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Short courses in social care and ‘green jobs’ likely to help workers move out of coronavirus-hit sectors, though UK ill-prepared to deliver large-scale retraining programmes

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The UK’s inexperience in supporting workers through career changes does not leave policy makers with a clear roadmap for tackling unemployment, although short, specific training as part of job creation schemes could help those in hardest-hit sectors, the Resolution Foundation said today (Tuesday) in new analysis on the state of training and adult education in the UK.

The report Can training help workers change their stripes? uses 2012-18 data on adults’ life changes and finds that training is strongly associated with an increase in the odds of a person returning to work after a period of worklessness.

However, it notes that adult education and training in the UK is poorly equipped to support the large numbers of lower-qualified workers now at risk of losing jobs in sectors like hospitality, entertainment and retail, as opportunities before the crisis disproportionately focused on workers with high-level qualifications.

The report finds that, out of 100 recent work leavers aged 25-59 years old, 53 could be expected to return to work within two years without having taken any education or training while out of work. This rises to 68 with any kind of training, and to 71 if that training results in a qualification (a 15 and 19 percentage-point difference respectively).

Encouragingly, the association between training and re-entry into work is particularly strong for those with lower-level qualifications, especially younger non-graduate women. But despite this strong link, lower-qualified workless adults are half as likely to be in education or training than their higher-qualified counterparts.

While in work, lower-qualified workers fare no better. In-work training for non-graduates is most likely to be focussed on health and safety, while those with higher qualifications are more likely to receive training to improve their skills. Opportunities to train outside of work are becoming more limited, with non-employer-led training declining by 20 per cent since the early 2000s.

Given the positive role that training – particularly qualification-bearing training – can play in helping lower-qualified adults of all ages re-enter a job, the Foundation calls on the Government to look to training as one way to tackle the high levels of unemployment anticipated as a result of this crisis. This would sit alongside the support for young people in the form of apprenticeships and further education courses announced in the Summer Economic Update.

With the jobs market likely to shrink in those sectors hit hardest by lockdown, the report notes that policy makers should also prioritise interventions that can help the newly redundant to make a career change.

The research finds a strong association between participating in full-time education and making a career change, with the likelihood of changing industry and receiving a pay boost being nearly twice as large for adults who were recently in full-time study than for those who haven’t had any recent education or training. However, fewer than 2 per cent of 25-59-year-olds participate in this kind of intensive training each year, in part because of longstanding practical and financial barriers that prevent adults from returning to intensive education and training.

Given these barriers, the Foundation calls on the Government to focus on retraining programmes that are linked to job creation and align with longer-term policy goals.

It notes that jobs in social care and ‘green sectors’ that have relatively low barriers to entry, and so are likely to help the types of workers most at risk of losing their jobs during this crisis.

Kathleen Henehan, Senior Research and Policy Analyst at the Resolution Foundation, said:

“With significant redundancies expected by the end of the year, it’s vital to understand both what careers advice and educational resources are available to get people back into jobs, and what strategies will be most effective.

“In recent years, there’s been a lot of talk about the need for more adult education, but this has tended to focus narrowly on retraining workers in sectors like manufacturing that will be most affected by automation.

“We have neglected to make quality training more broadly available to those for whom it would make the most difference. For example, workless non-graduates stand to benefit most from training, but they’re less likely than the average worker to receive it.

“With these lower-qualified workers now most at risk of losing their jobs, the Government should focus on supporting the training courses necessary to enable their re-entry to work, while also linking retraining efforts to job creation in growing sectors, like social care and ‘green jobs’.”

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