In 2008, Britain faces a vicious circle. High skills are worth more in labour markets than ever before. But millions still lack basic skills, and the people most likely to take part in formal learning are those who are already well qualified.
Despite the progressive goals of adult learning the danger is that it leads to greater polarisation in skills, leaving Britain less productive and less equal. This pamphlet explores which policies can help reverse this trend. It argues that reform of the education and training system is important, but insufficient. People face everyday barriers to training – from busy personal lives to low-skilled jobs – that limit their access to training opportunities. A coherent skills strategy therefore needs to work on three fronts: the labour market, the training system and people’s everyday lives.
The time has come to do everything possible to meet the needs of those with low formal skills but bigger ambitions, who deserve better.
Kate Oakley is a Demos Associate and Visiting Professor at City University and the University of the Arts, London. Duncan O’Leary was a senior researcher at Demos at the time of writing.