A “looming skills crisis” caused by a drop in workforce training could threaten the sustainability of UK organisations, according to new research from the TUC. 
Produced by the body’s learning and skills wing Unionlearn, the Training Trends in Britain report notes that, with automation and new technology changing the way many of us work, millions of us will need to re-skill over the next 20 years – but the state of current provisions looks increasingly unequal to the task.
On average, the study shows, the amount of training that workers are having this year is 10% less than they had in 2011. For young and lower-qualified workers, the figures are even worse, at -16% and -20% respectively. Indeed, the report notes, younger workers have lost the equivalent of a day’s training per year.
“What do the findings tell us?” asks Unionlearn director Kevin Rowan in the report’s introduction. “First and foremost, that the decline in the volume of training has clearly not abated. Analysis of the two largest national employee surveys indicates that, since 2011, the rate of decline has ranged from 10% to 19%.”
He adds: “The researchers conclude that there is little evidence of any improvement in the quality of workplace training in recent years and that this reinforces the pessimistic picture of training trends. This is backed up by other findings, including that there has been a fall in the proportion of workplace training certified to nationally recognised qualifications (down from 22% to 18%). There has also been an increase in the incidence of shorter training durations (less than a week), accounting for 56% of all training in 2018 compared to 49% in 2011 (and 34% in 1996).”
Factors behind the slump include weak oversight and regulation of both the quality and duration of apprenticeship training. The report also notes the degree to which that is accounted for by the absence of a ‘social partnership’ governance model found in other countries with high-quality apprenticeship systems.
On a more positive note, the study highlights the durability of a union ‘mark-up’ on training, with volumes on average 19% higher in unionised workplaces.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The world of work is going to change massively over the coming years. If employers don’t increase workplace training, Britain faces a looming skills and productivity crisis. Everyone must be given the training they need to keep up with changes in technology.”
What must leaders do to turn this slump around?
The Institute of Leadership & Management head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “One of the major problems with our approach to training and development in the UK is our obsession with targets. Those goals may be expressed in the number of training days that workers experience, or the number of nationally recognised qualifications under which that training falls. For many organisations, training and development has become mainly about pursuing government funding, and trying to conform to various national targets or qualification sizes. But amid this scramble, leaders have been losing sight of what the training is actually for. What is it that we are trying to develop? What are the skills that our people need? Are qualifications a necessary output?”
She points out: “When we consider not just how much training is done, but the variety of ways in which it can be delivered, the typical image we have of training as a classroom experience is rather restrictive. Classroom training has a role, but there are so many other ways in which learners can access it – particularly online solutions that have proactive input from the provider to ensure they’re neither alienating, nor anonymous. We know that people can learn a great deal on the job. We know that people talking about their learning is really important, as it creates a studious atmosphere. We know that line managers have a huge part to play in encouraging learning and providing the relevant tools and advice. None of those delivery methods can be easily translated into the rigid realm of targets.”
Cooper notes: “In the early days of the UK’s Apprenticeship Levy scheme, you could see why it was a good idea: it made employers think in greater detail about what they would need for their workforces of the future and drive the required enhancements. But training and development is an industry in itself, with a wide range of different specialisms – and not all organisations are equipped to deliver it. They need to foster partnerships with training providers, further education colleges and universities.”
She adds: “The targets by which we measure success are far too narrow, far too easily countable and far too often the subjects of ministerial obsession with regards to delivery. In the meantime, stakeholders are failing to determine what the training should be for.”
Source ref: