Recent research from the CIPD highlights the skills challenges facing the UK and for the next Government if the country is to address the productivity gap and compete post Brexit. The report Making the UK's skills system world class shows that UK employers spend less on training than other major EU economies and less than the EU average, and the gap has widened since 2005. In 2010, the cost per employee was €266 in the UK, against €511 across the EU.

The research also finds that UK lies fourth from the bottom on the EU league table on participation in job-related adult learning, with evidence showing a marked deterioration since 2007.In light of this evidence you would expect skills and lifelong learning to feature strongly in the manifestos of the main political parties in the run up to the General Election on 8 June.

The Conservative Party has pledged to introduce a new right to request leave for training for all employees and a new national re-training scheme, which are both interesting ideas but leave significant questions. For example, how would the new right to request leave for training differ from the existing right to request time off for training? In addition, while we welcome the idea of a creating a national retraining scheme, we are concerned at the suggestion that companies will be able to use the Apprenticeship Levy to support wage costs as part of this initiative. In our view, a far better way to boost training opportunities for individuals and meet employers’ skills needs would be to reframe the Apprenticeship Levy as a more flexible training levy.

The Liberal Democrats have taken a different approach and have promised to create individual accounts for funding mature adult and part-time learning and training, and provide for all adults individual access to all necessary career information, advice and guidance. In the CIPD’s view, as we concluded in our report on skills, there is merit in government exploring the potential for developing personal learning accounts with scope for individual and employer co-investment. We also highlighted in our report the need for much better all-age careers, information advice and guidance.

The Labour Party has taken a more ambitious approach and promised to introduce free, lifelong education in Further Education (FE) colleges, enabling everyone to up-skill or retrain at any point in life. This recognition of the importance of life-long learning and people being able to re-skill or up-skill during the course of their working lives is welcome. However there are big questions over how this would be funded and whether public investment in skills should be linked more closely to supporting those in most need of help to invest in their own life-long learning or connected more closely to addressing skills shortages.

The CIPD believes significant steps need to be taken to reverse the decline in investment in adult skills and lifelong learning in recent years. Besides calling for personal learning accounts to be piloted, we have called for the apprenticeship levy to be made a more flexible training levy and for any funding raised by the Apprenticeship levy which does not go towards developing apprenticeships to be allocated to supporting lifelong learning and adult skills development.

More broadly, in our CIPD Manifesto for Work we have called for the next government to be much more active on boosting demand for skills by supporting and encouraging employers to raise their investment in skills, and improve how skills are effectively utilised in the workplace. In our view it is essential that UK industrial strategy has a stronger focus on boosting the quality of people management capability and identifying and matching skills across the economy, with government working in partnership with the UK Productivity Council, Investors in People, employers, professional bodies, unions and Growth Hubs and Local Enterprise Partnerships at a local and sector level.

About the author

Ben Willmott, Head of Public Policy

Ben leads the CIPD’s Public Policy team, which works to inform and shape debate, government policy and legislation in order to enable higher performance at work and better pathways into work for those seeking employment. His particular research and policy areas of interest include employment relations, employee engagement and wellbeing, absence and stress management, and leadership and management capability.

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