Independent Commission highlights urgent need to focus on skills and lifelong learning in a changing economy

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Further reform needed to boost UK competitiveness and ensure young people and adults are set up to succeed in the future world of work

  • Further reform to the UK skills system could unlock an annual £22 billion competitiveness dividend
  • The economic case for action on skills is clear: Brexit uncertainty, technological disruption, and a slump in productivity worse than any other G7 nation are hampering the UK’s competitiveness and putting the career prospects of young people and adult workers at risk
  • Immediate focus should be on ensuring the right provision and flexible pathways are available, creating opportunities which enable lifelong learning, and supporting these efforts through refined investment in education.

Established in June as an independent taskforce, the Commission on Sustainable Learning for Work, Life and a Changing Economy has drawn on the expertise of 18 Commissioners and over 50 witnesses, economic modelling, and evidence sessions with employers, educators and the public across the UK.

The final report provides a set of recommendations for enhancing the education & skills system to put it one step ahead of the needs of the economy, and calls for an immediate focus on:

  1. Ensuring the right provision and flexible pathways are available to give individuals the skills they will need to flourish in a rapidly changing economy. 14 to 16 year-olds need broader options, and three clear pathways for 16 year-olds need to offer a choice between an academic route, a career-focused route, and a route that leads them to a particular occupation. Provision for adults needs to be flexible and modular to be easily accessible to those who do not have the time to attend more full-time courses.
  2. Creating opportunities that stimulate and enable lifelong learning. There are five generations in the workforce today, and two thirds of the 2030 workforce have already left full-time education; lifelong learning is required to enable ongoing employability. We urgently need to encourage employers and individuals of all ages to consider training as an ongoing process and instil in them a sense of ownership of their own lifeline learning. An easily accessible online portal for employers looking to find learning experiences and training should be created, and an all-age career advice and guidance needs to be in place.
  3. Invest further and differently in our education system. We call on government to invest more and differently in education; all individuals should be entitled to government-supported provision up to level 3, and a target should be set for education spending to be a percentage of GDP, including raising 16 to 18 funding per student by 5% a year for five years from 2019 which would bring us into line with the OECD top quintile average.. A broad set of measures should be in place to encourage employers and individuals to invest more. These include a tax rebate scheme for both employers and individuals, and personal training accounts for the low-waged.

The report is released in the context of UK competitiveness being under intense scrutiny, with business and consumer confidence lagging.

Brexit uncertainty – with a CBI saying 80% of firms are deferring investment decisions (1) - is combining with a productivity slump more acute than any leading western nation (2), and diminishing confidence across key economic sectors (3).

Too many young people are leaving education without capabilities that business requires – in a recent CBI and Pearson survey on Education and Skills, two thirds of employers raised concerns about future skills needs (4).

Many adults lack the skills they need to be fully productive at work – two thirds of the workforce of 2030 has already left full time education (5); but jobs in 2030 will look very different, and life expectancy has increased, meaning that adults will require ongoing reskilling to keep pace.

“UK talent and hard work can help us navigate economic challenges, but only if our skills system is in step with the needs of the economy. Without root and branch reform, future generations will be disconnected from economic opportunities.”

- Neil Carmichael MP, chair of the Commission, and former chair of the Education Select Committee


“The Commission’s report is an urgent call for action. If we are to be successful in responding to the skills challenge and supporting learners to make progress in their lives it is crucial that government continues to work in collaboration with learners, parents, educators and employers on design of the future education landscape. Our education system should ensure that people of all ages have access to the learning opportunities required for them to adapt to our changing world including in the world of work, supporting long-term success in life and careers for all.”

- Cindy Rampersaud, Senior Vice President, BTEC and Apprenticeships, Pearson




1. “8 out of 10 businesses say Brexit hits investment”, CBI, October 2018,

2. 2018 CBI Pearson Survey of Education & Skills,

3. “UK services industry barometer hits lowest level since Brexit vote”, FT, December 2018,

4. 2018 CBI Pearson Survey of Education & Skills,

5. “Another lost decade? Building a skills system for the economy of the 2030s”, IPPR, July 2018,


Notes to Editors

Download the full report

Download the executive summary of the full report

Download the addendum: Revealing the Potential Economic Value of Technical and Vocational Training

Download the commentary on existing literature


About the Commission on Sustainable Learning for Work, Life and a Changing Economy

The Commission was established in June 2018 to explore the UK skills problem, and provide practical recommendations for how the nation’s future skills needs can be met. It held oral evidence sessions across the UK’s regions and nations, including in colleges and universities, and engaged with politicians of all parties. The Commission’s interim report was published earlier this year. The work was commissioned by Pearson. Pearson is committed to enhancing the debate and body of evidence that can inform and shape the UK education landscape, and seeks to engage a wide range of stakeholders in what is a national conversation.

Full list of Commissioners:

  • Neil Carmichael, Chair of the Commission
  • Ian Ashman, Consultant
  • Alice Barnard, Chief Executive, The Edge Foundation
  • Rod Bristow, President, Pearson UK & Core Markets
  • Professor Robert Campbell, Quality Assurance Director, Finito
  • Jim Clifford OBE MSc FCA FRSA, Partner, Director of BWB Impact and BWB Advisory
  • Professor Jean-Noël Ezingeard, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Manchester Metropolitan University
  • Ann Francke, Chief Executive Officer, Chartered Management Institute
  • Liz Gorb, Director of Apprenticeships, Manchester Metropolitan University
  • Nick Hudson, Chief Executive Officer, Ormiston Academies Trust
  • James Kirkup, Director, Social Market Foundation
  • Ian Koxvold, Head of the Education Strategy Practice, PwC
  • John Laramy, Principal and Chief Executive, Exeter College
  • Jonathan Lawson, Director of Strategic Partnerships, Faculty of Business & Law, and Apprenticeship Development Lead, Manchester Metropolitan University
  • Cindy Rampersaud, Senior Vice President, BTEC and Apprenticeships, Pearson UK
  • Mark Stewart, General Manager and Human Resources Director, Airbus Operations Ltd
  • Geoffrey Wake, Professor of Mathematics Education, University of Nottingham
  • Rob Wall, Head of Policy, Chartered Management Institute


About Pearson

Pearson is a global digital learning company with expertise in educational content and assessment, and a range of teaching and learning services powered by technology.

Its mission is to help people make progress in their lives through access to better learning. For more information, visit our website and follow @Pearson_UK on Twitter.

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