The adult skills gap - Blog by Dr Daria Luchinskaya
A new IER report, The adult skills gap: Is falling investment in UK adults stalling social mobility?, produced for the Social Mobility Commission and written by Daria Luchinskaya and Peter Dickinson, discusses the landscape of adult skills and participation in training in the UK. It finds evidence of ‘vicious’ and ‘virtuous’ circles of training, whereby those with low or no qualifications are much less likely to access education and training after leaving school compared to those with high qualifications. Furthermore, the report highlights that UK investment in training is low by international standards.
These findings are not new – there has been ongoing concern about Britain’s ‘low-skill low-quality’ equilibrium – where the UK economy includes a substantial proportion of low-quality jobs that may have less incentives for facilitating staff training and learning – since Finegold and Soskice published their seminal paper in the late 1980s. Thirty years later, it seems that these problems are still ongoing, as the IER has discussed in its previous research (e.g. Green, 2016; Wilson & Hogarth, 2003).
That adults in lower-quality jobs and with lower qualifications, who have more to gain from training or learning, tend to miss out on training relative to their more advantaged peers in better jobs has also been widely discussed, as highlighted in the Adult Skills Gap report. These findings chime in with recent commentary by Erzsebet Bukodi that questions some of the assumptions behind the argument that education and training alone can improve social mobility without changes in the underlying job structure – the number of managerial and professional jobs available. Policy focus on education and training without addressing the wider underlying issues also leads to problems, particularly regarding the limitations of supply-side skills policies without corresponding increases in the demand for skilled labour (e.g. Crouch et al., 2001).
This raises big questions about how the government, employers, and society more broadly can ensure better prospects for people from disadvantaged backgrounds. Some of the answers could be found in collecting better official data about training, not only spend, but also quality, type and duration. But perhaps more long-term, more challenging answers lie in addressing some of the fundamental issues discussed above – the low demand for and low utilisation of skills.
IER’s recent work on job quality, led by Chris Warhurst and Sally Wright, that contributed to the Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices and to the establishment of a Working Group on Measuring Good Work, can help understand some of the reasons behind disparity in the quality of jobs in the UK and what can be done to improve it. Research on skill utilisation, can help investigate why and how some employers are able to use and develop their employees’ skills more than others. A holistic, focused approach to the UK’s problem is needed to help ensure that access to training and learning is available to those who need it.