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Lifelong learning must take centre stage in 2020 after a decade of decline

by Graham Hasting-Evans, MD, NOCN Group

The Learning & Work Institute (which NOCN Group worked with on the Skills to Drive a Productive Society report, published in September 2018) has released the results of its national survey into participation in adult education, showing a record low in lifelong learning.

It found that over the last decade, the number of adult learners has declined by almost 4 million, despite the desperate need to increase the UK’s productivity and evidence for how lifelong learning can contribute to this.

With just one in three adults taking part in learning in the last three years, the Learning & Work Institute, along with other organisations including ourselves, is now calling on government to make adult participation in vocational education a key priority for the next decade to reverse this trend.

The results of the survey can be tracked alongside a 47% reduction in government spending on adult education (apart from apprenticeships) and ongoing deepening inequalities in access to learning with adults in lower socio-economic groups (who could benefit most) being half as likely to take part in learning than those in higher socio-economic groups.

As we urged government in our ‘Close the Gap’ report published in September 2019, investment in upskilling people to Level 2 qualifications (where there has been a big reduction) so that they can then progress on to Level 3 upwards is the only way that the UK will address the major skills gaps we face. In the report, we proposed a map for UK Technical & Skills Education to 2024 and beyond and highlighted the fact that population and demographic changes mean that some will have working lives lasting 50 years or more in which they may have several career changes. Increasing social mobility and productivity will only come from a culture of continuous lifelong learning for all that doesn’t stop after school/college/university.

The access to Higher Education work that we do through One Awards, part of the NOCN Group, is now largely focused on targeting adults and we are working on several projects including our ‘Constructing SMARTER’ report in partnership with WorldSkills UK which looks at how we can improve productivity in the UK construction sector (which identified issues with the structure of the workforce making training and upskilling more difficult due to lack of direct employment), to try and address and reverse this decline in adult participation in learning.

With the unveiling of the Learning & Work Institute survey findings, we’re encouraged to see that both government and business leaders are taking this issue serious. Robert Halfon MP described adult learning as “one of the most important challenges facing our nation” and Matthew Fell, chief policy director of the Chartered Business Institute (CBI) said that lifelong learning “will be one of the defining issues of our age” and that “countries who get it right will have an exceptional competitive advantage.”

We’re keen to continue to work with a wide range of partners to make 2020 the year to put adult education back in the spotlight and at the top of the political and economic agenda.

NOCN Group now provides everything from Functional and Employability Skills to Regulated Qualifications in all sectors from L1 Bricklaying to L6 and 7 Productivity. Find out more HERE