Undertrained, underemployed and unprepared: the UK is squandering the potential of millions of workers 

A new report Missing Millions published today (25 Feb) by leading skills organisation @CityGuildsGroup shines a light on the worrying reality of the UK’s skills and productivity crisis.

As productivity continues to decline, it’s widely understood that businesses and Government need to prepare to meet the demands of the workplace of the future and ensure the country has the skilled workforce it will need over the next decade. However, the research reveals that people across the nation are being denied access to training and opportunities to upskill that would enable them to be more productive.

According to City & Guilds Group’s report – which is based on findings from labour market economists Emsi and a poll of 5,000 working age people – only half (53%) have received workplace training in the last three years, and a third (34%) have either never received training, or did so more than five years ago. The lack of opportunity for skills development leads to only a third (33%) of the UK working age population feeling positive about their future career prospects.

In addition to this, 60% of respondents stated that they felt the skills they did have were underutilised at least half of the time, suggesting that employers are not fully capitalising on the skills they already have within their businesses.

City & Guilds Group’s research found:

  • Those from lower socio-economic groups were much less likely to have received training in the last five years (44% vs 68%) and were less satisfied with their career prospects (22% vs 39%) 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. Only 21% of people in the North East felt positive about the jobs market in their local area, compared to 45% in London;
  • Those working part-time – significantly more women than men – were also less likely to have received training in the last five years than those working full-time (61% vs 72%). Part-time workers were additionally far less likely to believe there was opportunity to progress than their full-time counterparts (22% vs 36%);
  • People highly value the training they do receive – 77% of those who had received workplace training stated that it had enabled them to be more effective at their job.

kirstie donnelly 100x100Kirstie Donnelly, Interim CEO at City & Guilds Group, commented:

“Today we are fortunate that unemployment sits at its lowest level since 1975, but this masks the fact that many people in the country are in fact underemployed and could contribute far more to society if given the opportunity. By unlocking more people’s full potential, we can both increase opportunities for social mobility and help to drive up productivity.

“Over the last 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 Artificial Intelligence and the fourth industrial revolution continues to totally reshape the labour market, we need to see urgent action from the Government to reverse the decline of the lifelong learning sector – ensuring people in all areas have access to critical skills development and employers have access to the talent they so desperately need.

“From better provision of training and education across regions of the UK to better access to childcare 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 if we are to retain our status as a leading global economy post Brexit. Harnessing the full potential of the people that are already in work – and are yearning to learn – would be a significant step in the right direction.”

As a result of the findings in the report, City & Guilds Group is calling for government and policy makers, employers and individuals to take action:

  1. Employers need to invest in skills development for people at all ages and levels of their career. They also need to get better at recognising and utilising people’s full skillsets.
  2. Individuals need to start looking for more opportunities to upskill themselves outside of the workplace or put themselves forward for training at work, as well as showcasing their full range of skills to employers, both current and potential.
  3. Government and policy makers need to urgently review adult education and create a system that encourages lifelong learning, retraining and reskilling. They need to provide better careers guidance and advice to people at all stages of their career.

Sector Response

ANTHONY IMPEY 100x100Anthony Impey MBE, Serial entrepreneur & Chair of the Skills Policy Unit, Federation of Small Businesses, said:

“As this research highlights, in society many people’s skills are underutilised.

"There are no quick fixes but there are things that employers can do such as looking in new places to find talent, as seemingly different jobs require many of the same skills, as well as embedding flexible working practices and make training available to people at all ages and stages of their careers.”

Andy Durman, Managing Director - Emsi UK, said:

“This report emphasises two crucial factors to enable us to tap into the nation’s skills potential and make progress on closing the skills gap and boosting productivity:

  1. 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.
  2. 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 all coming together to promote the concept of lifelong learning, where people can add to their core skills throughout their working lives.”

Jason Fowler 100x100Jason Fowler, VP, HR Director for Fujitsu UK and Ireland, said:

“In the context of the UK’s skills gap today, it is surprising to learn that organisations are not making full use of their employees’ skills. Although training and re-skilling is high up on the agenda for many businesses, its clear more needs to be done to tap into the full potential of employees. In doing so, organisations will be able to help bridge the skills gap whilst also increasing employee satisfaction.

“To sustain the competitiveness of the UK economy, businesses need to implement a long-term plan that will help train and educate the current workforce and the next generation of workers but also to utilise current resources to the maximum. If we want to continue to see the UK as a ‘digital first’ nation we must ensure we are investing in all talent. From the current workforce to those at the very beginning of the journey, by matching the right skills with the right job, and training the workforce for the jobs of tomorrow, we will be able to support the future digital economy.”

Methodology: City & Guilds Group worked with YouGov to carry out a poll of 5,000 working age people in the UK of all employment statuses. Fieldwork was undertaken between December 2019-January 2020. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all English adults (aged 18+).

Additional insight in the report comes from economic modellers Emsi, who provided an economic forecast for the different Government regions of the UK to understand how quickly the skills need is going to change and how well-prepared regions are to meet this demand.

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