Learning to Level Up: The role of skills in tackling job insecurity through Brexit and Covid-19


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Covid-19, and the imminent end to freedom of movement with the European Union, mean that the types of jobs and skills that employers are recruiting for are changing. To understand the way in which training can help to protect workers from job insecurity and provide more of the skills that employers require, the Work Foundation undertook new research on this issue that was published earlier this week.  

Worker insecurity has been accelerated through the COVID-19 jobs crisis. Hundreds of thousands of workers have lost their job or seen their hours decrease, and the sectors most affected by the pandemic have a high proportion of workers in lower skilled occupations, often working under insecure terms.  

In response to this, as part of its Jobs Plan, Government set out plans to introduce a Lifetime Skills Guarantee (LSG), next Spring. The LSG will provide adults who lack A-level or equivalent qualifications the opportunity to undertake a free further education course. While a positive step, our research finds that 1.4 million workers in the middle of their working lives in routine or manual occupations are currently ineligible for the scheme because they hold a qualification at or above level 3 despite being amongst those who would benefit most from training.   

Overall, mid-career workers can face more pronounced barriers to training. At this stage of life, parental, caring and financial responsibilities are more prevalent. And drilling down further, we also find that mid-career workers in lower skilled occupations are less likely to access training compared to more senior peers.  

We found that: 

  • Up to 1.9 million workers with dependent children aged under 16 may find it harder to access training opportunities as a result of caring and family responsibilities;  
  • Over 7.5 million mid-career workers have not received any training since leaving full time education, meaning they have no recent experience of engaging in learning and skills development. 

Further, our analysis showed there are inequities in which groups of mid-career workers are able to access training.  

  • Mid-career workers in intermediate or routine roles are 13% & 12% less likely to access training than workers in managerial occupations; 
  • Less than 20% of those working in restaurants, events and catering or the creative, arts and entertainment industries received training over a three month period last year; 
  • Disabled workers, women and Black mid-career workers face structural inequalities and training among these groups doesn’t always lead to opportunities for progression.  

Welfare conditionality can also act as a barrier to training. We found that in May, there were 1.4 million mid-career recipients of Universal Credit who were required to spend 35 hours a week looking for a job in order to access their payments, and over 300,000 mid-career recipients of Income Support or Jobseekers Allowance were only permitted to undertake a maximum of 16 hours of training per week. 

These findings portend a scenario in which workers that most need support and training to boost their skills as the jobs crisis intensifies being least likely to benefit from intervention. Given the current labour market turbulence and heightened worker insecurity, policy must address barriers to training for mid-career workers. To this end, our report sets out a suite of recommendations, both for Government and employers.  

The recommendations set out speak to the need to broaden access to training for mid-career workers, particularly for those who face the greatest barriers to developing new skills. Concerted action will be required from both Government and employers in order to achieve this. We propose that Government reviews eligibility for the LSG to maximise participation, and review restrictions on engaging in training that apply people receiving welfare benefits. The need for employers to offer training on a flexible basis is also set out in the report’s recommendations, including during paid working hours or through paid study leave.   

As Covid-19’s influence on the labour market continues the need to support mid-career workers, especially those at heightened risk of job insecurity, is pressing. Policy development needs to reflect the distinct training requirements that mid-career workers hold, and address the barriers that all too many mid-career workers face to developing the skills they need.  

Read the full report, here.

  • covid19
  • digital skills
  • economic-recovery
  • levelling-up
  • productivity and skills
  • Skills

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