From education to employment

But Do Statistics Tell the Skills and Participation Story

The backbenchers are waiting in the wings, writes Vijay Pattni for FE News, knives at the ready; Mr Cameron is sharpening his teeth; Sir Campbell is trying his very best to stay awake; Mr Speaker is meekly holding back the baying hordes.

Yes, more statistics have been released from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), and they paint utterly different stories depending on your political inclination. Firstly, unsurprisingly, vociferous proclamations of success and appraise abound. Yes, in their world, life is more peaceful, more economical, more ecological, fairer, truer and absolutely fantastic.

Accentuate the Positive

The statistics, revealed earlier this week, certainly support this position. Employment increased by some 223,000 workers since last year, bringing the cosmic total to those in employment to a colossal 28.9 million, apparently one of the highest totals on record. Yet the picture doth not end there. ILO unemployment, indicating those who are economically active and are seeking work, has also risen by a similar margin, 224,000 on the year, raising that total to 1.65 million.

So take both these sets of statistics together, and you find that 447,000 extra people are either in work or looking for work. Indeed, the Minister of State for Employment and Welfare Reform, Jim Murphy MP, was delighted: “Employment is up by over 200 thousand in the last year and is close to the highest its ever been. Im encouraged by the fact that more people who previously werent looking for work are now doing so.”

Undoubtedly a fine result for the year, and one that Labour could be proud of. Yet the statistics reveal more. On the year, the number of people claiming Jobseekers Allowance increased by 93,300, bringing the total number on the benefit to just short of 1 million, at 956,600 people. Also, while they proclaim that the number of employed is at record levels, the percentile has actually dropped, albeit by a fraction, since last year, by 0.2 points to 74.6%. Admittedly, drops like that rarely make headlines but the indication is clear. Take that in conjunction with the unemployment level, and it begins to paint a gloomier picture. At 5.4%, it is up on the quarter and overall higher than last year.

LSC Adds to Mix

On the whole, the statistics do make a good case for themselves and perhaps rein in some positive light on a waning Prime Minister’s etched out legacy. Yet as we have come to expect from this government, the facts are not always what they seem. And the incessant calls from local communities and industry chiefs would suggest that massive and inherent problems still exist within the labour market, one of the primary being the skills deficit. Yet a strange occurrence appeared at a similar time to the release of these DWP statistics. The Learning and Skills Council, our trusted custodian in Further Education, released information that adds a intriguing mix to the debate.

Migrant workers, the fabled and preferred choice of cleaner for the Home Office, are failing to add to the UK’s diminishing skills set because of an inability to master the English Language. The report, entitled “Learning and Skills Planning and Provision for Migrants from the Accession States”, indicates that the majority of workers from the eight EU accession states are highly qualified and skilled, yet due to language barriers are unable to secure meaningful employment respective to their specialities, in the longer term.

Accordingly, the study points out that migrant workers” primary concern upon landing on our white shores is to find accommodation and a job to cover living expenses. However, many work shifts, are poorly paid and have to travel great distances, therefore inhibiting their ability to study and engage in language learning. Moreover, some migrant workers operate on a seasonal basis, and so even if they start a course, they are often unable to complete it. Darshan Sachdev, Research Manager for the Learning and Skills Network (LSN) said: “Migrant workers are a valuable asset to our growing economy. To unlock their potential the relevant agencies need to take a joined up approach that addresses the multiplicity of issues faced by these people.”

So there you have it. Employment is on the increase; but conversely, so is unemployment. The UK is suffering from a skills deficit, yet migrant workers who can ably plug the gap cannot speak the language. You have to admire the country we live in; a nation plagued by contradiction and irony.

Vijay Pattni

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