The Adult Skills Gap : Is Falling Investment in UK Adults Stalling Social Mobility?

Luchinskaya, Daria and Dickinson, Peter (2019) The Adult Skills Gap : Is Falling Investment in UK Adults Stalling Social Mobility? Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, London.

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Britain’s low levels of social mobility has attracted considerable amounts of research with much of the attention focused on improving education and skills in young people. However, a crucial and often overlooked area is adult skills. In this report, we look at the adult skills landscape – by examining who invests in, and who participates in, job-related training and education. We consider how these trends have changed over time and to what extent adult skills affect social mobility. We uncover evidence that people from the lowest socio-economic backgrounds are the least likely to receive adult skills investment. First, there is growing evidence to suggest that those whose parents were working class are less likely to do training than if their parents were middle class – even though they are doing the same type of job. Second, employers are more likely to invest in those with higher skills while better-off individuals are also more likely to fund their own training. This results in widening existing skills gaps as people from working class backgrounds are less likely to have higher skills – and are less likely to earn high wages – than their peers from better off backgrounds. We also found mixed evidence of the returns to investment in adult skills. Research consistently suggests that the highest qualifications tend to lead to the highest returns, that academic qualifications lead to higher returns than vocational ones at the same level, and that qualifications gained later in life tend to secure lower returns than the same qualifications earlier on. Adult skills provide second chances to individuals, but those who benefit most are overwhelmingly those who already have higher levels of adult skills.