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Give all furloughed workers access to training

Published date
The TUC is calling for the Job Retention Scheme to be extended until the end of 2021 to safeguard jobs and people’s income, with a guarantee that no-one is paid less than the minimum wage.

Furloughed workers should also be given greater help to retrain under this extension. A recent survey shows that they are less likely to take part in training than those who remain at work. This is especially the case if they are also low-waged and have few or no qualifications. 

International comparisons 

An OECD review of furlough schemes has called for more training opportunities and better jobsearch and career guidance. It says this is necessary to protect jobs and help “promote the mobility of workers to jobs in expanding firms and industries.” 

Unlike the UK, furlough schemes in other countries - including France, Germany, the Netherlands and Hungary - have made training a priority from an early stage.  

Revamp the Lifetime Skills Guarantee 

In our view the recent FE and skills white paper lacks the necessary scale of ambition needed for the current crisis. But some of the new skills programmes could be adapted to help furloughed workers retrain.  

One of these is the Lifetime Skills Guarantee which, from April, offers free courses for adults without a level 3 qualification (equivalent to A levels).  

Many furloughed workers will not be able to take up these courses because they already have a qualification at level 3. It makes no sense to bar people on this basis and the government should immediately widen this guarantee of free courses to all furloughed workers and other adults. 

Many will have qualifications tied to industries badly affected by Covid-19 where there are currently no job opportunities. So it makes sense to support them to get qualifications for jobs in sectors that will expand, such as the green economy. 

Make other courses free 

For many, a level 3 course will not be suitable because they need a shorter training course to help them find a new job much quicker. For example, qualifications at level 2 (GCSE equivalent) may be the answer for some. 

The problem is that most adults have to pay for a level 2 course at a college or training provider. This is the case even if they left school without GCSEs or any level 2 technical qualifications (e.g. BTECs). 

The only adults eligible for these free courses are the unemployed and those on low incomes. It is absurd that furloughed workers cannot access these free courses until they become unemployed or recruited to a low waged job. 

The Education Select Committee recently called on the government to give all adults a right to free courses for their first level 2 qualification. Getting this in place now would open up vital training opportunities for many furloughed workers. 

A skills campaign 

Furloughed workers should also be made aware of existing free courses, such as English, maths and digital qualifications for those who need upskilling in these subjects. The Union Learning Fund and union learning reps have been incredibly effective in helping workers achieve these qualifications. 

The government should launch a skills awareness campaign aimed at furloughed workers to signpost them to all training options, including free online learning supplied by the government and other organisations (e.g. unionlearn). Bite-sized courses will be the best starting point for many, especially if they have not done any learning for a long time.  

Some people will need additional support, including those lacking the necessary ICT equipment for online learning. For others the challenge will be to balance any training with caring responsibilities, home schooling and other demands on their time. 

Now is the time for government to announce an extended and revitalised Job Retention Scheme that will continue to safeguard jobs and livelihoods and accelerate learning and training for workers facing an uncertain future. 

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