The UK Skills Agenda: some facts

By Zafar Iqbal

Skills are key levers for individual development, organisational efficiency and competitive advantage and national prosperity, however, the UK is lagging far behind with other developed nations in non- cognitive skills.  Notwithstanding policy and strategy reforms in response to the Leitch Review (2006), the UK‘s performance in skills base is yet stagnated (Anderson et al, 2014).   The proportion of UK young people staying in the education and training post 16 is low as compared to other developed countries.  The UK ranks at 17th out of 30 countries in the number of working adults without the skills at Level 2 (DeS, 2009). A LLUK survey found skills gaps in NVQ level 4 and above among existing workforce and new applicants for vacant posts and shortages of skills among new candidates with NVQ level 2 (LLUK, 2014).   The Britain has more people with low qualification levels than the major economies and is ranked 18th across the OECD. England has very little higher level of technical provision below degree level compared to international competitors (UKCES, 2014).

Reasons of skills deficit

The  skill  crisis  stems  with diverse factors such as the lack of appropriate technical knowledge and  employment skills in university graduates (Stephen et al, 2013), less investment in employee skill development (UKCES, 2014), structural changes in the business  (ONS, 2012) the prevalence of ‘internal skills gaps (Campbell, 2001) and  scarce  spending of  the UK annual income on education and  vocational provision of post-secondary level parallel  to other OECD economies (OECD, 2015).

Cost of skill crisis

The shortage of ‘economically valuable skills’ affects industrial competitiveness, workers’ efficiency and overall economic progress. The lack of required skills left 146,200 job vacancies unfilled in 2013 – a rise of almost sixty per cent from the previous year (Keenan, 2014). The output per hour worked in the UK is 21 per cent lower than the average from other six G7 members .

Lifelong sector and funding crisis 

The austerity agenda poses greater risks for the lifelong learning sector.  The coalition government reduced 20 per cent funding for lifelong sector where 35 per cent cut to the Adult Skills Budget deprived adults from gaining skills for success. The University and College Union estimates that 400,000 adults could deprive of learning under proposed 24 per cent cuts in the lifelong sector (The Independent, 2015). Another  report estimates  that funding  cuts in further education  removed one million learners from the education system since 2010 (Vinson, 2015) when  the ratio of youth unemployment to adult unemployment has been already higher than other leading economies.  And   up-skilling of   post- compulsory sector is feeble in poor industrial action. Only 10 per cent of UK employers employ apprentices and only 30 per cent of businesses offer young people work placement during education that is far lower than other EU members such as Switzerland, German and other (REC, 2015).


 Anderson et al (2014)   Making Education Work: A report from an Independent Advisory Group. London: Pearson.

Bensley, R. and Fisher, B. (2009) Community Health Education Methods: A Practical Guide, Burlington

Campbell, A. (2001)Skills in England 2001: The Key Messages, Available at:

(Accessed: 15 May 2015).

Elliott, L. (2014) ‘UK productivity gap with developed nations now widest for 20 years.’ Guardian, 20 February 2014. Available at:

(Accessed: 15 May 2015).

Lindsay, G. (2013) Values into Practice in Special Education. London:  Routledge.

LLUK (2014) A sector skills agreement for the lifelong learning sector stage 1- skills needs assessment. Available at:   (Accessed: 15 May 2015).

Maister  et al (2012)   True Professionalism: The Courage to Care about Your Clients & Career. New York:  Simon and Schuster

Peter, S. (2011) Teaching In The Lifelong Learning Sector. London:  McGraw-Hill Education.

Musset, P. and Field, S.  (2013)  A Skills beyond School Review of England, OECD Reviews of Vocational Education and Training. OECD Publishing/OECD.

(Accessed: 15 May 2015).

OECD (2015) United Kingdom’s skills snapshot’. Available at:

Recruitment & Employment Confederation -REC (2015),  Building The best job markets in  the world, LONDON: REC.

Schutte, S. (2015) Addressing the UK’s skills gap: Where should we start?’ Available at:

(Accessed: 15 May 2015).

Schutte,  S. (2015) UK Skills Gap Is Strangling the Economy’. Available at:

(Accessed: 15 May 2015).

Silversa , I. ( 2014)  UK Skills Shortage Crisis ‘Costing Britain Billions’

(Accessed: 15 May 2015)

Scales, et al (2012) Teaching in the Lifelong Learning Sector. London:  McGraw-Hill Education.

Sid Nair, C. and Mertova, P. (2011) Student Feedback: The Cornerstone to an Effective Quality Assurance System in Higher Education. London: Elsevier

UK Commission for Employment and Skills  (2014) Growth through people. Available at:

(Accessed: 15 May 2015).

Vinsong , J.  ( 2015 ) An investment in lifelong learning. Available at :

(Accessed: 15 May 2015)

Watters, K. (2007 )“Quality” in post compulsory education and training in England and Wales.  Available at :

(Accessed: 15 May 2015)

Be Sociable, Share!