in the short term. And then there is the long-term impact of automation and technological change.

Should employers be responsible for offering retraining or upskilling support to those employees facing redundancy? At a time when many are just focusing on making it through the next day, this may be too much to ask, but it makes sense that they should at the very least be able to signpost people to places where they can get support. The overall skills agenda is much bigger than one employer or one sector.

A report out earlier this month from the Royal Society for the Arts calls for transition services for workers at risk of Covid-19 and automation, modelled on Swedish Job Security Councils which would provide a transitional basic income to support workers financially as they retrain. The CBI report is calling for the apprenticeship levy to be replaced with a “flexible skills and training levy” and has also suggested the introduction of a training tax credit.

What the DfE figures show, however, is that training has been restricted at the very time that it is most vital. It needs to get much greater prominence in the next months and years.

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