Degree-level learners are over four times more likely to access further training throughout their life than those with no qualifications, a new report has found.
‘Learning at work: Employer investment in skills,’ published today by the Learning and Work Institute, found almost one-third of graduates undertook training in quarter three of 2020, compared to one in 13 workers with no qualifications.
People in the lowest-paid occupations were also being left out of training. Just 11 per cent of workers in “elementary occupations” and “process and plant operative” jobs participated in training in quarter three of 2020, compared with 34 per cent of people in “professional occupations”.
Learning and Work Institute chief executive Stephen Evans believes the economy is being “held back” because “the lowest paid and those with the fewest qualifications are most likely to miss out” on training.
‘Sharp growth’ in degree-level training collides with drop in level 2 apprenticeships
The report, sponsored by NOCN, found an extra 1.2 million people would receive training every year if those with low qualifications participated in training like learners qualified to degree-level.
It also found that declines in employer training over the past decade mean workers get 20 million fewer training days each year than if training had stayed at 2011 levels, with the report saying these days are now “lost”.
The average employer’s investment in skills is also just half what it is in the EU, at £1,530 per worker, and it would take £6.5 billion a year for employers to make up the difference.
The report partly lays the blame on government apprenticeship reforms and adult education cuts. It states that the levy system, introduced in 2017, increased higher-level apprenticeships for older workers while felling opportunities for lower-level courses for younger workers.
There was a 5.4 per cent rise in apprentices aged over 25 between 2017/18 and 2019/20, coinciding with 4.8 per cent drop in apprentices aged under 19.
This is linked to a “sharp growth,” albeit from a low level, in degree-level training and steep declines in level 2 apprenticeships.
Spending on adult education has also been cut by 50 per cent in real terms, since 2009/10. Work-based learning for adults has seen an 18 per cent fall in real-terms overall spending since then.
This has meant “fewer opportunities for people to learn at lower levels,” leading to a 40 per cent drop in participation in adult basic skills provision in the last five years.
While the government has launched its lifetime skills guarantee and a new level 3 entitlement, the report says: “Growing level 3 and above learning is a good aim, but if it comes at the expense of basic skills and level 2 then it risks limiting opportunity.”
The Learning and Work Institute has said it will set out recommendations for increasing employer investment in skills and addressing inequalities in access to workplace learning in its next report.
Covid impacts young peoples’ training the harshest
Coronavirus is blamed for some more recent falls in employer training, with the report finding young people have been impacted by large drops in training during the pandemic, particularly if they work in the private sector.
Rates of participation in job-related training dropped the most for those aged 16 to 24 of any age group, slightly more than those aged 50 to 64. Participation by private sector workers fell for 16- to 24-year-olds far more than any other age group.
NOCN chief executive Graham Hasting-Evans has said the new report “highlights not only how the pandemic has affected investment in training but also identifies pre-pandemic issues of inequality and declining employer investment for skills.
“Skills investment from employers and the government is critical to ‘building back better’ from the pandemic and reducing inequalities in access to workplace learning.”
Report could raise fears about ‘middle class’ grab on apprenticeships
The findings on graduates accessing training far more easily than workers at lower levels are likely to heighten fears within government of a “middle class grab” on the apprenticeship programme.
Skills minister Gillian Keegan told the Commons education select committee in May the government was “fearful” degree apprenticeships were being chosen by people “who would have gone to university anyway,” which was “squeezing out” disadvantaged groups.
Her comments paralleled those of her predecessor Anne Milton, who told a House of Lords inquiry in 2018 “fears of a middle-class grab on apprenticeships” were “valid”.
Association of Colleges chief executive David Hughes said, in response to a report by think tank EDSK on the rise in degree apprenticeships, that their growth “has been at the expense of chances for younger people looking for their first opportunity in the workplace”.
A Department for Education spokesperson said they had “put reforming skills at the heart of our plans to recover from the pandemic”.
They highlighted the increase in apprentice incentives to £3,000 per learner and the £2.5 billion being put into the National Skills Fund “which will help adults to train and gain the valuable skills they need to improve their job prospects”.
The new level 3 entitlement, the spokesperson added, will affect an estimated 11 million adults in England, who will have “the potential to boost their career prospects and wages, while supporting the economy and building back better”.