Community delegate, Audrey McJimpsey, who works at RSBi in Glasgow, spoke about the importance of the skills agenda and the vital work trade unions do to help their members learn and retrain:
“Congress, not only have we fallen to the bottom of the G7 growth league table due to the uncertainty around our economy. We’re now set to fall from fourth to sixth of the G7 group for low skills and qualifications. We are lagging behind other countries due to the lack of action from our government.
“And we are yet to see significant signs of improvement and investment in our country’s education, skills and training. Instead we’ve seen cuts in public funding for adult skills and diminishing employer investment in training.
“That means those in most need of skills and re-training aren’t getting the help they need whilst our economy and our attitudes to work are changing.
“Research from the Social Mobility Commission showed that half of adults from the lowest socio-economic group receive no training at all after leaving school. And low-skilled workers are given little opportunity to build their skills and escape low pay.
“So it’s no surprise that one in four of the UK’s low paid workers will never actually escape low pay. And when we look to the changing world of work, our most at-risk workers and adults are not only being let down but are at risk of being left behind.
“Lower skilled and younger workers will disproportionately be affected by automation displacement.
And many challenges workers face across the country as part of the changing world of work are the skills challenges of the future.
“That’s why in order to drive innovation, productivity and economic growth, reskilling programmes and training offer a critical route in supporting workers transitioning through the technological changes. Trade unions, unionlearn and our education teams have a huge role to play in giving workers opportunities to access skills-based learning and retraining.
“Already through our work we have transformed the lives of hundreds of thousands of workers and brought them into our movement. But congress we need to go further.
And we need a clear strategy, increased investment and a strong commitment from government and employers. They are the ones failing to offer thousands of workers the training they need which would increase their skills and wages and help them progress in the workplace.
“The reality is, by improving the skills of adults across the country, we could boost the UK economy by £20 billion a year. And help an extra 200,000 people into work. That’s transformative for our economy.
“As part of that strategy, workers need environments where people can develop their skills. Where they are provided with well-paid apprenticeships, better skills provision and increased investment in training.
“Where we see a reverse in cuts to adult learning and further education and free college courses for people who have left employment. And where reskilling programmes and training reach the people who need them most.
“This will take a concerted effort from employers, government and unions. But if we work together, we can ensure employees will continue to have a valuable role to play in the future workplace, and adults across the UK will be able to access those jobs.
“Learning and skills are crucial for economic growth and for social justice. And are part of a wider long-term economic strategy. An industrial strategy.
“The relationship people will have with work will change over the coming years, and how this happens depends on how decision makers in business and government respond to the challenges as they arise, and how unions shape those challenges.
“The skills challenge we face is one of the great battles of our age. It is vital we get this right and it is our responsibility to deliver for all our industries and sectors, and for the generations to come.”