Few people would disagree that upgrading skills is a vital component of any comprehensive employment strategy. Anyone who does should look at the data, which show that the employment rate of unskilled workers was about 50% in 2001, compared with 80% for workers holding a tertiary degree.
University qualifications might not be needed for everyone, but lifelong learning and training are important for all, and in particular, to improve the employment prospects of under-represented groups in the labour force. Educated people not only find work more easily, but can look forward to more stable careers. In the workplace, many employers invest in training because they know it can boost productivity and quality, as well as motivating staff, even if they are free to leave and take their skills to competitors.
Employees demand training, for personal development and to improve their career prospects and earnings. But despite such a broad agreement that training is important, there remains a problem of under-provision. Ironically, perhaps, educated people tend to have most access to training, while less educated employees tend to receive less training, as do part-time and temporary workers. And while training supply increases with firm size, demand for courses by employees does not.
One often overlooked reason for this is time, or rather, the lack of it. In fact, according to a survey reported in the Employment Outlook, time is the single most important reason workers cite for not being able to take up desired training courses (see chart).
And though high cost is also a barrier to learning, especially for the low-skilled groups, overcoming these financial constraints with loan schemes or individual subsidies would not help much where time-related constraints are the main obstacle to training participation.
Furthermore, a significant number of workers declare that they could not take all the training they wanted either because they were too busy at work, because the time schedule was inappropriate or because of family responsibilities. Taking all multiple answers into account, time was a problem for more than 60% of the workers who could not take the training they wanted.
A detailed analysis of the importance of training and upgrading workers’ skills and competencies is available in the Employment Outlook, at www.oecd.org/bookshop
©OECD Observer No 239, September 2003