The outcome of the Public Account Committee’s (PAC) inquiry into Developing workforce skills for a strong economy presents evidence on the workforce skills crisis facing the UK and recommends steps to meet the challenge.  

Supporting businesses to up-skill their workforce

After hearing evidence from education providers and businesses on their skills needs, the committee presented concerning findings that average business investment in workforce training per employee declined from £1,710 in 2011 to £1,530 in 2019 despite the acute need for re- and up-skilling across sectors. These figures are supported by the recent Resolution Foundation’s Economic Future series report, Train in Vain?, which found that in 2020, just one in four workers had received work-related training in the previous three months. 

In light of this trend, NCUB supports the committee’s recommendation that the DfE, DWP and DLUHC review incentives for employer investment in staff training. However, against a backdrop of the significant costs facing businesses in the current economic climate, this should focus on constructive levers that can support businesses to upskill their workforce, and include a review of the apprenticeship levy.  

Collaborating to deliver local training and skills plans

To meet the skills challenge across the nation, the design and delivery of local skills improvement plans (LSIPs) must be driven by consortia of local Government, employers and education providers. These parties collectively hold the key to creating implementable and impactful skills pathways.  

Local businesses have a crucial role in curricula design, ensuring these contain the relevant and required skills employers need, that are directly applicable to the workplace. Complementing this, universities across the nation are equipped to deliver up-skilling and re-skilling programs, delivering  19,418 CPD and CE learner days in 2020-2021. 

Working together with local authorities, these organisations can develop and deliver training that reflects the nuanced composition of the local economy, workforce skill availability and business demand.  

However, NCUB submitted evidence to the inquiry that business engagement in curriculum development is low. Just 4% of the 4,000 businesses consulted told NCUB that they had been involved in this process. The major reported barrier to this is lack of resources, and the pandemic has further reduced collaboration between businesses and universities, with SME interaction particularly affected.  

The PAC inquiry concluded that employers must play a leading role in local skills, alongside the input of local authorities, local enterprise partnerships and colleges. To enable this, businesses need more support in order to enable engagement. 

Increasing the pool of talent

Evidence shows that access to training has fallen most for young workers under the age of 25. It is lowest for those with a lower level of education attainment, and those not in current employment, with just 13% of this cohort receiving training within the last 12 months.   

This analysis mirrors the committee’s findings around low and dropping participation rates of those from disadvantaged backgrounds in further education (FE) and skills programmes. It is clear that the availability of workforce skills will fail to meet employer demand without broadening the pool of talent engaging in skilled education. NCUB therefore calls for interventions to incentivise those from all backgrounds and in all regions to access flexible and engaging training, that results in a clear route to local employment.  

Developing a plan to support disadvantaged groups specifically to participate in training schemes, as recommended by the committee, is a must.  

Simplifying the skills landscape

Reviewing the schemes and programmes supported by Government, the committee finds that the “multiplicity of skills programmes makes it hard for employers and individuals to navigate to the training that best meets their needs.”  

Spanning the DfE, DWP and DLUHC, skills interventions and schemes are complex. The PAC recommends the DfE works with partner departments to review the number of skills programmes and eliminate overlap between them. This should streamline and simplify the system. The recent integration of Traineeships into existing DfE general provisions is a positive step in this direction.  

You can read the NCUB’s submission to the PAC inquiry from October 2022.