This article is more than 1 year old

For growth, we need to be sure that training really pays

Analysis shows that people are keen to develop skills, but only if they can be sure the benefits outweigh the costs. Patrick Thomson tells us more.
This article is more than 1 year old

Patrick Thomson  is Head of Research, Analysis and Policy at Phoenix Insights

Longer lives means the potential for more, different jobs over an individual’s lifetime, and new technology means a greater need to update and revise skills and knowledge during your career.

In the current climate, with rampant inflation, sluggish growth, and an exodus of mid-life and older people from the workforce, it has never been more important to ensure opportunities exist for mid-life and older people to upskill or retrain.

Moving on up

Our two main political parties are currently competing over the ownership of two big ideas – economic security and aspiration. Both parties want to prove that they can grow the economy, overcome the cost of living crisis, and put pounds in our pockets.

But both parties also want to do so by focusing on individual aspiration – the idea that if you work and study hard, and play by the rules, you can expect to be rewarded with a good salary and a house to raise a family in.

Phoenix Insights is a new think tank dedicated to thinking about longevity – we are focused on the fact that, as people live for longer, every other public policy challenge we face will be affected, from healthcare, to housing, to the world of work. And nowhere is that more the case than skills and training.

We commissioned Public First to undertake wide-ranging analysis of the barriers that currently exist to this, both from individuals and business perspectives – and last week we published that analysis in full, along with a series of recommendations for government.

It’s got to be worth it

At their heart, our recommendations focus on the need for government, and businesses, to make training worth people’s time. On the one hand, this could mean through thinking about how the training is funded in the first place. We wrote on Wonkhe earlier this year about how the loan element of the government’s proposed Lifelong Loan Entitlement looks like being a big disincentive for mid-life and older people in particular.

But even if government decided it had to press on with a loan, it could still do more to incentivise training by focusing on the payoff for individuals, working hand in glove with businesses. The people we spoke to in focus groups were risk averse – they had mortgages, children to look after, parents they cared for.

But what if?

They did not feel they had the luxury of “risking it all” for a personal interest that might never lead to anything. They were, in a sense, truly selfless – putting personal ambition and fulfilment aside in favour of the security of feeding their family.

It’s a gamble. Especially if you’ve got mortgages, and if you’ve got children that depend on you…even if something new comes up. You look at it and go but what if (Train Driver, 42)

…sometimes I think, is it really worth it studying for three, four years, and then not getting a job at the end of it? (Medical Administrator, 56)

Supporting mid-life and older people to upskill and retrain benefits the economy – boosting productivity and potentially helping to reverse the trend in non-participation amongst over 50s. But, crucially, it also benefits individuals. We were told time and time again in focus groups of the positive potential of retraining to provide new opportunities and fulfilment in later life.

The pay off

If government is not going to guarantee payment for training, they at least need to give more certainty that training will pay off for individuals.

…although it sounds good, you’re good if you’ve got a job at the end of it, if I don’t, I’m stuck with the debt. (Stockroom Coordinator, 50)

It would only work if you’re going into school to learn something to open your own business or to go into a field like accountancy…So at least you know, that when you finish taking that loan, and you’ve gone back to school, you’re going into business for yourself, and you’re going to be able to repay that loan. (Transport Manager – Haulage, 47)

The desire and the interest is there – what’s missing is the pay off. Individuals don’t know what to expect – they don’t know if their salary will improve, or if they’ll get a promotion. They need to be certain that if they study hard and succeed in securing a new qualification, they will be rewarded with a job with better pay which they are genuinely interested in.


One response to “For growth, we need to be sure that training really pays

  1. Putting aside the assumed link between higher qualifications and higher pay, the Transport Manager above must be warned that there is little to support the notion that self employment leads to an increase in personal income.
    The majority of new startups fail within 5 years

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