Elena Magrini, Researcher, Centre for Cities

#Brexit will play a central role, but closing the adult skills gap in left behind places should be key to this general election

While Brexit will play a central role in this general election, it is the deeper economic concerns that drove the ‘Leave’ vote that politicians must urgently address, one of the most important of these is the adult skills gap.

It is often said the UK is experiencing a ‘job miracle’ – high employment growth and the lowest level of unemployment since 1975.

Yet, at the same time, there is a growing concern around ‘left-behind’ places, cities and towns especially in the North of England that increasingly feel disconnected from the opportunities this ‘job miracle’ should offer.

The Gig Economy and Precarious Employment

This is true no matter how you approach the issue, look at self-employment for example.

In recent years there has been a dramatic rise in this new way of working, opening up opportunities to work more flexibly, be your own boss and turn a hobby into a job.

Yet, in Barnsley, Burnley, and other places with weaker economies, over 80 per cent of people that are self-employed rely solely on self-employment for their income, and the roles they take are most of the time lower-skilled – such as in construction, transport and personal services.

This is not the case in Cambridge, where more than 40 per cent of self-employed people are in high-skilled roles and have access to other forms of income.

Hidden Unemployment

Similarly, look at economic inactivity, being out of the labour force can be a great thing if you’ve chosen to dedicate your time to something else – for example if you are a student, or looking after family or home or you have decided to retire early. This is the case for example in Crawley, Oxford and Exeter, where over 80 per cent of people that are inactive fall within these categories.

But in Mansfield, Wakefield and Newport, almost half of the inactive have health issues, are discouraged or have other reasons for not being in the labour force.

Fourth Industrial Revolution

Looking at the future doesn’t change the picture either.

Technological changes and globalisation are bringing new opportunities in the labour market but also displacement. Yet when looking at displacement, this is concentrated in places with much weaker economies: in Sunderland, Mansfield and Wakefield, almost one in three jobs is at high risk of disappearing by 2030. In contrast, in places like London and Reading, only one in seven jobs is vulnerable.

These issues must be urgently addressed in this general election – and luckily, there is a fil rouge to solving these different challenges: the UK needs a much bigger focus on adult education and a long-term commitment to lifelong learning.

The most vulnerable should be given priority by the next Government

The focus from the manifestos must be on supporting those at the bottom end of the labour market, i.e. those with no or low-qualifications, in low-income and insecure roles. While in a changing labour market everyone will need to retrain yet it is those at the bottom end of the labour market that are more vulnerable and less likely to take up training to update their skills. They should be given priority by the next Government.

One way to support them would be to introduce a Singapore-style system, assigning a number of credits to every individual over 25 to improve their skills. Under this system, which would go to complement existing adult skills programmes, every individual without level 2 qualifications (equivalent to good GCSEs) would be assigned £300 a year for training, with the financial incentive gradually diminishing the more qualified a person is/becomes.

Supporting people with low qualifications would cost approximately an additional £1.9 billion a year to the Government, with £4 billion for the overall system*.

Practically, this means that with just over half the money the Government is currently spending subsidising university education, adults in the UK, especially those with few or no qualifications could get a consistent support to training.

Local Insight

Local areas would take the lead in terms of the delivery of the system, to ensure it is relevant to local needs and to avoid the pitfalls previously experienced with the Individual Learning Accounts.

Initiatives such as the Skills Advisory Panels and the recently launched ‘Examine a place’ platform are great steps from the current government to give local areas a better understanding of their needs and a bigger say on what needs to be addressed and should be used to shape provision at the local level in an efficient way.

No such a strategy will be successful without a long-term, cross party leadership and commitment. With every new government, there is a tendency to scrap existing plans on skills to introduce new ones, resulting in a permanent lack of understanding of what works in this space and huge inefficiencies. This must stop.

The economic divides that have disconnected the country are of no benefits to anyone. Addressing them will mean a more prosperous UK and should be a no brainer for any party.

Elena Magrini, Researcher, Centre for Cities

*To get to this number, we assumed that every individual with no qualifications or Level 1 qualifications (approximately 6.3 million people in the UK) would get £300 for training; those with Lever 2 or other qualifications (approximately 7.1 million) would get £200 and those with Level 3 qualifications (5 million) would get £150.

We assumed people with Level 4 qualifications and more would not qualify for any support. To make the estimate we used 2018 Annual Population Survey data.

You may also be interested in these articles:

Sponsored Video

Register, Login or Login with your Social Media account:


Upcoming FE Events

Advertiser Skyscrapers

Newsroom Activity

FE News: The Future of Education News Channel had a status update on Twitter 12 hours 2 minutes ago

RT @FENews: NAHT demonstrates commitment to furthering equality, diversity and inclusion in schools: @NAHTnews demonstrates commitment to f…
View Original Tweet

Latest Education News

Further Education News

The FE News Channel gives you the latest education news and updates on emerging education strategies and the #FutureofEducation and the #FutureofWork.

Providing trustworthy and positive Further Education news and views since 2003, we are a digital news channel with a mixture of written word articles, podcasts and videos. Our specialisation is providing you with a mixture of the latest education news, our stance is always positive, sector building and sharing different perspectives and views from thought leaders, to provide you with a think tank of new ideas and solutions to bring the education sector together and come up with new innovative solutions and ideas.

FE News publish exclusive peer to peer thought leadership articles from our feature writers, as well as user generated content across our network of over 3000 Newsrooms, offering multiple sources of the latest education news across the Education and Employability sectors.

FE News also broadcast live events, podcasts with leading experts and thought leaders, webinars, video interviews and Further Education news bulletins so you receive the latest developments in Skills News and across the Apprenticeship, Further Education and Employability sectors.

Every week FE News has over 200 articles and new pieces of content per week. We are a news channel providing the latest Further Education News, giving insight from multiple sources on the latest education policy developments, latest strategies, through to our thought leaders who provide blue sky thinking strategy, best practice and innovation to help look into the future developments for education and the future of work.

In Jan 2021, FE News had over 173,000 unique visitors according to Google Analytics and over 200 new pieces of news content every week, from thought leadership articles, to the latest education news via written word, podcasts, video to press releases from across the sector, putting us in the top 2,000 websites in the UK.

We thought it would be helpful to explain how we tier our latest education news content and how you can get involved and understand how you can read the latest daily Further Education news and how we structure our FE Week of content:

Main Features

Our main features are exclusive and are thought leadership articles and blue sky thinking with experts writing peer to peer news articles about the future of education and the future of work. The focus is solution led thought leadership, sharing best practice, innovation and emerging strategy. These are often articles about the future of education and the future of work, they often then create future education news articles. We limit our main features to a maximum of 20 per week, as they are often about new concepts and new thought processes. Our main features are also exclusive articles responding to the latest education news, maybe an insight from an expert into a policy announcement or response to an education think tank report or a white paper.

FE Voices

FE Voices was originally set up as a section on FE News to give a voice back to the sector. As we now have over 3,000 newsrooms and contributors, FE Voices are usually thought leadership articles, they don’t necessarily have to be exclusive, but usually are, they are slightly shorter than Main Features. FE Voices can include more mixed media with the Further Education News articles, such as embedded podcasts and videos. Our sector response articles asking for different comments and opinions to education policy announcements or responding to a report of white paper are usually held in the FE Voices section. If we have a live podcast in an evening or a radio show such as SkillsWorldLive radio show, the next morning we place the FE podcast recording in the FE Voices section.

Sector News

In sector news we have a blend of content from Press Releases, education resources, reports, education research, white papers from a range of contributors. We have a lot of positive education news articles from colleges, awarding organisations and Apprenticeship Training Providers, press releases from DfE to Think Tanks giving the overview of a report, through to helpful resources to help you with delivering education strategies to your learners and students.


We have a range of education podcasts on FE News, from hour long full production FE podcasts such as SkillsWorldLive in conjunction with the Federation of Awarding Bodies, to weekly podcasts from experts and thought leaders, providing advice and guidance to leaders. FE News also record podcasts at conferences and events, giving you one on one podcasts with education and skills experts on the latest strategies and developments.

We have over 150 education podcasts on FE News, ranging from EdTech podcasts with experts discussing Education 4.0 and how technology is complimenting and transforming education, to podcasts with experts discussing education research, the future of work, how to develop skills systems for jobs of the future to interviews with the Apprenticeship and Skills Minister.

We record our own exclusive FE News podcasts, work in conjunction with sector partners such as FAB to create weekly podcasts and daily education podcasts, through to working with sector leaders creating exclusive education news podcasts.

Education Video Interviews

FE News have over 700 FE Video interviews and have been recording education video interviews with experts for over 12 years. These are usually vox pop video interviews with experts across education and work, discussing blue sky thinking ideas and views about the future of education and work.


FE News has a free events calendar to check out the latest conferences, webinars and events to keep up to date with the latest education news and strategies.

FE Newsrooms

The FE Newsroom is home to your content if you are a FE News contributor. It also help the audience develop relationship with either you as an individual or your organisation as they can click through and ‘box set’ consume all of your previous thought leadership articles, latest education news press releases, videos and education podcasts.

Do you want to contribute, share your ideas or vision or share a press release?

If you want to write a thought leadership article, share your ideas and vision for the future of education or the future of work, write a press release sharing the latest education news or contribute to a podcast, first of all you need to set up a FE Newsroom login (which is free): once the team have approved your newsroom (all content, newsrooms are all approved by a member of the FE News team- no robots are used in this process!), you can then start adding content (again all articles, videos and podcasts are all approved by the FE News editorial team before they go live on FE News). As all newsrooms and content are approved by the FE News team, there will be a slight delay on the team being able to review and approve content.

 RSS IconRSS Feed Selection Page