From education to employment

New report finds continuing inequality for women and unskilled workers

A new report says that many of Britain’s unskilled, low paid workers are caught in a ‘skills trap’, often receiving little or no training from their employers, and that highly-trained women lag behind male colleagues when it comes to pay and progression. The report, by the City & Guilds Centre for Skills Development, says that the Government and businesses must do more to support women and unskilled staff, and warns that current initiatives must be updated to deal with the recession.

According to the report, Who Trains?, which studied organisations’ training practices across the UK, unskilled and low paid workers are less likely than their skilled colleagues to receive training. This ‘skills trap’ means that some of the UK’s lowest-paid people have little opportunity to improve their chances of promotion and higher pay. As a result, the pay gap between skilled and unskilled staff is growing. The report adds that current Government initiatives – such as the flagship Train to Gain scheme – are not doing enough to help, and must to be updated to deal more effectively with the recession.

Matilda Gosling, the report’s author, said that she was ‘deeply’ concerned about the effects of the skills trap during the recession. ‘It’s a worrying finding in terms of opportunity and progression,’ she said. ‘Those with the lowest skills are given little chance to improve them, while those with higher skills carry on accruing more because employers see greater returns from training their most educated staff. The pay gap is getting ever wider, and this is putting terrible pressure on some of the people least able to cope with the effects of the recession.’

Ms Gosling added that the Government had to create better incentives for employers to train the UK’s least highly skilled and lowest paid employees. ‘Train to Gain is a blunt instrument. It should be helping those most in need of upskilling or reskilling, but it often seems to fund training that employers would have carried out anyway. Our message is clear – the Government has to target unskilled and low paid workers with better training mechanisms as a matter of urgency.’

The report, due for publication on Tuesday, also says that UK women tend to receive more training from their employers than men, adding that this contradicted other research. This ‘gender surprise’, however, contrasts with the fact that women are not being rewarded for their skills to the same extent as their male colleagues. The report calls on employers and the Government to work harder to ensure that women are recognised for their skills.

Ms Gosling said, ‘we were surprised to find that women generally receive more training than men. Sadly, it wasn’t so surprising that this training doesn’t seem to boost women’s pay and promotion prospects as much as it does for their male colleagues. The Government’s equal opportunities rhetoric must become a reality, especially in the current economic climate.’

Dame Ruth Silver, Principal of Lewisham College, welcomed the report. ‘This has arrived at a critical time during the economic crisis,’ she said. ‘It would be easy for the skills community to go back to old, bad behaviours, but the report reminds us both of how far we’ve come in training, and how far we have yet to go – particularly for women and the unskilled. If we don’t continue to work hard to provide training to everyone in need, and to eliminate outdated barriers facing women in the workplace, we could be digging a hole that might prove too deep to escape from in the future.’

The TUC’s learning body, unionlearn, also backed the report. Its director, Liz Smith, said: ‘Yet again we see that those who do worst out of formal education get less training in the workplace, with employers giving more time off to those already in professional jobs. It’s also terrible news that women are not being rewarded for their new skills to the same extent as men, in spite of the fact that they are getting more training. Skills alone do not bring equality for women, as other issues such as working culture, employer attitudes to flexible working, the availability of affordable childcare and the value placed on women’s contribution all impact on their position in the labour market. We hope that this report adds to the calls for ending the gender pay gap and making full use of women’s talents across the workforce.’

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