Adult Training, Skills Updating and Recession in the UK: The Implications for Competitiveness and Social Inclusion


Analysis of adult training in the UK sheds a great deal of light on the extent to which recent government policy has succeeded in meeting its objectives of improving economic competitiveness while enhancing social inclusion.

Across the UK workforce as a whole, average levels of job-related training have declined through much of the 2000s and have now returned to 1993 levels. Training rates at lower levels of qualification and in older age groups remain in absolute terms well below those for, respectively, highly-qualified and younger employees. But multivariate analysis of Labour Force Survey data from 1993 to 2009 shows that there has been some narrowing of the gap in training provision between low-qualified and highly-qualified employees. This has occurred as training rates for low-qualified people have remained steady or even increased slightly during the 2000s in spite of the overall decline in job-related training.

This may be counted as a partial success for training policies designed to enhance social inclusion. However, the narrowing of the training gap has been achieved more by levelling-down of training rates than by levelling-up. In particular, it reflects declining training rates for younger age groups holding higher education qualifications. These developments have negative implications for economic competitiveness because, as the paper shows through analysis of employer survey data for several different sectors, adult skill improvement and updating needs are widespread and apply to employees at all levels of qualification, not just workers with relatively low qualifications.

Further analysis of longitudinal training data for establishments covered by the employers’ survey suggests that the recent period of recession has also contributed to reductions in the coverage of adult training and especially reductions in off-the-job training for skilled and highly-qualified employees. This may help to further narrow the gap in training levels between low-qualified and well-qualified workers but, unless training levels can be raised for employees at all levels of qualification, growth in competitiveness may continue to be hindered by gaps in adult skills.