Working-age adults without qualifications
Graphs on this page:
- The proportion of the population aged 20 to retirement without any formal educational qualifications has fallen by two-fifths over the last decade, from 16% in 2000 to 10% in 2010. This is not, however, because the proportion of young adults without a qualification has been falling (it has remained broadly unchanged) but because older adults, where the proportion without a qualification is high, have been reaching pensionable age.
- More generally, the proportion of people under the age of 40 without any formal educational qualifications is, at 8%, smaller than the proportion for those in their 40s (10%) which is, in turn, much smaller than the proportion for those in their 50s (14-20%). But there is hardly any difference in the proportion for those in their 20s and those in their 30s.
- While there are big differences between the older and younger parts of the working age population as far as qualifications are concerned, the similarity in the proportions among those in their 20s and 30s suggests that the shift to the new norm actually took place in the 1990s (when those who are now in their mid-30s joined the working-age population) rather than more recently.
- Up to the age of 40, there are no differences in the proportion without any formal educational qualifications between men and women. By contrast, women in their 50s are much more likely to lack any qualifications than men: 20% compared with 14%.
- At 20%, the proportion population aged 20 to retirement without any formal educational qualifications is much higher in Northern Ireland than in the rest of the United Kingdom.
- Around half of the working-age population lack basic numeracy skills. The proportion is similar in all the regions of England and in Wales.
- One in six of the working-age population lack basic literacy skills. The proportion is highest in Wales (25%).
Why this indicator was originally chosen
This indicator concerns the lack of educational qualifications as a barrier to work. As shown in the indicator on the impact of education and work, those with no qualifications are more at risk of not being in paid work and of receiving low rates of pay. Furthermore, individuals with no or very low qualifications have seen their earnings increase less rapidly in comparison to other groups in the workforce.1 As well as being an immediate issue, this also has long term implications for reduced earnings potential.
The indicator also reflects the changes in the labour market which have emerged as a result of technological developments. 2 A greater proportion of jobs require a broader range and higher level of skills, and a greater proportion now require at least some form of qualification.
More generally, this subject continues one of the core themes of the chapter on children – namely, that education in an important element in reducing the intergenerational transmission of disadvantage.
Definitions and data sources
The first graph shows the proportion of adults aged 20 to retirement without any formal educational qualifications. For comparison purposes, the equivalent proportion for those aged 20 to 29 is also shown.
The second graph shows how the proportion of adults without any formal educational qualifications various by gender and age.
The third graph shows how the proportion of adults aged 20 to retirement without any educational qualifications varies by region.
The data source for the first three graphs is the Labour Force Survey (LFS) and relates to the United Kingdom. The figures for each year are the average for the four quarters of the relevant year. To improve their statistical reliability, the data in the second and third graphs is the average for the latest three years.
The fourth graph shows the proportion of adults aged 16 to 64 with below Level 1 literacy and numeracy skills.
The standard for Level 1 is equivalent to that demanded for Level 1 (or a D-G grade GCSE) in the National Qualifications Framework. If someone is below Level 1, it suggests that they lack the necessary literacy or numeracy to achieve a formal qualification. The National Assembly for Wales describes those without Level 1 in either literacy or numeracy as lacking ‘basic skills’, which in turn is defined as the ability to read, write and speak in English or Welsh, and to use mathematics at a necessary level to function and progress at work and in society.
The data source for the fourth graph is the Skills For Life Survey for England in 2002/03 and the National Survey for Adult Basic Skills in Wales 2004 (the data for which is not publicly available). The Welsh survey was designed to be comparable with the Skills for Life Survey.
Overall adequacy of the indicator: high. The LFS is a well-established, quarterly survey designed to be representative of the population as whole.
- See the Leitch 2006 report for HM Treasury entitled Prosperity for all in the global economy – world class skills and the related 2007 New Policy Institute paper entitled UK skills: step change or leap into the unknown?
Relevant 2007 Public Service Agreements
Overall aim: Improve the skills of the population, on the way to ensuring a world-class skills base by 2020
Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills.
Official national targets
597,000 people of working age to achieve a first level 1 or above literacy qualification, and 390,000 to achieve a first entry level 3 or above numeracy qualification.
79% of working age adults qualified to at least full Level 2.
56% of working age adults qualified to at least full level 3.
130,000 apprentices to complete the full apprenticeship framework in 2010/11.
36% of working age adults qualified to Level 4 and above by 2014, with an interim milestone of 34% by 2011.
Increase participation in Higher Education towards 50% of those aged 18 to 30 with growth of at least a percentage point every two years to the academic year 2010/11.
Previous 2004 targets
Increase the number of adults with the skills required for employability and progression to higher levels of training through:
- improving the basic skill levels of 2.25 million adults between the launch of Skills for Life in 2001 and 2010, with a milestone of 1.5 million in 2007; and
- reducing by at least 40% the number of adults in the UK workforce who lack NVQ2 or equivalent qualifications by 2010. Working towards this, one million adults already in the workforce to achieve level 2 between 2003 and 2006.
|Year||20 to retirement||20 to 29|
|Yorkshire and the Humber||11%|
|Yorkshire and the Humber||51%||19%|