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UK "sleepwalking" into low skills economy, says CIPD

The UK is near the bottom of an international class when it comes to key measures on skills, according to a damning new report.

HR professional body, the CIPD, is warning that the UK is "sleepwalking" into a low-value, low-skills economy. Its research shows that UK employers train less and invest less in skills than most other EU countries, and it is urging the Government to provide funding to tackle low skills in the workplace.

According to the CIPD report, "two decades of under-investment and failed policy on skills" have left the UK lagging behind its competitors in Europe and most members of the OECD on at least four key measures, including literacy and numeracy, learning and development, and digital skills. England and Northern Ireland, for example, together rank in the bottom four OECD countries for literacy and numeracy among 16-24 year olds.

The CIPD report - From "inadequate" to "outstanding": making the UK's skills system world class - says the UK is ill-prepared for its post-Brexit future, particularly if there are restrictions on accessing talent from outside the UK. The analysis is part of the CIPD's formal response to the Government's Industrial Strategy Green Paper.

Some of the key findings highlighted by the CIPD report include:

  • out of 19 countries, the UK ranks bottom of the class on young people's computer problem-solving skills;

  • UK employers spend less on training than other major EU economies and less than the EU average, and the gap has widened since 2005;

  • the UK sits fourth from bottom of the EU league table on participation in job-related adult learning, with a marked deterioration since 2007.

Lizzie Crowley, Skills Adviser for the CIPD and co-author of the report, said:

"This is a sobering analysis of the state of skills in the UK. Our report should serve as a real wake-up call for the Government … while more efforts are being made to reform education, it's clear that there needs to be a much greater emphasis on learning and development in the workplace."

The CIPD is calling on the Government to:

  • provide additional skills funding for the workplace;

  • put skills at the heart of the Industrial Strategy;

  • reframe the Apprenticeship Levy as a training levy;

  • encourage organisations to invest more in workplace learning.
"The Government should seize this moment to raise the ambitions of the UK," added Crowley. "We need to lift the lid on what is happening in UK workplaces and address skills at a much deeper and broader level than ever before."

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