UK government to support job training to tackle COVID-19 unemployment

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak leaves No 11 Downing Street for the House of Commons to give MPs details of his Winter Economy Plan.
UK chancellor Rishi Sunak said last week unemployment 'is already rising and will continue to rise.' Photo: PA

The UK government will launch new training options in an effort to boost productivity and tackle unemployment to help the country recover from the impact of the coronavirus crisis.

The support will include funding to allow adults without qualifications to take certain educational courses for free, as well as flexible loans allowing people to space out their studies and transfer credits between institutions.

The government hopes that people learning new skills will help tackle the unemployment rate, which stands at 4.1%, according to the Office for National Statistics. Unemployment levels are expected to increase as the government’s job retention furlough scheme comes to an end in October, to be replaced by a scaled-back job support programme.

Last week, the UK chancellor Rishi Sunak admitted unemployment will continue to rise, even as he unveiled a package of new crisis measures designed to save firms and jobs. The finance minister set out a string of new policies in his “Winter Economy Plan,” which firms cautiously welcomed but warned did not go far enough to prevent lay-offs.

Watch: What is the government’s new job support programme?

The scheme is designed to prevent redundancies, by topping-up the wages of workers who work and are paid for at least a third of their typical hours. The Treasury said employees working a third of their usual hours would receive 77% of their normal hours.

“Of course unemployment is already rising and will continue to rise. That’s a complete tragedy,” said Sunak.

READ MORE: UK government unveils 'Winter Economy Plan' to protect jobs and firms

Prime minister Boris Johnson is expected to say on Tuesday: “We cannot, alas, save every job. What we can do is give people the skills to find and create new and better jobs,” according to excerpts sent by his office.

“We’re transforming the foundations of the skills system so that everyone has the chance to train and retrain,” he will say.

In a statement on Tuesday, Johnson suggested that some jobs in traditional shops, pubs or restaurants may be gone for good. “Before COVID people were already shopping ever more online, were already sending out for food.”

Coronavirus “has compressed that revolution,” he said.

The government will also provide more funding for apprenticeships at small and medium-sized firms (SMEs), and will extend a pilot programme known as “digital skill boot camps” to new locations.

Levels of vocational training have been falling over the past twenty years, the government said, with only 10% of adults in Britain holding a higher technical qualification as their highest qualification, compared with 20% in Germany and 34% in Canada.

UK businesses have complained of a shortage of skills in the workforce affecting the country’s productivity.

Peter Cheese, CEO of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) welcomed the announcement but said the measures “must be just the beginning of further investment and reforms to ensure people can access the training and support they need to find employment.”

The CIPD is calling for the government to take further action to boost training and reskilling including reforming the apprenticeship levy to make it more flexible and investing £1bn ($1.3bn) in enhancing the Jobcentre Plus Rapid Response service to fund “bespoke sector-based training and employability support for up to 250,000 workers who have been made redundant.”

The CIPD also wants the government to provide funding to enable small and medium sized employers using the Job Support Scheme to use online training to develop the skills of their workers on reduced hours under the scheme when they are not working.

Watch: How to create the perfect CV