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Sector news during Covid-19: Unemployment rockets and Centre For Social Justice launches skills report

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Jobcentre claimants have risen from 1.24 million to 2.8 million over the course of the UK pandemic, the Guardian has revealed. This is a rise some analysts said was the worst in over 100 years.

The figures should also be seen in the context of Rishi Sunak’s announcement that the furlough scheme will be gradually wound down in the run-up to its closure in October, raising fears of a further dramatic rise. Figures released this week show that 9.1 million workers have now been furloughed under the Job Retention Scheme. Major companies have announced redundancies, running into the thousands of job losses, over the period.

Employment and skills organisations are calling for urgent action from the government. We reported on the Institute of Employment’s ‘Back to Work’ plan, which argued for active labour programmes and skills training to combat the economic fallout from the pandemic.

This month, the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) released a new report – The Long Game: How to Reboot Skills Training for Disadvantaged Adults – aimed at tackling the adult skills deficit threatening to derail the UK economy:

“Covid-19,” the report says, “is already reshaping the labour market, and many people will need to retrain. And pandemic or no pandemic, the jobs market was already going to change radically in the face of automation. 1.5 million people are in jobs that are at high risk of automation. Low-skilled jobs are particularly exposed. With the destruction there will also be creation, but people will need to have the means to adapt.”

The key highlights of the Centre For Social Justice skills report are:

  • The skills problem is pronounced in the UK – a quarter of workers are underqualified in their employment. 11.3 million adults do not have basic digital skills. A third of working-age adults are only qualified to Level 2 or below.
  • A quarter of jobs are low-skilled. However, upskilling can give significant benefits to life chances as well as productivity.  
  • While school-level skills are critical, we must not neglect adult learning. It can help upskill existing populations and step in when the economy and labour market pivots.
  • The number of adult learners in the UK dropped from 4.4 million to 1.5 million between 2004/5 and 2017/18. Participation in community learning courses fell by 23% between 2011/12 and 2018/19.
  • The UK underrepresents Level 4 and 5 qualifications, despite labour market need. In 2018 there were nearly 400k STEM technician shortages. Part-time Level 4+ education has fallen by 70% since 2009/10. Employer-led training has also declined.

The CSJ made 14 recommendations, which includes reinstating grants for adult learning at all levels. Specifically, they highlight the need to improve the skills of those who left school with little. Emphasis should be on creating more opportunities at Level 4/5 and improving part-time adult participation in HE. The UK must also offer retraining for those made redundant in the pandemic.

Richard Alberg, CEO of Aptem, says:

“There will be no shortage of ideas to address the economic consequences of both long-term change and the short-term effects of the pandemic. CSJ’s report is an excellent analysis of the adult education sector and shows where we need to plug the gaps.

“We are doing everything we can to contribute the recovery. Aptem Skills and Aptem Enrol contain key adult skills training as well as employability solutions. We hope these will help mitigate the effects of rising unemployment so that a temporary blip doesn’t become a long-term catastrophe for struggling families.”

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