Not retiring: the need for more skills training

Why more needs to be done to reskill the workforce – both old and young – to face the demands of a fast-changing labour market.

Older man and younger woman looking at a computer


New data released this week after a parliamentary question from Labour shows that less than one in 20 new starters on the Government’s ‘skills bootcamps’ are aged between 55 and 67. The bootcamps are free courses lasting up to 16 weeks which are meant to help people in England build sector-specific skills. They are open to jobseekers, the number of whom has been rising in recent months.

Office for National Statistics figures out this week show the unemployment rate increased by 0.3 percentage points on the quarter to 4.2%. The Office for National Statistics says the increase in unemployment was driven by people who have been unemployed for up to six months which is in line with a rise in redundancies in response to economic uncertainty, including fluctuating inflation and rising interest rates.

Meanwhile, the economic inactivity figures were down, largely due to those who had not been working because they were caring for family looking to find work. The ONS says there was a significant shift from economic inactivity into unemployment in the period. Nevertheless, the number of people who are economically inactive due to health reasons, exacerbated by the crisis in the NHS, increased to a record high.

At the same time job vacancies continued to fall and total hours worked decreased as employers sought to cut costs. These pressures are likely to work their way down the supply chain in the next months with potentially more redundancies. Yet there remain a lot of labour shortages.

Reskilling is a huge issue when it comes to getting older workers who have taken career breaks, often for health reasons, back into the labour market. In fact, the Chancellor claimed that skills bootcamps would help over 50s build their skills and help “businesses to plug their skills gaps”.

There has been a lot of focus this week in the lead-up to the A Level results on apprenticeships as alternatives to years of student debt, with the Sutton Trust expressing concern that degree apprenticeships – one type of apprenticeship programme – tend to be going more to wealthier, older people than school leavers.

Both older and younger people – and those in the middle – may need on the job or other training to adapt to a fast-changing labour market. More redundancies are projected in the next months as we teeter on the brink of recession, according to a TUC analysis of job losses across sectors. We need to rebuild with a focus on quality jobs for the future.

Artificial Intelligence will transform the type of jobs available and people of all ages will struggle, but most particularly older workers who tend to miss out on internal training programmes, in addition to programmes such as the skills bootcamps. A recent survey found 54% of older workers said they had had training recently, but a quarter of those who hadn’t said training was prioritised for younger workers.

Much more effort needs to be put into retraining and reskilling the workforce and not just as a one-off, but continuously, given the speed of change. We need investment in lifelong learning if we are truly to adjust to the labour and social demands of the present and future.

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