Undertrained, underemployed and unprepared: UK squandering potential of workers

A REPORT by the City & Guilds Group shines a worrying light on the UK’s skills and productivity crisis.

As productivity continues to decline, businesses and government are preparing to meet the demands of the workplace and ensure the country has the workforce it will need over the next decade.

But the research reveals that across the nation people are being denied access to training and opportunities to upskill.

Unlock potential illustration
‘By unlocking more people’s full potential, we can increase opportunities for social mobility’

The report was based on findings from labour market economists Emsi and a poll of 5,000 working-age people.

Only half of respondents (53 percent) had received workplace training in the past three years, and a third (34 percent) have either never received training, or did so more than five years ago.

And only a third (33 percent) of the UK working age population surveyed feels “positive” about their future career prospects.

In addition, 60 percent of respondents stated that they felt the skills they did have were under-utilised, suggesting that employers are not fully capitalising on the skills available to them.

Kirstie Donnelly, interim CEO at City & Guilds Group, said low unemployment (the lowest since 1975) masked the fact that many people are under-employed and could contribute more if given the opportunity. “By unlocking more people’s full potential, we can increase opportunities for social mobility and help to drive up productivity,” she said.

“Over the past decade, we have witnessed continued cuts to adult education funding, which has meant that certain groups of people have effectively been left behind. As the impact of AI and the Fourth Industrial Revolution continues to reshape the labour market, we need to see urgent action from the government to reverse the decline of the lifelong learning sector.”

On-the-job training
Only half of respondents had received workplace training in the past three years

City & Guilds Group’s research found:

  •       Those from lower socio-economic groups were much less likely to have received training in the past five years and were less satisfied with their career prospects than those from higher socio-economic groups
  •       Those living in the north-east of England faced a significant disadvantage in access to training and opportunities for progression when compared with other regions
  •       Those working part-time – significantly more women than men – were also less likely to have received training in the past five years than those working full-time (61 percent vs 72 percent). Part-time workers were also less likely to feel there was opportunity to progress
  •       People value the training they do receive – 77 percent of those who had received workplace training felt that it had enabled them to be more effective at their job.

Donnelly said a government response was needed. “From better provision of training and education across regions … to better access to childcare (and) giving more part-time workers the chance to upskill, we need to see immediate action from government and policy makers.

“We are already lagging behind the other G7 countries when it comes to productivity, so it’s critical that we address this challenge head-on.”

Anthony Impey, chair of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) skills policy unit, admitted there were no “quick fixes”, but said employers could take positive action. “There are things that they can do, such as looking in new places to find talent … embedding flexible working practices and making training available.”

City & Guilds is calling for:

  •       Employers to invest in skills development for people at all ages and levels of their career, and recognise people’s skillsets
  •       Individuals to look for opportunities to upskill themselves outside of the workplace, put themselves forward for training at work, and showcase their full range of skills to employers
  •       Government to urgently review adult education and create a system that encourages lifelong learning, retraining and reskilling.

Andy Durman, managing director of Emsi UK, said the report emphasised two crucial factors. “Firstly, because there are big differences in labour markets across the country, solutions must be locally relevant and based on a good understanding of employment needs at the local level,” he said.

“Secondly, because people are changing careers more rapidly than ever, and careers themselves are changing due to factors such as automation, we need to see education providers, economic developers and employers coming together to promote the concept of lifelong learning.”