Missing Millions

Undertrained, underemployed and unprepared: the UK is squandering the potential of millions of workers.

01 February 2020

  • New research from City & Guilds finds only 33% of working age people in the UK feel positive about their future career prospects
  • 34% of respondents have either not received workplace training in the last five years or have never had any such training – equating to 17.8 million people with outdated skills
  • 31.3 million people (60% of respondents) feel their skills are underutilised

In our latest research report, Missing Millions we shine a light on the worrying reality of the UK’s skills and productivity crisis.

As productivity continues to decline, it’s widely understood that businesses and Government need to prepare to meet the demands of the workplace of the future and ensure the country has the skilled workforce it will need over the next decade. However, the research reveals that people across the nation are being denied access to training and opportunities to upskill that would enable them to be more productive.

According to our report – which is based on findings from labour market economists Emsi and a poll of 5,000 working age people – only half (53%) have received workplace training in the last three years, and a third (34%) have either never received training, or did so more than five years ago. The lack of opportunity for skills development leads to only a third (33%) of the UK working age population feeling positive about their future career prospects.

In addition to this, 60% of respondents stated that they felt the skills they did have were underutilised at least 50% of the time, suggesting that employers are not fully capitalising on the skills they already have within their businesses.

Kirstie Donnelly, Interim CEO at City & Guilds, commented: “Today we are fortunate that unemployment sits at its lowest level since 1975, but this masks the fact that many people in the country are in fact underemployed and could contribute far more to society if given the opportunity. By unlocking more people’s full potential, we can both increase opportunities for social mobility and help to drive up productivity.

“Over the last decade, we have witnessed continued cuts to adult education funding, which has meant that certain groups of people have effectively been ‘left behind’. As the impact of Artificial Intelligence and the fourth industrial revolution continues to totally reshape the labour market, we need to see urgent action from the Government to reverse the decline of the lifelong learning sector – ensuring people in all areas have access to critical skills development and employers have access to the talent they so desperately need.”

Our research found:

  • Those from lower socio-economic groups were much less likely to have received training in the last five years (44% vs 68%) and were less satisfied with their career prospects (22% vs 39%) than those from higher socio-economic groups;
  • Those living in the North East of England faced a significant disadvantage in access to training and opportunities for progression when compared with other regions. Only 21% of people in the North East felt positive about the jobs market in their local area, compared to 45% in London;
  • Those working part-time – significantly more women than men – were also less likely to have received training in the last five years than those working full-time (61% vs 72%). Part-time workers were additionally far less likely to believe there was opportunity to progress than their full-time counterparts (22% vs 36%);
  • People highly value the training they do receive – 77% of those who had received workplace training stated that it had enabled them to be more effective at their job.

Kirstie continued: “From better provision of training and education across regions of the UK to better access to childcare giving more part-time workers the chance to upskill, we need to see immediate action from government and policy makers. We are already lagging behind the other G7 countries when it comes to productivity so it’s critical that we address this challenge head on if we are to retain our status as a leading global economy post Brexit. Harnessing the full potential of the people that are already in work – and are yearning to learn – would be a significant step in the right direction.”

As a result of the findings in the report, we are calling for government and policy makers, employers and individuals to take action:

  • Employers need to invest in skills development for people at all ages and levels of their career. They also need to get better at recognising and utilising people’s full skillsets.
  • Individuals need to start looking for more opportunities to upskill themselves outside of the workplace or put themselves forward for training at work, as well as showcasing their full range of skills to employers, both current and potential.
  • Government and policy makers need to urgently review adult education and create a system that encourages lifelong learning, retraining and reskilling. They need to provide better careers guidance and advice to people at all stages of their career.

The employer view:

Anthony Impey MBE, Serial entrepreneur & Chair of the Skills Policy Unit, Federation of Small Businesses: “As this research highlights, in society many people’s skills are underutilised. There are no quick fixes but there are things that employers can do such as looking in new places to find talent, as seemingly different jobs require many of the same skills, as well as embedding flexible working practices and make training available to people at all ages and stages of their careers.”

The economist’s view:

Andy Durman, Managing Director - Emsi UK: “This report emphasises two crucial factors to enable us to tap into the nation’s skills potential and make progress on closing the skills gap and boosting productivity. Firstly, because there are big differences in labour markets across the country, solutions must be locally relevant and based on a good understanding of employment needs at the local level. Secondly, because people are changing careers more rapidly than ever, and careers themselves are changing due to factors such as automation, we need to see education providers, economic developers and employers all coming together to promote the concept of lifelong learning, where people can add to their core skills throughout their working lives.”

Read the full report