Originally posted on The Horizons Tracker.
Few aspects of modern society have remained unaffected in some way by the Covid-19 pandemic, and so it’s perhaps no surprise that a new report1 from the London School of Economics shows that job-based training is no different.
The report suggests that despite, in many cases chronic, skills shortages, firms are generally preferring to address these shortages via recruitment than they are via training. This broad trend has worsened during a pandemic that has forced many companies to tighten their belts, even while also demanding more from employees as they adapt to their new circumstances.
This decline in job-based training is particularly felt among young people, with lower-skilled workers consistently receiving low levels of training.
Investing in skills
The authors highlight that this is far from a new trend, and indeed concerns have been expressed for many years about the paucity of investment in skills and education, especially in the face of skills gaps in a growing number of disciplines and productivity that has flatlined in recent years.
The pandemic has obviously wrought huge disruption to the labor market, both in terms of the jobs that are available and the skills required to fulfil them. Since the early 2000s, however, we have seen a decline in training participation that promises to leave us with a thoroughly unprepared workforce for the challenges ahead.
The report, which focused on the UK market, reveals that not only has the frequency of training declined, but so too has the duration and quality of training.
“The total number of days trained per trainee in the UK has fallen by 18% from 7.8 in 2011 to 6.4 in 2017, and total training expenditure per trainee has fallen by 17%,” the authors say. “It appears that these general declines apply across industries, with the exception of the construction and wholesale & retail sectors where expenditure per trainee appears to have risen between 2011 and 2017, though average days per trainee declined in these sectors.”
The report reveals that while the UK does reasonably well in terms of training participation rates, the duration of these courses tends to be shorter than in other countries. What’s more, participants reveal that the training doesn’t really help them improve at work, which suggests a largely unsatisfactory experience is on offer.
Interestingly, while the data suggest that training participation has fallen in the round, publicly-funded training programs have grown. These typically involve apprenticeships, which have seen a concerted push by the UK government in recent years, with this effort resulting in a doubling of workers participating in apprenticeships in the last 15 years.
This generally optimistic picture is not reflected across the workforce, however. The total number of days trained per worker in the UK has fallen by 18% from 7.8 in 2011 to 6.4 in 2017, and total training expenditure per trainee has fallen by 17%,” the researchers explain.
This is a decline that is visible across industries, with the researchers suggesting it might be partly explained by the rise in online training that is cheaper and/or quicker to deliver. It might also, however, be a sign of falling quality as the proportion of workers being trained to a nationally recognized qualification fell from 22% in 2011 to 18% in 2017.
A sticking plaster
This was also reflected in reports from workers themselves that the majority of training tends to be around statutory inductions or health and safety rather than providing them with vital skills for their work.
Employers are tending to address the skills shortage instead by recruiting in the talent they need rather than developing the skills of their existing workforce. It’s a situation that the researchers believe is a short-term solution.
“First of all, employers report that nearly two-thirds of internal skill gaps are related to the fact that staff are new to the role,” they explain. “Furthermore, the most common skills lacking among staff are reportedly similar to those found lacking among applicants, such as time management and task prioritisation, contributing to nearly three-fifths of all skills gaps.”
“Finally, faster and better recruitment can be partly seen as a zero-sum game where firms compete for better-skilled workers without directly investing in their transferable skills.”
The data shows that training levels before the pandemic were lower in sectors where working from home was not an option during the pandemic. This means that those sectors most affected by the pandemic are also those in which workers will be least helped to adapt via training.
The paper reveals that the training rate in the first half of 2020 fell significantly, with the researchers highlighting the sharp fall in discretionary spending among firms and the focus instead on survival. This fall in training provision was greatest among younger and less-educated workers, who previous research suggests have been most affected by redundancies during the pandemic.
There is also a noticeable absence of training in the kind of transferrable skills that employers find so valuable, especially during an era in which the power of technology is rising and our ability to work effectively alongside it is increasingly defining our workplace experience.
“Most of the skills UK employers find to be lacking among applicants and existing staff are transferable: gaps in complex analytical skills reportedly contribute to 40% of all skill-shortage vacancies, and a third of all skill-shortage vacancies were attributed, at least in part, to a lack of digital skills, including both basic computer literacy and more advanced or specialist IT skills,” the researchers explain. “For personal skills, in both 2015 and 2017, the most common skill of this type lacking in the labor market was the ability to manage ones’ own time and task prioritization (51% of all skill-shortage vacancies were attributed to this).”
What can be done?
The researchers outline a number of policy interventions that could help to alleviate this chronic situation. The interventions are driven by the belief that firms seem unable or unwilling to invest more than they currently are in training their workforce, whether due to concerns about a return on that investment or simply difficult financial challenges.
As such, they urge the government to provide more incentives to encourage firms to invest in their workforce. These incentives include human capital tax credits, an expansion of the apprenticeship levy, and job creation and retraining skills that are largely devolved to local administrations who can better respond to local needs.
While Covid-19 has driven significant changes (for the better) in many areas of the workplace, it remains to be seen if it will deliver a renewed focus on workforce development that has largely been malignant for a generation.
Article source: Changes In Job-Related Training Since COVID-19.
- Li, J., Valero, A., & Ventura, G. (2020). Trends in job-related training and policies for building future skills into the recovery. Centre for Vocational Education Research (CVER), Discussion Paper 033. ↩