#TUC21: Tackling the skills gap

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.

Unfortunately, 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. It is also true that some employers have been unwilling to invest in skills, training and retraining, contributing to reported labour shortages.

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. Without action, 7 million extra workers will have insufficient skills for their job by 2030.

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.

The motion we are bringing before Congress today we hope would be the first step to achieving that.

For this motion on closing the skills gap, Congress calls upon the TUC to support union campaigns to publicise training opportunities, and the importance of skills development. We demand the government to create an improved integrated adult skills system in the UK.

We also call upon employers to provide additional support to workers at risk of digital exclusion, as well as pre-emptively retrain workers and provide information about the key skills their workforce will require in the future. We further call upon the TUC to campaign for a right to retrain and reskill for those at risk of unemployment

The pandemic has permanently altered our world of work, but that gives us an opportunity to do things differently. As we gather as unions for Congress, it is vital that skills and retraining is at the heart of our campaigning 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 help@community-tu.org or on 0800 389 6332.

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