Work related training in long term decline

| January 5, 2018

Despite repeated calls for a better trained workforce to increase productivity and equip workers for economic and technological change, the number of people undergoing work-related training is in long term decline.

Participation in on the job education fell from 27% in 2013 to just 22% in 2016-17 for working age Australians, according to a new survey released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Data for the Survey of Work-Related Training and Adult Learning was collected throughout Australia from July 2016 to June 2017.  The ABS found that four in ten (40.9%) working Australians aged between 15 and 74 – a total of 3.8 million people – participated in formal and/or non-formal learning in 2016-17.

Participation had decreased since the last survey in 2013 (46.4%), which in turn recorded a fall from 2005 (48.9%).

Work-related training can take many forms, from structured learning activities which earn a certificate, diploma or degree to seminars and conferences, and includes people who are currently unemployed as well as employees and business owners.

Releasing the results, ABS expert Stephen Collett observed that “the survey results show a decrease in work-related training over about three years. Men’s participation dropped from 27% to 22%, while women’s participation dropped from 27 per cent to 21%.”

One in two (50.5%) men participated in 2005, but this declined to 45.1% in 2013 and just 39.4% in 2016-17. Women’s participation rate was relatively stable between 2005 (47.2%) and 2013 (47.7%) but fell to 42.3% in 2016-17.

People with a non-school qualification were more than twice-as-likely to undergo work-related training than those without such qualifications in 2016-17, with 28% of people with additional qualifications undertaking more training, compared with 12% without.

Worryingly, participation has decreased for both these groups since 2013, from 35% for those with a non-school qualification and 16% for those without a non-school qualification.

Unsurprisingly, work related education was more commonly undertaken by people who are working or unemployed (46.1%) than those who are not in the labour force (28.1%).

However, training for people in the labour force has decreased from 59.1% in 2005 to 53.1% in 2013 and 46.1% in 2016-17. Participation by people outside the labour market increased from 2005 (25.2%) to 2013 (29.9%) but then fell again in 2016-17 to 28.1%.

The survey found that one in 10 Australians aged 15 to 74 would like to undergo more work-related training. Almost half of these people said that too much work or too little time stopped them from doing so more while about one in four people who wanted more training complained its cost was prohibitive.

While individuals can be encouraged to develop their own skills and the government is routinely asked to extend public provision, firms of all types must also provide more training to their staff. The business sector cannot complain of skills shortages if it shies from investment in its own staff and relies on others to provide the training they need.

Firms routinely call their staff their most important asset and reversing the decline by investing greater time and resources in 2018 would put substance behind the claim.

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