Is lifelong learning for everyone?

The UK Social Mobility Commission initiated the Adults skills gap report that revealed that there is a significant disparity in skill levels for adults in the UK. The report highlights that well-paid, highly-trained workers keep learning as low-skilled workers miss out. Adult training is often only available for workers who are already highly paid or highly skilled.

The Adult Skills Gap report shows that the poorest adults with the lowest qualifications are the least likely to access adult training – despite being the group who would benefit most. Men in routine and manual occupations are the least likely to learn new skills.

lifelong learning for everyone

About 30% of those employed in managerial and professional occupations participated in training in the last three months compared to 18% in routine and manual jobs. This follows earlier research showing that half (49%) of adults from the lowest socio-economic group receive no training at all after leaving school.

In contrast, high-skilled workers tend to benefit from ‘a virtuous circle’ of frequent in-work training and pay increases, says the research carried out by the Institute for Employment Research, Warwick University. Professional or managerial workers are twice as likely to be sent on courses as other workers, while graduates are three times as likely to access training as those with no qualifications.

An individual’s background also has an impact. Workers whose parents came from disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to benefit from adult training – which can impact on social mobility. Employees from more privileged backgrounds are more likely than other low-skilled workers to take advantage of in-work learning to rise up the ranks.

lifelong learning for everyone

The commission has previously found that 1 in 4 of the UK’s low-paid workers will never escape low pay – a problem due largely to low skill levels. Yet the UK lags behind other countries in giving adults a second chance to learn new skills and achieve their potential. The UK spends just two-thirds of the European average on adult training, and investment is in decline. Between 2010 to 2011, and 2015 to 2016 government funding for adult skills fell by 34% in real terms.

The problem is that employers fund 82% of all UK training and tend to prioritise senior, high-skilled employees. Most other training is paid for by individuals themselves – if they can afford it. Free courses run by government make up just 3% of all accessed training courses.

The result is a system with vast numbers of low-skilled workers with little opportunity to build skills and escape low pay. This urgently needs rebalancing – for productivity as much as social mobility, says the commission.

lifelong learning for everyone

Main findings include:

  • the poorest adults with the lowest qualifications are the least likely to access adult training – despite being the group who would benefit most
  • previous research has shown that half (49%) of adults from the lowest socio- economic group receive no training at all after leaving school, compared to 20% from the top group
  • this study shows similar findings hold for employed adults participating in training in the last 3 months – 30% of those in professional and managerial jobs against 18% in routine and manual occupations
  • graduates are 3 times more likely to receive training than those with no qualifications, while professionals and managers are about twice as likely to receive training as lower-skilled workers
  • employers fund 82% of training – prioritising those in senior or professional roles – while most other training is paid for by individuals themselves
  • overall investment in adult skills from employer, government and individuals was around £44 billion in 2013 to 2014 – government funds just 7% of this training
  • government-funded training aims to support those without the means to pay for their own training and does reach lower-skilled workers and those in deprived areas but 29% of this money still goes to adults in the most affluent 40% of areas
  • the UK spends two-thirds of the EU average on adult training
  • government funding for the Adult Skills Budget fell by £830 million (cash terms) between 2010 to 2011 and from £2.84 billion to £2.01 billion, equivalent to a 34% fall (real terms) between 2015 to 2016

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