What Has Been Happening to the Training of Workers in Britain?


We study trends in the volume, quality, funding and adequacy of training for employed persons in Britain since the mid 1990s, using evidence from eleven survey series in search of a consistent pattern. We find a ubiquitous inverted-U-shaped long-run pattern of training participation in a four-week period, both within groups and in aggregate. The overall participation rate for those in employment peaked in 2002 at 15.1% before falling to 13.1% in 2012, close to the level of the mid 1990s. The movement of annual participation rates is different between surveys. This conventional focus on participation rate movements, however, has obscured a more radical transformation. Over the same period the duration of training fell sharply with the result that the average training volume per worker declined by about a half between 1997 and 2012. While training volumes fell for all groups, they were greatest among the young, those in the private sector, those in the lowest education groups, and those living in Northern Ireland. Employers’ funding for training also declined substantially after 2005.

We discuss several potential explanations for such a large fall in training volume for employed persons, with contrasting implications for skills policy. Evidence on training type and quality, while informative, does not permit ruling out any of the interpretations. Recognition and discussion of the cut in training volumes may have been hindered by an undue focus on training participation rates. We conclude with recommendations for improvement in the collection of training statistics in the UK, and for future study.