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Adult Skills and Social mobility

The Social Mobility Commission was set up to monitor progress towards improving social mobility in the UK, and promotes social mobility in England.

They recently released a report looking at the role adult skills can play in achieving this goal. They found that ‘Low pay is mainly a low skill problem but the UK currently lags behind other countries in giving adults a second chance to get on’ and that this was due to the UK spending relatively little on Adult Skills.

They also found some interesting insights into the culture of adult reskilling in the UK, with graduates being over 3 times more likely to participate in training than those with no qualifications. Previous research also showed half of adults from the lowest socio-economic groups having received no training since leaving school.

Low levels of investment aren’t just restricted to prior attainment; almost twice as many people in managerial, professional and associate professional occupations access training (30%) compared to those in intermediate (16%) or routine and manual occupations (18%). This is sustained across generations, with adults whose parents worked in professional or managerial occupations more likely to participate in training, no matter what their own occupation is, than those whose parents worked in lower-skilled occupations.

It is proposed that this is due to children of high-skilled parents being more likely to be high-qualified and in high-skilled jobs themselves, both of which increase access to training.

This disparity is also reflected in ethnic and gender backgrounds, with more women than men undertaking training (26% versus 21%), more people from Black and Black British ethnic backgrounds than from white backgrounds (32% to 23%), and more younger than older people (25% of 25-29 year olds compared to 17% of 60-64 year olds).

So what are the causes of these discrepancies? The Commission highlight that ‘since 2010, the proportion of training funded by government decreased and employer funding stayed flat, leaving individuals to fund more of their own training [with] Government only funding 7% of all investment in adult skills and in 2016-17 [the] UK spend on vocational training per employee was half the EU average.

The Commission has set out a suggested action plan, asking employers to address disparities in their training investment, asking government to increase the availability, accessibility and quality of training for adults who need it most and improve the quality of information available on adult skills, training and careers. These are welcome suggestions, but what is clear is that to truly address social mobility and the future productivity challenges of our economy, all of us in the Adult Further Education sector are going to have to play our part.


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