Workforce development efforts in the United Kingdom (UK) encompass both centrally driven and decentralized qualities, resulting in differing outcomes in the four countries of the United Kingdom: England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. The training and workforce development system in England, which accounts for 85% of the UK population, has two main structural characteristics. First, it is increasingly employer-led, meaning that the content and provision of training is largely left to employers rather than being regulated by the state or negotiated by social partners. Second, it is flexible, as individuals who have missed out on formal training can access courses and apprenticeships specifically designed for nontraditional students later in life. This flexibility is likely to benefit immigrants, even though they are not specifically targeted.
While training programs vary across the United Kingdom, other aspects of workforce development - including immigration and employment policies - are centralized. Alongside attempts to persuade employers to invest in the skills of their workforce, skills poliocy in the United Kingdom emphasizes individual responsibility and fairness: the idea that those who gain most from training (namely, individuals and employers) should take greater responsibility for ensuring their skills needs are met, and also take on more of the costs (even more relevant in the current context of austerity). Meanwhile, public funds are generally channeled toward the most needy: youth, those lacking basic skills, and the unemployed. UK government funding does not concentrate specifically on training for immigrants, with the exception of refugees and a narrow group of people eligible for English language instruction programs. But four core aspects of the system have particular implications for immigrants:
- Employers have a lot of power in the current system
- Flexibility may benefit some immigrant workers
- The complexity of the system may disadvantage the most vulnerable immigrants
- The emphasis on individual responsibility may be a deterrent