No One Left Behind? How Employers Fail Low-skilled Workers - Business in the Community

No One Left Behind? How Employers Fail Low-skilled Workers

Post author image. Kate Carr
Kate Carr, Employment and Skills Manager, Business in the Community (BITC) on the importance of upskilling lower-skilled and lower-paid workers.

The world of work is changing. Automation and climate change mean that many roles will be lost entirely while others will require workers to develop new skills. Lower-skilled and lower-paid workers are most at risk from these changes, yet new research commissioned by Business in the Community (BITC), in collaboration with Phoenix Group, finds that this group of workers has far less support from employers to upskill than their higher-skilled, higher-paid colleagues.

BITC commissioned a YouGov survey to gain insights into the extent to which there may be differences in the aspirations and motivations of workers with different skill levels and, crucially, whether employer behaviour might be driving some of those differences.

The research found that career progression is important to a much smaller percentage of lower-skilled workers than their higher-skilled peers (25% vs 60%). However, we also asked respondents how they felt about their current job and the opportunities available to them in that role. The research found that, compared to higher-skilled employees, lower-skilled workers are:

  • less likely to feel that their current job makes good use of their skills and abilities (55% vs 76%)
  • less knowledgeable about the new skills they need to progress their career (48% vs 70%)
  • less likely to have been encouraged to gain new skills for more senior roles (26% vs 57%), and
  • less likely to believe that they have an equal opportunity to advance within their current organisation (45% vs 66%).

Fewer opportunities available to lower-skilled workers

The research also found lower-skilled workers have less access to training and development opportunities than their higher-skilled peers. Across every category – from performance appraisals to line manager meetings to structured training programmes – lower-skilled workers report fewer opportunities. Overall, 45% of lower-skilled workers undertake no training or development activities in their current role, compared to 14% of higher-skilled employees.

So, lower-skilled employees are not using the skills that they have, don’t know what skills they need to progress, aren’t being encouraged to develop those skills, don’t feel that they have a good chance to progress their career within their organisation, and have unequal access to training and development opportunities compared to their higher-skilled peers. It is, therefore, perhaps unsurprising that they might feel less motivated – and able – to progress in their career.

Why employers should focus on upskilling

Skills development is a key element of good work. Employers have a responsibility to support every worker, at every level of the business, to upskill. In doing so, they will not only help workers break out of the cycle of low skill, and low pay, but they will also put themselves in a stronger position, more able to respond to the skill needs of a greener, more digitised economy.

The research was commissioned as one strand of a broader project seeking to identify solutions that will enable businesses to better support their lower-skilled, lower-paid workers to participate in skills development opportunities. A final report will be published in the summer of 2023.

Next steps

  • If you are not yet a member, join BITC to help us create a skilled and inclusive workforce.


  • All statistics referenced in the blog are from the BITC-commissioned YouGov skills survey, March 2023.