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Adult education and lifelong learning critical to address training and skills gap

As the economy reopens from the pandemic, a new CBI/Birkbeck survey shows a commitment by employers towards skills investment but with a significant shortfall.

A photo of Birkbeck's new learning space at 373 Euston Road

With a post-pandemic world on the horizon, employers are swiftly turning their eye to the skills needs of their workforce, an issue identified pre-pandemic and amplified by COVID. Their responses are captured in the 2021 Confederation of Business Industry (CBI)/Birkbeck, University of London Education and Skills Survey, published today.

According to the April 2021 survey, completed by 252 respondents, over the next three to five years companies expect to have greater demand for people with skills across all levels- entry, intermediate and higher- with the increased need in excess of 30% for all levels of staff.  Subsequently, four in ten employers already plan to increase investment in training compared with pre-COVID levels in response to accelerating changes to work. Previous research by the CBI has already shown that 9 in 10 employees need to gain new skills by 2030.

Professor David Latchman, Vice-Chancellor, Birkbeck University of London commented, “Events of the past 18 months have highlighted the pressing need for the provision of high quality, flexible and effective education and training that meets employers’ needs…Both the higher and further education sectors have crucial roles to play in meeting this demand and must respond accordingly.

“Birkbeck is also committed to pressing the Government to ensure that education and skills policy is fit for purpose and while we welcome the Skills and Post-16 Bill, we continue to seek reform to better support those left unemployed as a result of the pandemic and those who are seeking to reskill through new qualifications.”

The survey is timely as many companies struggle to fill vacancies with the economy reopening from the pandemic. Structural and Covid-related issues have been determined as responsible for some of the recruitment challenges in some sectors.

Matthew Fell, CBI Chief UK Policy Director, said, “Firms are currently facing a perfect storm of staff shortages worsened by rising levels of self-isolation. They’re taking immediate steps to resolve this…But the Government needs to play its part too on skills and immigration.

“Longer-term, the Skills & Post-16 Education Bill is an opportunity to deliver on the confidence of most firms that they can meet skills needs in three to five years’ time. To support individuals to gain new skills, the Government should make flexible, bitesize training more accessible before the Lifelong Learning Entitlement is introduced in 2025. Building closer local links between employers and education providers will also be key to supporting every UK region and nation to thrive and ensuring our economy can fire on all cylinders.”

Birkbeck is well placed to respond to the skills needs of businesses. It supports students of all ages and at all stages in their lives and careers to study, predominantly part-time and in the evening. This enables working people to combine the development of vital skills with work and other commitments through a wide range of programmes from short courses to PhDs. It is also creating a Centre for Professional Development, specifically to help meet the needs of employers and employees, post-pandemic.

The 13th CBI Education and Skills Survey 2021 was conducted between 15-30 April 2021, with responses from businesses and trade associations. The report was written in partnership with Birkbeck, University of London.

Over half of firms who responded to the survey have fewer than 199 employees (56%), 13% have between 200 and 499 employees and 31% have over 500 employees.

Respondents were drawn from all sectors of the economy, with the most represented sectors being manufacturing (19%), other service activities (16%), construction (13%) and education (10%).

Further Information

Read more about the CBI/Birkbeck report here.

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