A major new report is calling for a root and branch reform of the UK’s training system to help businesses access the skills they need to boost productivity.

The final report from the Workplace Training and Development Commission (WTDC), set up by the British Chambers of Commerce in partnership with Indeed, follows an 18-month in-depth study of what businesses want from adult skills training provision in the UK.

The Commissioners, drawn from a range of business and skills backgrounds, believe it offers a blueprint for policy makers, trainers and firms to finally develop a system that works for both employers and employees.

Hundreds of companies from a wide range of sectors joined Chambers of Commerce, colleges, universities, independent training providers, Local Enterprise Partnerships and education professionals in giving evidence to the Commission.

The report identifies solutions to a series of obstacles for employers in using the current skills system, including issues of complexity, cost and inflexibility.

It also highlights a need for improved trust and co-operation between the different parties involved in skills planning and training provision – especially at the local level.

Other key recommendations include:

  • Help for smaller firms to identify and invest in the skills needs of their workforce
  • More bite-sized, flexible learning which supports people in work to gain new skills faster
  • A greater say for businesses on what skills training is needed at the local level
  • Better support for people to retrain and move into higher earning roles.
  • A renewed focus on digital skills and innovation

The report calls on policymakers to adopt its recommendations and encourages businesses to act decisively to resolve their skills needs, to help bolster productivity and growth as the economy rebuilds following the pandemic.

Its findings will now be shared with government education departments across the UK, Chambers of Commerce, and key stakeholders in the skills training sector.

Commenting on the findings, Jane Boardman, Chair of the Commission, said:

“The problem of skills shortages has long hampered the UK economy, leaving employers struggling to fill job vacancies and raise productivity. The workplace is rapidly becoming more digital and automated, so businesses need more people with the technical skills for these changing jobs. But too often employers cannot access the training they need and, as a result, are spending less and less on training each year.

“The impact of the pandemic has made investing in adult skills more important than ever. Employers need a more joined-up and flexible system that can respond quickly to skills needs and opportunities.

“The last year has seen the economy placed under the greatest strain it has experienced in decades and the full impact on employment and growth has yet to be seen. As businesses rebuild and respond to the challenges ahead, a more agile skills training system will be crucial.”

Hannah Essex, Co-Executive Director of the BCC and a member of the Commission, said:

“For too long, smaller businesses have struggled tnavigate the skills system and get what they need, when they need it. Now is the time to put employers’ needs first and transform the system for the better. Apprenticeships and technical qualifications are highly valued by businesses across many sectors and are key to resolving some skills shortages. But full qualifications are not always the right solution when it comes to wider adult workforce training.

“A more modular and agile approach will help businesses address skills shortages more quickly. And, as the economy emerges from the pandemic, individuals looking to change career and move into higher earning roles need more opportunities to upskill and retrain.

“Solving the UK’s skills crisis requires coordinated effort across business, government and the skills sector. Crucially, we need to create a more relevant, joined-up and flexible skills system that meets the needs of businesses wherever they are based in the UK. This means helping businesses to understand their employees’ training needs and ensuring the skills system delivers what is required both now and in readiness for the changes ahead.

“Key to success will be the full involvement of employers in local decisions on how we plan, deliver and fund the skills needed. But we are already seeing positive change in the skills system with recommendations from our interim report being reflected in the Government White Paper on Further Education.”

Pawel Adrjan, head of EMEA research at the global job site Indeed, said:

“Job postings on Indeed have grown 32% since the start of 2021 and are at their highest level since last March as the economy gears up for a recovery. The types of available job opportunities are also changing, with construction, manufacturing, software development, health and social care accounting for a greater share of vacancies today than before the pandemic. Growing demand for new workers and changes in the mix of available jobs have put adult skills and training back at the top of the labour market policy agenda.

“People have had to adapt since Covid-19 and our report shows that businesses seek similar flexibility when it comes to training. A more locally integrated plan that flexes to the requirements of business not only benefits employers but it also helps people whose ambitions are to rise into higher-skilled better paying jobs.

“Training might have slipped down the priority lists of businesses and policymakers over the past year but as the economy gets back on its feet there is now a golden opportunity to shape the skills of the future workforce to help boost Britain’s productivity.”

A full copy of the report can be found here: