Britain’s skills record has hindered, not helped, our productivity drive. That needs to change


Between the recent budget, the Industrial Strategy White Paper and last Thursday’s Skills Summit, we’ve heard a lot about the need to boost Britain’s productivity and how education and training can support that drive. One of the more striking new announcements made in the Budget is the National Retraining Scheme initially focused on digital and construction skills in England, overseen by the CBI and TUC.  The aim is laudable. We should certainly address skills shortages and future skills needs.

However, this is only one side of the coin.  We also need to boost productivity of those already in work, and particularly those in our large, and largely unproductive, sectors.  And yet Britain has a poor record on training its workers. What’s more, this poor record runs across the labour market: from poor management skills to a worrying rise in the number of employees who lack the skills to do their job well. And this matters: firms suffering from skills gaps and poor management are less competitive and indeed, less productive.

So how is the UK measuring up against these skills challenges? Our training patterns display something of a ‘Matthew Effect,’ with those who have already attained the highest level qualifications being trained at the highest rate. For example, last year workers with Masters degree were five times as likely to report having had recent work-related training, as those with no qualifications.

For those lucky enough to have training, the proportion whose training lasts longer than a week is down by nearly a third since 2006. Worryingly, duration has fallen most for those in lower-skilled occupations, especially older people working in lower-skilled occupations. It’s fallen across industries too, with some of the starkest drops occurring in low pay, low productivity sectors like agriculture, retail, and food and accommodation.

This fall in work-related training hasn’t been shored up by growing numbers of adults studying for further qualifications. Among those classed as employees or self-employed, study rates have fallen across the board since 2006-08. Managers and process/plant workers had the largest falls, down by roughly a third. Taken together, the decline in both training and professional study suggests that fewer people are able to do their jobs better, and in all likelihood, progress to higher levels of responsibility and pay.

This is a huge and growing challenge. Britain’s labour market is already starting to shift towards a new era of lower migration, which will put extra pressure on the need to upskill existing workers. Many firms across all sectors will have to rethink their business strategies in order to address falls in training and wider workforce development.

This is difficult work, and it requires more than the occasional nod to further education. To get productivity on the right track, we need to increasingly view skills as a central element of the agenda. The government is certainly right to focus on retraining but we can’t forget about those already in work.

Kathleen Henehan is Research and Policy Analyst at the Resolution Foundation 

Laura Coughtrie, Adviza, blogs about when it’s time to think about a job or career change

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ERSA-member Adviza is the Area Based Contractor for the Government’s National Careers Service in the Thames Valley Region.  The National Careers Service provides information, advice and guidance to help people make decisions on learning, training and work opportunities.  It shares a key aim with ERSA – to help people gain sustainable employment and to progress in work.  Additionally, a focus of the Service is to help people find the job they really want and to hopefully move forward in their careers and lives.  In fact the Service currently campaigns under the banner ‘I love what I do!’. One of the challenges for all of us can be realising the right time to make a change.

Maybe you have reached a point in your working life when you need a new challenge. You might even be thinking about a completely new career direction. We all have times when we get frustrated with our jobs. But stop and think first – will things get better or has the job run its course and it’s time to take action?  

Considering the following can help you come to the right decision.

1) How satisfied are you with your career?  

Thinking about what you’ve achieved in your career so far can be a good place to start. Success means different things to different people, but you may want to consider whether you’ve:
• enjoyed the challenges you’ve met in your work
• been promoted in line with your talents
• achieved a salary that lets you live the way you want
• built up expertise in your line of work
• made an impact – within your organisation, or more widely
• earned the respect of clients, customers and colleagues.

2) Is it time for a career change?

Working out whether your current job has let you achieve the level of success you want should give you an idea of whether it’s time for a change.  If you think a career change could benefit you, you’ll need to decide whether you want:
• a new role in your current organisation
• a change of employer
• a completely different career.

3) Are you enjoying your job?

If you no longer enjoy the day-to-day activities in your job, it might be that you’ve been in this type of role too long and you need a new challenge. Moving to a different department within your organisation, or to a different employer might solve the problem.  If you actively dislike parts of your day-to-day job – or you don’t get the chance to use all of your talents – ask yourself whether what you do is typical for someone in your line of work. If you’re dissatisfied with the job itself, changing department or employer may not improve things. You may want to consider a bigger change.

4) If you decide you do want to re-train, you’ll have to decide how to go about it. If you’ve got financial commitments you may prefer to stay in your current job and do a part-time or flexible course.

5) Do you feel motivated by the people you work with?

How do you get on with colleagues, managers, clients and others in your workplace? Consider whether any problems are due to personality clashes with particular individuals, the culture of the workplace, or because of the nature of the job itself.  If you like the people you work with but are frustrated by the actual work, you may want to look at changing your role within the organisation, or looking for a different role with a similar employer.

6) Are you satisfied with your work-life balance?

If you’re looking for a better fit with your family life, a change of job isn’t always necessary.  Technology is making it possible for more people to spend time working from home.  Bear in mind that you may have the right to ask your employer to make arrangements for flexible working (though they can refuse if there’s a good business reason to do so).

If, after considering the above, you do think the time is right for a change the National Careers Service can help you.  Visit;  for further details.

Adviza is the Prime Contractor for the National Careers Service in the Thames Valley Region, covering Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Wiltshire, Swindon and Gloucestershire.

by Laura Coughtrie, Corporate Services Director, Adviza