Data deficiency: how inaccurate reporting undermines the UK labour market

African businesswoman using analytics data

Nichola Hay explains why capturing workforce data on a wide range of L&D initiatives is an economic necessity

It was recently reported that workforce data provided by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has “a long way to go” when it comes to providing an accurate depiction of the current state of the UK labour market.     

With the right data, the Government could identify where the UK’s skills gaps are at present, and where they could appear in future 

Part of the problem lies in inaccurate reporting methods. For example, there has been a significant reduction in survey response rates since the pandemic. However, another pressing issue is that there is currently no data available on the number of people undertaking apprenticeships, or indeed any other major learning and development (L&D) initiatives.   

Transparent, real-time and regularly captured data across these areas is essential to understand how the supply of skills matches up with current and future demands. Overall, this type of data would be key to providing a much-needed boost to our country’s productivity levels.     

Improving local skills through data     

On a local level, data would help identify if the supply of skills matches up with current requirements and future demands. Better data would support Metro Mayors and devolved authorities in requesting appropriate and fair funding from the Government to help pinpoint and ultimately fill skills gaps in their area.    

Additionally, it would allow them to better inform Local Skills Improvement Plans (LSIPs) and ensure they fit their region’s needs, therefore supporting long-term regional growth.     

Better understanding the reach of the skills system    

Regularly captured data, that includes apprenticeships and wider L&D initiatives, would help us understand the reach of the skills system currently, and where there are gaps. Without accurate data, we can’t put plans in place to ensure more communities, across different regions and population groups, can access skills pathways.     

The right data would allow us to identify certain areas which are not fully benefiting from the skills system, and help pinpoint exactly where these are, to meet local and regional priorities.    

For example, at the end of last year, we saw an increase in the number of people aged 16 to 24 who were not in education, employment or training (NEETs), with this figure rising to upwards of 850,000.     

Having the right data in place means we would know the ages, levels and locations of these individuals and be able to create a solution suitable for them. Ideally this would sit as part of a robust national skills policy that responds to the current economic challenges, including helping to move the growing number of NEETs towards suitable training and work opportunities.    

Using data as a workforce planning tool  

While data at a national level will be key to inform a national planning strategy, data is also essential to businesses looking in inform their internal skills strategies.    

The first step businesses should take when considering their long-term workforce planning is benchmarking to understand the people and skills they already have within their organisation. This data, which can be gathered in partnership with HR teams, is essential when planning for future skills you may need and services you can offer.   

Make sure to consider the mix of ages, backgrounds and lengths of service when benchmarking. Look at the skills that already exist within the organisation, as well as predictions for the skills your business will need in the future.   

Once you know the makeup of your organisation, the skills it already has and the skills you need to develop, you can design and plan programmes with your training partner to ensure you’re getting the most from your apprenticeship scheme.   

Final thoughts   

With UK productivity continuing to lag behind that of its EU counterparts, work-based learning through apprenticeships and wider L&D initiatives are an integral part of building a highly-skilled workforce that will help to boost the UK’s productivity.  

It is the Government’s responsibility to ensure Britain has accurate and ongoing data to support the skills market and boost our productivity levels. It must ensure that this data is transparent, captured in real time, and covers all funded programmes, with data gathered from local authorities, LSIPs and research organisations for all regions, ages, levels and sectors.   

With the right data, the Government could identify where the UK’s skills gaps are at present, and where they could appear in future, which will be crucial when it comes to crafting a national skills framework backed up by industrial strategy.   

Without poignant and accurate data, that takes into account a range of L&D initiatives, we will not be able to increase UK productivity. When it comes to moving the dial and improving our economy, wide-ranging workforce data is no longer a nice-to-have; it is a necessity.   

Nichola Hay MBE is Director of Apprenticeship Strategy and Policy at BPP  

Nichola Hay

Learn More →