Skills Training Boost to Combat Rising UK Unemployment

Colleges and businesses have urged ministers to increase college funding by nearly 40 per cent and give newly unemployed workers cash to retrain, as criticism mounts of Government efforts to tackle rising UK unemployment.

The CBI, Association of Colleges and Trades Union Congress on Sunday backed demands from the Institute for Public Policy Research think-tank for increased investment in further education to help those made redundant by the pandemic to find new jobs.

The proposals include ensuring people could still access benefits while training, and a job training scheme alongside furlough that would give people without A-level equivalents £4,000 to retrain.

The call comes ahead of a further education white paper, expected next month, and after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a “radical” shake-up of post-18 education. Government plans include free college courses for adults without A-level or equivalent qualifications.

“To support the sector we have protected grant funding, worth over £3bn for a full year, and this year we have also increased investment in education and training for 16 to 19-year-olds by an additional £400m,” a Government spokesperson said, adding that the white paper would build on existing work.

But Harry Quilter-Pinner, senior research fellow at the IPPR, said funding for further education remains “minuscule compared to the lost investment of the last decade”.

Funding for adult education has fallen by more than 45 per cent since 2009, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies think-tank. The IPPR recommends funding per pupil at colleges and sixth forms should increase to £8,300 from £5,200 by the end of parliament — a reversion to pre-austerity levels.

“The impact of underfunding is that the infrastructure that we need is really on its knees,” Mr Quilter-Pinner said.

“If the Government is really serious about the 50 per cent who don’t go to university, they have to put their money where their mouth is and invest in really high-quality courses for vocational education.”

Up to 1 million people now furloughed are in jobs that will disappear post-pandemic, according to IPPR estimates. But the Government’s training offer begins next April — too late to help those facing redundancy now.

The IPPR believes a job training scheme, which would give £4,000 to all those who have lost their job and do not have a level 3 qualification, could plug the gap.

Frances O’Grady, the General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress, said a training guarantee should run alongside a job creation programme, and focus on green tech jobs and those in health, social care, and public services.

“The Government’s job is to link it all up, so training gets unemployed workers directly into the priority work rebuilding our country,” she said.

David Hughes, Chief eEecutive of the Association for Colleges, said further funding for colleges was necessary but needed to be rolled out alongside further financial support for learners.

“We’ve got this mad, Kafkaesque world where people are looking for jobs that don’t exist, but they can’t get the training to find different jobs because they lose their universal credit,” he said. “This isn’t just about more funding — people need to actually be able to get training.”

The CBI, the employers’ organisation, said an extra £13bn would be needed to fund reskilling, including introducing training tax credits for smaller businesses.

“With nine in 10 UK workers needing some form of reskilling by 2030, boosting investment in further education and adult learning will help futureproof people’s livelihoods and level up opportunity,” said Matthew Percival, CBI People and Skills Director.

“The FE white paper is a golden opportunity to lay the foundations for a system that delivers the skills employers and individuals need to keep pace with the changing world of work.”

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