Productivity woes require UK to rethink its approach to education

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The UK must embrace lifelong learning if it is to make progress towards improved productivity, warns The Open University.

This warning comes as productivity figures released today reveal how Britain compares with its fellow G7 nations and largest global trading partners. The final estimate of the International Comparison of Productivity, released today by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), confirms that output per hour in the UK lagged 18 percentage points behind the G7 average in 2014, and a staggering 36 percentage points behind Germany.¹

The latest statistics from the ONS come just a few weeks after the House of Commons Business, Innovation and Skills committee published a report questioning the value of the government’s Productivity Plan. Within the report, the committee of MPs called for greater detail from the government around plans to improve ‘basic’ and ‘employability’ skills.² The importance of education in addressing productivity levels is widely acknowledged, but The Open University argues that attempts to boost productivity through education must focus on a reconsideration of the country’s very attitude towards learning.

Steve Hill, Director of External Engagement at The Open University, commented:

Productivity underpins economic growth, playing a vital role in our economy and society as a whole. As the UK continues to face up to the challenges of the productivity puzzle, embracing lifelong learning becomes even more important.

The fact is that the skills and knowledge we pick up during the early part of our life will not necessarily prepare us for the challenges of a rapidly changing work environment. Ensuring individuals have the opportunity to adapt in order to fulfil their potential at all stages of their career must play a part in Britain’s attempt to boost productivity.

Decision makers and business leaders should not underestimate the role of education throughout an individual’s working life, recognising the benefits in terms of employee engagement and productivity which come from sustained investment in training. The pace of change in our economy means that re-training and up-skilling existing employees is more crucial than ever if businesses are to ‘future-proof’ their employees and maximise their own productivity.

¹ www.ons.gov.uk/ons/dcp171778_433580.pdf
² www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201516/cmselect/cmbis/466/46604.htm#_idTextAnchor119