The UK is behind its neighbors in basic functional skills
The UK Government has commissioned a number of studies since the Leitch Review so it may be possible that a repeat study may not be conducted; the Government are currently silent on this.
There has been much to-ing and fro-ing with changes in government policy informed by the findings of different reviews, but the common finding in all the research data is that the UK is still behind its neighbors.
Initiatives such as Train to Gain (2006) were introduced to encourage employers to take up training opportunities and ‘do their bit’ to bring basic functional skills level up. In practice, the take up of this scheme was much lower than desired and so was cancelled in 2010 and a new strategy for Skills for Sustainable Growth was launched. The aim and focus of the new strategy was to provide learning and development opportunities (with the promise of tens of millions in funding) to “equip individuals with skills and qualifications they need to get a job, progress in work and play a full part in society”. There is a clear link in the research to the impact that poor basic functional skills has on productivity and ultimately on the UK’s GDP.
UK are falling further behind in the world tables. In fact it was quoted in the Guardian earlier this year that UK productivity is at its worst since the Industrial Revolution.
Despite Government effort, the UK clearly has a long way to go to compete on the world stage. Employers have access to Apprenticeships and the new T-Levels which are excellent ways to develop skills and talent in the businesses. However, employers must recognise and take responsibility for what more can be done to support people entering the labour market, especially in the post-COVID world. There are a number of funded courses available to improve on individual numeracy and literacy skills and often all that is needed is some guidance of where to look and how to apply. HR practitioners can research what is available in their area and make a commitment to providing opportunity for staff to improve their basic functional skills, and importantly, not to completely discount potential new employees on the basis that they scored low on functional skills during any assessment of them.
Businesses that are unable or unwilling to recruit people that fall short of the standard required for the roles can still get involved through mentorship programs and offering work placements and encouragement to individuals that need the lucky break to springboard forward in their search for meaningful employment.
In the HR profession we are perfectly placed to encourage business leaders to really think about this. We can present an evidence-based business case that being committed to improving basic functional skills not only widens the labour market but also improves loyalty, commitment and engagement in the workplace. This leads to many other benefits that can be measured on the bottom line. We are the People Profession, the CIPD is pushing us to have greater awareness and impact, to redraw the boundaries, shape strategy and lead transformation.
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