At the Commission on Workers and Technology, we’ve spent two years speaking to workers up and down the country, everywhere from an insurance office to a factory floor to a supermarket, investigating what the rapidly changing world of technology will mean for workers. In this blog series, find out what we learned.
Every worker should have the freedom and the opportunity to get new skills. The world of work is changing. 80% of the people who will be in the workforce in 2030 are already in work today. It’s today’s workers who will be most affected by the technology change that’s coming.
Unfortunately, evidence shows that the UK 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%. And it’s often the workers who have the lowest skills levels who get the least training.
The government has not funded skills adequately either, 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.
There are ways workers can be given the support to adapt to technology change. Fundamentally that means rebuilding the country’s devastated adult skills system.
Our first prescription is a Jobcentre plus work and train guarantee. Starting as an emergency COVID-19 measure, it would expand into a work to train offer for everyone who is out of work and receiving social security. There should be 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.
Next, there must be widened access to apprenticeships. In the wake of COVID-19, apprenticeships should support the young into work. But 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.
Next, we think the government must offer funding for strategically important training. Each local area should offer free qualifications in priority skills- what those skills are will depend 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.
Underpinning the support of specific learning programmes, the UK should develop a national digital skills service for everyone, supplying decent quality careers advice and guidance, bite sized 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. 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’re 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.
Finally, we want to encourage employers to do the right thing on training. That means things like mandating employers to do skills reviews and give every worker access to a digital learning portal.
We want to see strengthened rights for workers to request time off to get training. And whilst workers are doing this, employers should support them by co-funding a system of statutory training pay.
The Commission for Workers and Technology is part of the Changing Work Centre, established by Community and the Fabian Society in February 2016 to explore progressive ideas for the modern world of work.
If you want to read more you can download the full report from our website, where you can also find resources for reps and members about managing technology in the workplace, and access to all our training and learning opportunities.