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Developing workforce skills for a strong economy


In July 2022 the NAO reported that the UK “faces a major challenge in ensuring it has a sufficiently skilled workforce”, with the head of the NAO, the Comptroller and Auditor General, concluding that “There is a risk that, despite government’s greater activity and good intent, its approach may be no more successful than previous attempts to provide the country with the skills it needs.”

A skilled workforce is critical to the country’s economic success and to achieving other government aims such as “levelling up”. Economic and societal changes are making the skills challenge more acute - the UK’s exit from the EU has reduced the supply of workers from member states and potentially increased the need for the country to train its own workers. The Government’s commitment to achieve ‘net zero’ greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 will create new skilled jobs and around one in five existing jobs is likely to be affected by the transition.

But the NAO found that participation in government-funded further education and skills training has declined significantly, particularly in disadvantaged areas. The number of adult learners fell by 48% over the last decade, from 3.2 million in 2010/11 to 1.6 million in 2020/21. From 2015/16 to 2020/21, the number of participants aged 19 and over in England’s 20% most disadvantaged areas dropped by 39%, compared with a 29% drop overall.

Largely because of the drop in learners, there was a 46% fall in the Skills Index – government’s measure of the impact of the further education system on productivity – from 2012/13 to 2020/21.

The 2022 white paper Levelling Up the United Kingdom set out the government’s plans to address regional and local inequalities, but according to the NAO report “its aims go only some way towards addressing the decline in participation in skills training”. By 2030, the government wants 200,000 more people in England to successfully complete high-quality skills training annually, including 80,000 more people in the lowest skilled areas. Achieving this would only partly reverse the fall of around 280,000 learners in the 20% most disadvantaged areas since 2015/16.

The Committee will question senior officials at the Departments for Education. If you have evidence on these findings and issues to inform PAC’s questioning of the departments, please submit it through the tab below by 6pm on Monday 10 October 2022.