Learning Ladders

The role of adult training in supporting progression from low pay

Low pay remains a continuing problem in the UK labour market, with over 1 in 7 workers currently in low paid jobs. Research shows that relatively few low paid workers achieve long-term progression into higher pay. More commonly, they remain permanently stuck in low pay or cycle in and out of higher pay.

Workplace training and adult education have long been seen as a route to higher wages and better opportunities. But is this really the case, and if so, for whom does it work?

The Social Mobility Commission funded L&W in partnership with the National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR) to investigate the role of adult training in supporting progression from low pay. We analysed a long-running household panel survey (British Household Panel Survey/Understanding Society) and an experimental administrative dataset (Longitudinal Education Outcomes) to track low-paid workers’ earnings and participation in training over an eight-year period.

We found that:

  • A range of factors influence the chances low paid workers will escape low pay, including a wide range of demographic and job characteristics. For example, workers are more likely to escape low pay if they are younger, live in London, have a more privileged background, work in a professional occupation and are a white international migrant.
  • Training plays a role in supporting low paid workers to progress. Participating in a higher number of training days significantly increased the likelihood of escaping from low pay. Low paid workers with higher prior qualification levels are also more likely to progress.
  • But the likelihood that low paid workers participate in training varies. The three significant predictors of participation in training (after accounting for interactions between different characteristics) were: higher prior qualification levels, being female and living outside of London.
  • And the impacts differ according to the type of training. Individuals undertaking higher levels of learning are more likely to escape low pay. Level 3 courses were found to significantly increase the earnings of low paid workers by an average of 5%.

Our report sets out a range of recommendations for how Government could support the progression of low paid workers, including:

  • Ensure the new ‘Lifetime Skills Guarantee’ benefits low paid workers by encouraging participation in courses with demonstrable benefits to earnings, providing support for other costs associated with learning and ensuring the availability of flexible learning opportunities.
  • Address inequalities in apprenticeships to help combat low pay through a focus on ensuring fair access to apprenticeships and providing learning ladders for those not yet ready to progress to an apprenticeship.
  • Develop an overall lifelong learning strategy for England with a focus on progression by aligning existing funding streams into a unified system and positioning investment in skills alongside investment for jobs and retraining.
  • Tailor employment and progression support to individuals so that it takes account of the contexts and barriers for different groups.
  • Find and test ways to improve support for low paid workers with rigorous evaluation and mechanisms for sharing best practice.