The right and opportunities to retrain and reskill

As the Olympics take place, Community is calling for a better world of work for everyone. This blog is part of a ten part series outlining the changes we want to see to create that better world.

The world of work is changing, and workers need to be both allowed and supported to change with it.  80% of the people who will be in the workforce in 2030 are already in work today. It is today’s workers who will be most affected by the technology change that’s coming, and every worker should have the freedom and the opportunity to get new skills.

Group Of Mature Adult Students In Class Working At Computers In College LibraryUnfortunately, evidence shows that the U.K. has one of the worst adult skills systems in Europe. Employers don’t, as a rule, provide enough training. In the UK in 2015 only 30% of workers took part in training provided by their employer, compared to an EU average of 41%. It is often the workers who have the lowest skills levels who get the least training.

The government has also funded skills inadequately, with the adult education budget declining almost fifty percent in the last decade. Too many communities are trapped in what we call a “low skills equilibrium” without many skilled jobs, investment in training and with low paid and low skilled work.

This is particularly the case for younger workers. Young workers today are growing up in a unique environment. Economic shifts – brought on both by rapidly developing technology, globalisation and the looming threat of climate change – mean that the world of work they’ll enter will be basically unrecognisable from the one they were born into.

These rapid economic changes have caused a huge skills deficit in our young people. Many of them will have skills that are now obsolete, or don’t fit the economic needs of the day and the future. This deficit will only increase as the type of jobs that make up our economy change as we move towards net-zero.

The pandemic has hit young people the hardest, exacerbating this skills crisis. A report from the Resolution Foundation showed that 23% of employees aged 18-24 years old being furloughed and a further 9% losing their jobs.

One month after the U.K. went into lockdown, the number of 18-24 years old claiming unemployment related benefits increased by 59% compared with the previous month, while the number of apprenticeships offered by employers fell 80% of pre-virus expectations.  Education and training opportunities for young people have interrupted, creating long-term implications for the post-pandemic recovery.

We need a wholesale revolution in the way we approach skills and training if we are to meet the economic needs of our future, and to allow workers to transition into high quality, high skilled jobs. Fundamentally that means rebuilding the country’s devastated adult skills system, giving workers both the right and the opportunity to retrain and reskill.

One such solution would be a JobCentre Plus work and train guarantee, wherein there is a promise to everyone that after a period out of work you get a short-term placement or apprenticeships. JobCentres should work on the premise that everyone can learn whilst they are jobseeking.

There must be widened access to apprenticeships. In the wake of the pandemic, apprenticeships should support the young into work. As the economy develops they should mature into system providing intensive accredited training to employees of all ages and all occupation levels, for those starting out and for those reskilling or trying to take the next step in their career.

Government must also be much more proactive, including in offering funding for strategically important training. Each local area should offer free qualifications in priority skills, with what those skills are depending on need in the local authority. This should include qualifications at level 4 and above and cover those workers who already have a qualification as well as those who don’t yet.

And like local areas, sectors should also be able to create schemes for reskilling, specialisation and advancement specific to their sector.

“We need a wholesale revolution in the way we approach skills and training if we are to meet the economic needs of our future.”

Underpinning the support of specific learning programmes, the U.K. should develop a national digital skills service for everyone, supplying decent quality careers advice and guidance, bitesized digital learning opportunities, a record of a learner’s achievement, and support for applying for training programmes and getting funding.

We know people can’t afford to train if they don’t get paid. It is not enough to just allow workers to retrain, they must be actively enabled to do so. Employers should still pay for workers to train, but for those reskilling or upskilling to change occupations the government should fund workers so they can afford to make the shift.

If you are learning and take time off work to do so, you should get an allowance, initially set at £30 per day. This would not be for core training for your current job, but should help you with upskilling or career change training. A statutory training allowance should play the same role for those who are self-employed or otherwise ineligible.

Those who are training part time should be supported to do so by the universal credit system. We need changes to the rules of universal credit so that participation in an accredited course is always an acceptable reason for you to be working part time.

The pandemic has permanently altered our world of work, but that gives us an opportunity to do things differently. As we are competing for a better working world, it is vital that skills and retraining is at the heart of our approach to allow and support workers to transition into jobs for the future.

If you are a member of Community and need help or advice, please contact us at or on 0800 389 6332.

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