Change To Lifelong Learning Landscape


The role of lifelong learning in the evolving employment landscape is finally getting the recognition it deserves, but without the means and motivation, will individuals really be able to seize the opportunity? 

As life slowly returns to some sort of normality, the labour market is also slowly recovering, with job vacancies at their highest level since the onset of the pandemic and the unemployment rate falling slightly to 4.8% in the three months to March 2021.

However, we know that the employment landscape in the UK is rapidly changing, and the increase in vacancies is reportedly causing concern among employers that they could face staff shortages.

This is just one illustration of how important skills and training are in economic recovery, and therefore the key role that the education system plays in providing learners with the skills that employers will need. The Government has been vocal about its plans to transform post-16 and adult education as part of its ‘Build Back Better’ agenda, with the recently announced Lifetime Skills Guarantee focused around providing the skills that people need for high quality jobs and opportunities to train throughout their lives.

While it’s reassuring to see this commitment to post-16 education and to helping more people get the skills to access employment, we must not be complacent. It will take a sustained effort, appropriate funding, and continued collaboration between the education sector, employers, and the Government to deliver on the promises of the Skills Bill.

Now is the time for employers and the education sector to work together more closely than ever, aligning provision with employability needs to create a more productive, fulfilled, and fairer society.

The CBI published research last year that revealed 90% of workers will need new skills by 2030, and spending on adult education would need to be increased by £130bn by 2030 to narrow the skills gap. The recently unveiled Skills Bill shows that the Government is starting to take seriously the commitment needed to level up the playing field in education; highlighting how lifelong learning through further education is vital to the country’s recovery. This recognition is long overdue, and the economic impact of Covid-19 has served as the catalyst for much-needed reform.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the new legislation is “the rocket fuel that we need to level up this country and ensure equal opportunities for all. We know that having the right skills and training is the route to better, well-paid jobs. I’m revolutionising the system so we can move past the outdated notion that there is only one route up the career ladder, and ensure that everyone has the opportunity to retrain or upskill at any point in their lives.”

This is nothing new to those in our sector who have championed technical education for decades, and while we are encouraged to hear the Government’s plans around the Lifetime Skills Guarantee, we would like to see it go further. In many areas, I feel it’s a half step in the right direction, with more to do, but a half-step forward never-the-less. It is welcoming to see the Government acknowledging that giving people access to skills training they need to secure employment in such a dynamically changing labour market is key to a prosperous economy.

The Skills Bill promises that adults across the country will have the chance to retrain in later life, albeit through the provision of a loan entitlement, helping them to gain in-demand skills and open up job opportunities. It will also realign the system around the needs of employers, so that people are trained for the current and future skills gaps in key sectors such as construction, digital and manufacturing.

Obviously, we welcome the increased emphasis on skills-based learning and the value of further education, but we need to look at the fuller picture. The Government continues to be focused on academic and technical skills, rather than acknowledging that other drivers – such as confidence and a sense of purpose – are crucial in changing lives.

To address that, the UK is growing our provision in areas such as learning to learn, mental fitness and wellbeing, creativity, problem solving and critical thinking. Engaging with employers on the development of these courses, to ensure that individuals have all the meta skills they need to be successful in the labour market, whatever changes and challenges they are confronted with

By nurturing the mental fitness, confidence and resilience of learners, we can support people to be in the best possible mindset for study and work, so that they can make the most of all the opportunities that come their way.

The Government has ramped up its commitment to protecting, supporting, and creating jobs. It announced the launch of new schemes and additional funding worth up to £30bn as part of its Plan for Jobs, with Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak stating the importance of ‘giving everyone the opportunity of good and secure work’ and pledging that ‘no one will be left without hope’.

Abode2 welcome this acknowledgement of the need to support people from all backgrounds, locations and circumstances into training and work. The best vision is a world where everyone has the right and opportunity to access the highest quality learning experiences, and we must look at the factors that will prevent some individuals from benefiting.

Flexibility, funding, and a range of options will be required to ensure that all adults in society can access the learning they need, when they need it, to progress in learning and life.

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