UK faces 'stark choice' between retraining workers or long-term unemployment

The country faces a “stark choice” between investing in workers’ skills and lifelong learning or suffering sustained rates of high unemployment, a business group has warned.

The CBI said nine out of 10 people will need new skills by 2030 to support the future economy, requiring an additional £13 billion a year.

Research carried out before the virus crisis showed there was an urgent need to go further and faster than the Prime Minister’s Lifetime Skills Guarantee, said the CBI.

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New technologies and the changing nature of the UK’s economy are transforming the skills needed for many jobs, while other roles are being lost entirely, said its report.

Choice: The UK faces a stark choice between investing in training or preparing for long-term unemploymentChoice: The UK faces a stark choice between investing in training or preparing for long-term unemployment
Choice: The UK faces a stark choice between investing in training or preparing for long-term unemployment

The CBI said its analysis also showed failure to invest in skills will harm the livelihoods of the most disadvantaged, as participation in training by those in lower-skilled jobs most at risk of automation is 40% lower than that for higher-skilled workers.

The pandemic can be a catalyst for action, said the CBI, as many people are not working at full capacity so could be offered time to train.

CBI director-general Dame Carolyn Fairbairn said: “Ensuring people can adapt to the changing world of work will be one of the most important missions this country embarks on in the next decade. The economic impact of Covid-19 makes starting now only more urgent.

“The right skills strategy can help every worker to progress their careers, drive up living standards and level-up the country.

“But a failure to act will leave businesses facing skills shortages and workers facing long-term unemployment. We are at a fork in the road that requires urgent and decisive action.

“The recently announced Lifetime Skills Guarantee is an important step in the right direction, but it is only a start. The Government has long promised meaningful reform of the apprenticeship levy but has not delivered it. Meanwhile the number of apprenticeships continues to fall. It is time to end this failed experiment.

“The CBI wants to work with unions, education providers and Government to ensure that employees working fewer hours have as much opportunity as possible to retrain and reskill.”

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Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “Our priority is making sure people across the country gain the skills we know employers value and that will help our economy recover as we build back better from coronavirus.

“The Prime Minister recently announced a new lifetime skills guarantee that will help support adults across the country to make lifelong learning a reality – opening doors for more people to realise their talents, develop new skills and get better jobs.

“To help boost apprenticeship opportunities, we are supporting employers to invest in the skilled workforce they need to recover and grow by offering £2,000 for each new apprentice they hire aged under 25 and £1,500 for those aged 25 and over, in recognition of the value apprentices of any age can bring to businesses and to our economic recovery.

“Our forthcoming White Paper will also outline plans to build a high-quality further education system that will provide the skills that individuals, employers and the economy need to grow and thrive.”

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