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Addressing The Skills Gap Amongst The Low Paid Can Help The Welsh Economy

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As we all aware, Wales has some of the most disadvantaged communities in the UK and despite billions of pounds of European funding being spent to try and increase the prosperity of these areas, very little has changed in the last two decades.

One of the key solutions to improving the economic and social wellbeing of our poorer communities is to improve the levels of skills and education to enable in improving social mobility.

Whilst much of the focus has been on addressing this issue amongst young people, a report from the Social Mobility Commission suggests that the development of adult skills is as important in improving this situation.

Their research shows that the poorest adults with the lowest qualifications are the least likely to access training despite being the group who would benefit most. Whilst 30 per cent of graduates are likely to participate in further training, this falls to 8 per cent of those with no qualifications.

Similarly, almost twice as many people in managerial, professional and associate professional occupations access training as compared to those in manual occupations. This is compounded by other research that shows that nearly half of adults from the lowest socio-economic groups have received no training since leaving school.

Whilst around £36 billion was spent by employers on training, research suggests that this is prioritised on supporting high-qualified workers in senior positions for skill investment and that smaller employers are less likely than larger organisations to fund training. The public sector is also more likely to provide training than the private sector with 36 per cent of public sector workers participated in training as compared to 19 per cent in the private sector.

More worryingly, government funding currently only accounts for only 7 per cent of all investment in adult skills with the UK spending on vocational training per employee being half that of the EU average.

Therefore, it would seem that that those with the lowest (or no) qualifications are much less likely to get education and training and the highest qualified are likely to receive the most. To address this growing skills gap, the Commission suggests key changes by employers and Government.

For employers, they need to increase spending on lower-skilled, low-paid workers by improving the level and flow of skills within their business by developing workforce skills to help career progression. They should also look to invest in the skills of the unemployed and economically inactive people in their local areas to increase the skills supply into businesses.

To support this, Government needs to increase the availability, accessibility and quality of training for adults who need it most by increasing spending on education and training and prioritising this extra financial support for those with no/low skills and qualifications.

Certainly, if we are to have an economy that works for everyone, those with lower skills and qualifications must get the opportunity to improve themselves, especially at a time when there are threats to many low paid occupations from increased automation.

With Wales continuing to have an issue with adult training across many of its communities, the Welsh Government must ensure this is much of a priority over the next few years as the provision of educational opportunities for young people.