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Low-paid workers missing out on training opportunities

The government and employers need to tackle inequality in access to skills and training

Adult training is often only available for workers who are already highly paid or highly skilled, according to the Social Mobility Commission.

The adult skills gap: is falling investment in UK adults stalling social mobility? found that the poorest adults with the lowest qualifications are the least likely to access adult training, despite being the group that would benefit most. While around 30% of those employed in managerial and professional occupations participated in training in the past three months, just 18% in routine and manual jobs did.

Men in routine and manual occupations were also found to be the least likely to have had any further training, regardless of age.

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, highly-skilled workers tend to benefit from a 'virtuous circle’ of frequent in-work training and pay increases, said researchers from the University of Warwick who helped prepare the report.

Professional or managerial workers are almost twice as likely (30%) to be sent on courses as those in intermediate (16%) or routine/manual occupations (18%), while graduates are three times as likely to access training as those with no qualifications (30% and 8% respectively).

Family background was also found to be a factor. Workers whose parents are in lower-skilled jobs are less likely to benefit from adult training, while those whose parents work in professional or managerial occupations are more likely to take advantage of in-work learning, regardless of their own position. The report suggests this is because children of highly-skilled parents are more likely to be in highly-skilled positions themselves, and therefore benefit from greater access to further training.

Peter Cheese, CEO of the CIPD, said that employers must invest in developing the skills of their workforce regardless of seniority or pay grade. “These findings should act as a wake-up call for employers to look a lot harder at how they are developing their workforce for the future,” he said.

“Building skills at all levels and roles is essential to improving productivity and performance, for engagement and retention of employees, and to highlight and support progression opportunities. However, many of these are longer-term outcomes and too often the focus for training is on short-term job needs.”

In 2017 a Social Mobility Commission/Resolution Foundation report, The Great Escape? Low pay and progression in the UK’s labour market, found that 25% of the UK’s low-paid workers will never escape low pay – a problem due largely to low skill levels, researchers said.

Yet the UK lags behind other countries in giving adults a second chance to learn new skills and reach their full potential. The UK spends just half of the EU average on vocational training per employee, and investment is in decline. Between 2010 to 2011 and 2015 to 2016 government funding for adult skills fell by 34% in real terms, according to a 2017 House of Commons Library briefing paper Adult further education funding in England since 2010 .

The adult skills gap highlighted the problem 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 the government make up just 3% of all accessed training courses.

Martina Milburn, chair of the Social Mobility Commission, said that employers were wasting the talent of their employees, and called on organisations and the government to join forces to tackle the problem.

“Too many employers are wasting the potential of their employees by not offering training or progression routes to their low- and mid-skilled workers,” she said.

“Both employers and the government need to act to address this problem. They should start by increasing their investment in training to bring it closer to that of international competitors, and prioritise this to those with low or no skills. Doing this would benefit both business and the economy as a whole.”