Developing workforce skills for a strong economy – Report Summary

This is a House of Commons Committee report, with recommendations to government. The Government has two months to respond.

Author: Committee of Public Accounts

Related inquiry: Developing workforce skills for a strong economy

Date Published: 14 December 2022

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Having enough people with the right workforce skills is vital to the country’s economic growth and prosperity. The Department for Education (DfE) spends at least £4 billion each year on activities designed to develop workforce skills in England, but evidence shows that the skills system is failing to deliver the skills we need. In particular, the number of adults participating in government-funded further education and skills training has dropped dramatically, from 3.2 million in 2010/11 to 1.6 million in 2020/21. The fall in participation has been particularly marked in disadvantaged areas, with skills training in the 20% most disadvantaged areas of England falling by 39% between 2015/16 and 2020/21.

DfE’s response is not commensurate with the scale of the problem and is not effectively addressing the wider economic and societal factors that are creating skills shortages or a demand for new skills, such as the UK’s exit from the EU and the transition to net zero. DfE places great emphasis on its Skills Bootcamps programme, but these courses are short and sharp, offering up to 16 weeks of training, and only 24,500 people had started a course by April 2022.

DfE’s approach to skills is employer-led, meaning that employers are intended to have a central role in identifying skills needs and designing qualifications and training. However, employers are now spending less than they used to on workforce training, with the average expenditure on workforce training per employee falling in real terms from £1,710 in 2011 to £1,530 in 2019. Employers must clearly play a leading role, but the input of other bodies is also crucial if the skills system is to work effectively – local authorities, local enterprise partnerships, colleges and others all have a legitimate interest in co-producing skills programmes, alongside businesses and other employers.