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Landmark skills training report calls for wide-ranging reboot of UK system

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@BritishChambers and @Indeed’s major new report is calling for a root and branch reform of the UK’s training system to help businesses access the skills they need to boost productivity. 

The final report from the Workplace Training and Development Commission (WTDC), set up by the British Chambers of Commerce in partnership with Indeed, follows an 18-month in-depth study of what businesses want from adult skills training provision in the UK. 

Spending on adult education has fallen nearly 50% in real-terms since 2009/10. 

The Commissioners, drawn from a range of business and skills backgrounds, believe it offers a blueprint for policy makers, trainers and firms to finally develop a system that works for both employers and employees. 

Hundreds of companies from a wide range of sectors joined Chambers of Commerce, colleges, universities, independent training providers, Local Enterprise Partnerships and education professionals in giving evidence to the Commission. 

The report identifies solutions to a series of obstacles for employers in using the current skills system, including issues of complexity, cost and inflexibility. 

To help bolster productivity and growth as the economy rebuilds following the pandemic, the report calls on policymakers to adopt its recommendations and encourages businesses to act decisively to resolve their skills needs, with practical and pragmatic recommendations for policy makers and businesses that can be summarised under two main themes:


  • Ensure businesses have the support and confidence to plan and implement organisation-wide workplace training and development needs, linked to innovation and increased productivity, and using the tax system to stimulate more business investment in skills.
  • Maintain a stable, coherent and high-quality skills system that meets employer needs at all skills levels and that values vocational training on a par with academic routes.
  • Deliver prestigious technical qualifications together with bite-sized, flexible units of accredited learning to help adults train and reskill more quickly for the evolving workplace.


  • Ensure the skills system meets the needs of businesses and local economies and that people are trained for sustainable jobs. Local skills plans must be underpinned by robust and effective engagement with businesses of all sizes and aligned with local economic strategies.
  • Enable businesses to engage effectively with further education colleges, other providers, and local stakeholders to ensure the skills system responds quickly to growth opportunities, new technologies and industry trends.
  • Allow more place-based control, flexibility and coordination of skills funding and strategy, to maximise the return on investment in skills and better target resources to local economic priorities.

Top 5 key priorities for the skills system, highlighted by UK employers

  1. Building High Performance Learning Cultures – Supporting businesses to identify, plan, articulate and invest in workplace training and development needs.
  2. Digital skills and innovation – Equipping the workforce with the digital skills needed for businesses to grow and innovate.
  3. Using the skills system – A stable and coherent employer-led skills system, with prestigious technical and vocational qualifications together with flexible, bite-sized accredited training.
  4. Place-based solutions – Giving employers a strong voice and appropriate influence over the skills system for their area; and
  5. Enabling Employees – Supporting individuals to develop their own skills.

Its findings will now be shared with government education departments across the UK, Chambers of Commerce, and key stakeholders in the skills training sector.

Sector reaction

Jane Boardman 100x100Jane Boardman, Chair of the Workplace Training and Development Commission, said:  

“The problem of skills shortages has long hampered the UK economy, leaving employers struggling to fill job vacancies and raise productivity. The workplace is rapidly becoming more digital and automated, so businesses need more people with the technical skills for these changing jobs. But too often employers cannot access the training they need and, as a result, are spending less and less on training each year. 

“The impact of the pandemic has made investing in adult skills more important than ever.  Employers need a more joined-up and flexible system that can respond quickly to skills needs and opportunities.   

“The last year has seen the economy placed under the greatest strain it has experienced in decades and the full impact on employment and growth has yet to be seen.  As businesses rebuild and respond to the challenges ahead, a more agile skills training system will be crucial.”  

Hanna Essex 100x100Hannah Essex, Co-Executive Director of the BCC and a member of the Commission, said:  

“For too long, smaller businesses have struggled to navigate the skills system and get what they need, when they need it. Now is the time to put employers’ needs first and transform the system for the better. Apprenticeships and technical qualifications are highly valued by businesses across many sectors and are key to resolving some skills shortages. But full qualifications are not always the right solution when it comes to wider adult workforce training. 

“A more modular and agile approach will help businesses address skills shortages more quickly. And, as the economy emerges from the pandemic, individuals looking to change career and move into higher earning roles need more opportunities to upskill and retrain. 

“Solving the UK’s skills crisis requires coordinated effort across business, government and the skills sector. Crucially, we need to create a more relevant, joined-up and flexible skills system that meets the needs of businesses wherever they are based in the UK.  This means helping businesses to understand their employees’ training needs and ensuring the skills system delivers what is required both now and in readiness for the changes ahead. 

“Key to success will be the full involvement of employers in local decisions on how we plan, deliver and fund the skills needed.  But we are already seeing positive change in the skills system with recommendations from our interim report being reflected in the Government White Paper on Further Education.” 

Pawel Adrjan 100x100Pawel Adrjan, head of EMEA research at Indeed, said:  

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“Job postings on Indeed have grown 32% since the start of 2021 and are at their highest level since last March as the economy gears up for a recovery. The types of available job opportunities are also changing, with construction, manufacturing, software development, health and social care accounting for a greater share of vacancies today than before the pandemic. Growing demand for new workers and changes in the mix of available jobs have put adult skills and training back at the top of the labour market policy agenda.    

“People have had to adapt since Covid-19 and our report shows that businesses seek similar flexibility when it comes to training. A more locally integrated plan that flexes to the requirements of business not only benefits employers but it also helps people whose ambitions are to rise into higher-skilled better paying jobs. 

“Training might have slipped down the priority lists of businesses and policy makers over the past year but as the economy gets back on its feet there is now a golden opportunity to shape the skills of the future workforce to help boost Britain’s productivity.”

david hughes 100 x100David Hughes, Chief Executive of AoC, said: 

“The report today is a strong sign that employers understand and value the importance of developing and nurturing their people and for working in partnership with colleges to support a stronger adult skills offer in every community. Colleges need to have more freedoms to meet local employer and learner needs, as the recent white paper proposed. When they win those freedoms, they will be able to work in partnership with more employers through local choice of course types and modules, flexible funding mechanisms and removing barriers within the welfare system. If the government delivers those freedoms, colleges working with employers will be able to unlock the potential of people needing to upgrade their skills, retrain for the jobs of the future and those already in work who need to update their knowledge.

“As set out in the Commission on the College of the Future – employers engaging effectively with colleges will ensure the skills system delivers for the labour market, communities and people. It’s good to see this vision restated here and backed up by calls for a properly funded adult education system that will boost productivity and offer better life chances for thousands of people.”

Kate Green MP 100x100Kate Green MP, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, said:

“A decade of Conservative cuts has weakened the foundations of our skills system, with training opportunities for adult learners disappearing and skills shortages opening up for businesses.

“Enabling adults to gain new skills, retrain in new industries or to progress at work will be essential to securing our economy.

“Labour is committed to enabling all adults to gain the skills they need to access the jobs of the future.”

Ewart Keep 100x100Commenting on the British Chamber of Commerce’s Workplace Training and Development Commission report, Professor Ewart Keep, Emeritus Professor in the Department of Education, University of Oxford, and member of the Independent Commission on the College of the Future, said:

“Today’s report from the Workplace Training and Development Commission highlights the urgent need for upskilling and retraining across the UK. Colleges will play a pivotal role in supporting lifelong learning and this requires them to be empowered with the freedom and funding to deliver far more flexible and agile learning for people and businesses.

“The report rightly identifies the need to help businesses build high-performance learning cultures and for firms to play a strong role in place-based skills planning. It is clear that the current skills systems across the UK’s four nations require decisive action to enable colleges to respond quickly to the changing needs of people, employers of all sizes and communities, now and in the future. Whilst there are reform agendas across the UK that are moving in the right direction, higher ambitions for business and college collaborations are needed. Lessons can and should be learned from across the UK and internationally in pursuit of delivering on this new vision for workplace training.”

The Report of the independent Workplace Training and Development Commission May 2021

The independent Workplace Training and Development Commission was convened by the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) in the Autumn 2019, at a time when 3 in 4 employers were reporting recruitment difficulties and levels of business investment in training had been falling year-on-year since 2014.  

The Commission was asked to focus on the needs of adults over the age of 25 in the workplace and to consider ‘How can we achieve a world-class system for retraining and upskilling our workforce to take advantage of rapid changes in technology, working practices, and industrial and consumer trends?’

Solutions focused, the Commission sought ways to improve workplace skills planning, overcome barriers to business investment in training, maximise training and development opportunities and share best practice.

A Call for Evidence gathered the experience of UK businesses from a wide range of sizes and sectors. Commissioners, drawn from business and skills backgrounds, then made recommendations for both employers and policy makers. These aim to help firms be proactive in meeting their training needs and also create a more flexible skills system that responds to their requirements more effectively.

The report highlights how the impact of the pandemic has made investing in adult skills more important than ever. It calls for the skills system to be more nimble and agile in how it responds to the evolving needs of individuals, employers and local economies as the workplace becomes rapidly more digital, automated and low carbon focused.

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