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Skills gap can be filled by greater investment

27 February 2023

Two in five workers want to learn a new skill to get a better job, new research shows - but employers, unions and skills leaders warn that colleges and further education providers do not have the funding to offer the courses people need.

Two in five workers want to learn a new skill to get a better job, new research shows - but employers, unions and skills leaders warn that colleges and further education providers do not have the funding to offer the courses people need.

Polling from YouGov shows that 41% of people in work would learn a new skill to get a better paid job, while 31.8% say they would learn new skills to get a job they enjoy.

Almost half (46.4%) of workers say they would learn a new skill if it was free for them to do so, 38.4% say they would if they could get a qualification and 31.6% said they would if it was online.

However, more than half of workers (50.9%) say they are not likely to take up a new skill, with more than a quarter (26.4%) of this group saying they cannot afford the cost of training, while 18.3% say they cannot consider further training due to family commitments.

Meanwhile, 40.5% of UK adults say they would like to see more investment in skills and training.

Last autumn, the Office for National Statistics estimated there were almost 1.1 million job vacancies which went unfilled, just below the record levels seen the previous spring.[1]

To support the delivery of the skills employers and individuals need to fill these job vacancies, the Future Skills Coalition, a group made up of skills system leaders from the Association of Colleges, the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) and City & Guilds, is calling for a right to lifelong learning; fair, accessible and effective funding; and a national strategy to support inclusive growth.

On Wednesday, former Labour education secretary Lord David Blunkett and former Conservative education minister Lord Jo Johnson will join a panel session in Parliament as part of the Mind the Skills Gap campaign, supported by the Future Skills Coalition, to discuss the role colleges and further education providers can play in providing people with the skills they need to support their local labour markets.

David Hughes, Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges, said: “This research provides compelling evidence for the Chancellor – ahead of his spring statement on 15 March – that there is a strong appetite from the public to upskill or reskill. With the right investment, colleges and other further education providers would be able to help people gain the skills they need to get the jobs they want.

“That’s why we are asking the Chancellor for an extra £400 million in funding for colleges next year so colleges can play their part in filling the skills gap. The Government must prioritise colleges and further education if it wants to grow the economy and boost productivity.”

Paul Nowak, General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), said: “A good economy depends on skilled workers – and in our fast-changing world, the skills of the UK workforce must keep up. But this Conservative government is failing to deliver the skills and training that workers need. Lots of working people are desperate to improve their careers by improving their skills. But ministers have starved further education colleges of funding. This is denying workers opportunities that they need to progress. And it is making it harder for businesses to recruit the skilled workers they need.”

Matthew Percival, Director for People and Skills at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), said: “Nine in 10 workers will need to add to their skills by 2030 as jobs evolve, so increasing the types and availability of training is key to growth. Meeting this challenge requires more investment by business and government. There will be more training opportunities available to workers if the Apprenticeship Levy is reformed at next month’s Budget to allow firms to use unspent funds for all high-quality training rather than apprenticeships alone.”

Alun Francis, Chair of the Social Mobility Commission, said: “These latest poll findings show how vital it is to give everyone the opportunity to learn new skills to help them find a good job which they enjoy. The Social Mobility Commission is encouraging a wider approach than the 'one-size fits all' idea of social mobility based on going to university at 18. It firmly believes that everyone should be able to develop skills throughout their working life, when it suits them most, to ensure that more people can fulfil their potential. We have previously urged the Government to ensure that early years and further education receive the same level of funding commitment as schools, as they all play equally important roles in shaping opportunities”.

Jane Hickie, Chief Executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers said: “Properly investing in skills and training is a must if we’re to have sustainable economic growth in the coming years. This new polling also shows how strong the appetite is for upskilling and reskilling amongst the country’s workforce. However, with more than a quarter of workers saying they cannot afford the cost of training, it is vital that we have a fair and sustainable funding system so those that want to retrain are able to do so.”

Kirstie Donnelly, Chief Executive of City & Guilds, said: “People who enter the workforce today will often be working longer and have more career changes, so will need to reskill throughout their lifetimes to ensure their skills stay current. Therefore, it’s encouraging to see this research demonstrate that so many workers want to gain new skills to allow them to progress in their careers. What is worrying though is that so many people say they can’t afford to access this vital training.

“Couple longer careers with the rapid speed which workplace skills are evolving, through issues such as technological innovation and the need for new green skills, the need for a high quality flexible and affordable all-ages skills system has never been greater. But unfortunately, currently this doesn’t exist. To address these issues the Future Skills Coalition is calling for a national strategy to drive local inclusive growth, a fairer and better funded skills system and a right to lifelong learning that supports people to gain much needed skills and allows local economies to get the skilled workers they need to thrive.”

Notes to editors

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2101 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 21 to 22 February 2023. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).

To arrange any further comment or media interviews, please contact AoC Press and Public Relations Manager George Ryan on 07780917858.

[1] ONS: