Why upskilling matters - Business in the Community

Why upskilling matters

Post author image. Kate Carr
Kate Carr Employment and Skills manager at Business in the Community (BITC) explains why upskilling matters and introduces the new BITC report Upskilling for For All: supporting low-skilled employees to progress at work.

This week is Lifelong Learning Week, an annual opportunity to engage a wide range of stakeholders and raise the profile of lifelong learning. This year, Business in the Community’s (BITC) primary contribution to Lifelong Learning Week is publishing our new report, Upskilling for All, which explores some of the challenges employers face when developing their lower-skilled workers. The report also identifies examples of businesses doing interesting and innovative work to overcome these challenges.

The concept of Life Long Learning

The concept of lifelong learning is a well-established one. As working lives get longer and roles transform in the face of climate change and the advent of artificial intelligence (AI), it is almost universally accepted among employers and policymakers that the labour force will need to continually develop new skills for individuals, businesses and economies to grow and prosper. The risks associated with insufficient investment in skills are already well-known: nearly three-quarters of firms report experiencing skills shortages1, and it’s estimated that the skills shortfall will cost the UK economy around £120 billion by 2030.2

Are we living through a skills revolution?

Despite the substantial and growing skills shortages, evidence suggests that the skills revolution is not yet underway. Average employer spending on training has decreased by 27% per trainee since 20113 and since its peak in 2003-4, public funding for adult skills has fallen by 31% in real terms4.

The money that is being spent on skills development isn’t necessarily being targeted most effectively. Analysis undertaken by the Learning & Work Institute in 2019 suggested that by 2030, there would be a potential shortfall in England of 2.5 million highly skilled people and a surplus of 3.1 million people for intermediate and low skills.5 Yet four years later, the BITC research published today (November 9 2023) has found that employers are providing more development opportunities to their highly skilled employees than to the ones most at risk of losing jobs during the digital and climate transformation. The research found that 65% of lower-skilled workers have had no company-funded development opportunities in the past two years, compared to 38% of higher-skilled workers.6 Directing more upskilling opportunities towards higher-skilled employees has implications for workforce diversity across the board, as ethnically diverse people, women and disabled people are all over-represented in lower-skilled roles.7

How to direct development opportunities to those in need

BITC research, undertaken in collaboration with Phoenix Group, discovered why so many employers struggle to direct their development offerings to the people most in need. The challenges that were identified can be grouped into three main categories:

  1. A lack of skills data – if businesses don’t know the skills they have or need in the future, it’s difficult for them to target development opportunities effectively (thereby making the business case more challenging to prove to budget holders).
  2. Unmotivated line managers – for many line managers, upskilling their direct reports is a ‘nice to do’ rather than a necessity. They need to be equipped to support the development of their team.
  3. Unengaged employees – it isn’t sufficient to make training available; workers need to be persuaded of the benefit of upskilling.

Learning and Development professionals must tackle the skills problem for business continuity and success. To drive change, they need to make the case for upskilling to senior leaders, using the power of data and hard evidence. They need to equip line managers for their role in upskilling their direct reports, providing them with the time and skills they need to have meaningful development conversations with their team.

Overall, they need to demonstrate to all their employees that there is real value in participating in the opportunities that are available to them. The only way to get the buy-in needed across the board is by building a unique business case for all involved. This will ensure we have a workforce that thrives in the face of constant change and innovation.

Introducing our new report
Upskilling for All: supporting low-skilled workers to progress at work

fairer, greener, together
what if no one was left behind?

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Social mobility can be defined as the link between a person’s occupation and income and that of their parents. Where there is a strong link there is a lower level of social mobility, and where the link is weaker there is greater social mobility. 

At Business in the Community, we inspire and support our members to take action on social mobility through interventions aimed at education, inclusive recruitment and in work progression and support. 

Ban the Box calls on employers to create a fair opportunity for people with convictions by removing the tick box from application forms and asking about criminal convictions later in the recruitment process if and when it becomes necessary. Signing up to Ban the Box is now one of the actions included in our Opening Doors campaign.

Find out how your organisation can join the Ban the Box campaign

The Opening Doors campaign is primarily focused on those groups who are disadvantaged in the labour market because of their background or life experience. 

These include ex-military, people with convictions, people experiencing homelessness, long-term unemployed, refugees, young people, older workers, disabled people, neurodiverse people.
This list is not exhaustive, and a business may identify other groups it would like to support, including those facing intersectional barriers relating to race or gender


    1The Open University, Business Barometer, 2022
    2 Learning & Work Institute, Local Skills Deficits and Spare Capacity, 2019

    3Institute for Fiscal Studies, Investment in Training and Skills, October 2023

    4 Institute for Fiscal Studies, Investment in Training and Skills, October 2023

    5 Learning & Work Institute, Local Skills Deficits and Spare Capacity, 2019

    6 BITC-commissioned research by YouGov, 2023

    7In-Work Progression Committee, Supporting Progression out of Low Pay, 2021