Learning and skills play a central role in driving economic growth, promoting social justice and supporting inclusive communities.
Over the last decade, economic growth has been slower than in the preceding decades. Independent forecasts suggest this is a permanent fall in the UK economy’s speed limit.
This is neither inevitable nor unavoidable. Seismic shifts in the global economy, driven by advances in technology, create huge opportunities. Making the most of them will require a world class skills base.
Learning and skills contribute to economic growth both directly, by improving the skills base available to employers, and indirectly, by underpinning the five foundations of productivity identified by the government: ideas, people, infrastructure, business environment, and places. This is the case for all levels of learning from basic skills to degree level – research clearly shows earnings, employment and productivity gains for each level of learning.
Skills also contribute to social justice, helping to improve social mobility (the extent to which an individual’s life chances do or do not depend on their family background) and reduce inequality (the gap between rich and poor). Again, this is the case at all levels of learning. Gaining basic skills helps people access opportunities, and widening access to higher education also opens up new career opportunities.
However, the UK’s skills base has long lagged that of comparator countries, holding back economic growth and social justice. Nine million people in England lack functional literacy and / or numeracy, and a higher proportion of people have low skills compared to other countries, leaving the UK mid-table at best in the international rankings.
Over the last decade, the rate of improvement in the UK’s skills base has slowed. This is the result of cuts in public funding for adult skills, alongside falling employer investment in skills. Consequently, participation in adult learning is at its lowest since Learning and Work Institute began conducting surveys twenty years ago and the number of adults improving their qualifications in further education has almost halved since 2010.
This report shows that the UK is on track to fall further back in the international league tables by 2030. Its qualification profile is projected to improve, but this would still fail to match other countries’ rates of improvement. This could see the UK:
• Falling from 4th to 6th of the G7 countries for low skills;
• Remaining 5th for intermediate qualifications; and
• Remaining 4th for higher qualifications. For literacy and numeracy, the report
projects that by 2030 England could:
• Literacy. Increase the proportion of adults with at least Level 2 proficiency from 83% to 85%, but still fall from 10th to 14th of the 17 countries in the survey; and
• Numeracy. Increase the proportion of adults with at least Level 2 proficiency from 75% to 77%, but still fall from 11th to 14th out of 17 countries.
The status quo is not good enough and will hold back economic growth and social justice. Reforms such as the Apprenticeship Levy and T Levels are welcome, but will not be sufficient. This report analyses the potential impact for the UK of a higher ambition based on:
• Increasing the proportion of people with functional literacy and numeracy to 90% by 2030;
• Increasing the proportion of people with medium qualifications with a greater focus on Level 3 qualifications. This would mean by 2030 20% and 30% of people have Level 2 and 3 qualifications respectively; and
• Maintaining the expected rate of progress in high qualifications, so that by 2030 43% of people have Level 4 qualifications or higher.
Achieving this scenario would boost the UK economy by £20 billion per year and support an additional 200,000 people into work, along with significant taxpayer savings. It would also improve social justice by widening opportunity and making sure that more people have the fundamental skills and capabilities increasingly needed for economic and social inclusion, as
well as bringing wider benefits to health, wellbeing and civic engagement.
Further improvements in education would contribute to improving the UK’s skills base. However, three quarters of the UK’s 2030 workforce has already left compulsory education, so a higher ambition will require significant increases in adult participation in learning. Skills policy is devolved and the changes needed will vary by country.
This scenario would require additional investment from individuals, employers
and the government of up to £1.9 billion per year. It is realistic to deliver: it would involve increasing the number of adults improving their skills each year to 2010 levels, reversing the cuts seen since then. There would be a case for going further and faster to improve our relative international position, but the scenario in this report is based on realistic assumptions about available levels of investment and how quickly support could be scaled up to engage adults and to deliver learning.
Ultimately the UK’s future prosperity and fairness relies on high quality learning
and skills. On current trends, the UK will remain average at best on most measures. In a rapidly changing global economy this simply is not good enough. There is a clear prize for setting a higher ambition: increasing economic growth and improving social justice.
Chosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor. Read the whole story at Time for action: skills for economic growth and social justice