The prime minister is right to say that it’s time to reform adult learning, as participation and engagement has plummeted by nearly 4 million since 2010. The proposed funding for the Lifetime Skills Guarantee is very much welcome – but how do we make it work for adult learners in North Yorkshire?
We need to factor in those who have been made redundant in the past year. We cannot compromise on quality and need to ensure that adults wanting to take on courses can progress to higher level study or paid work without further delays. Harrogate College will be focusing on shortened time frames for courses, some as quick as six months, to allow adults to progress on to a degree apprenticeship or university in September. This will support people’s ambitions to move into higher-skilled jobs.
If this new skills plan is to be truly effective, the funded level 3 qualifications on offer have to be bespoke to each area. The labour market in North Yorkshire is very different from West Yorkshire, for example, and the funded qualifications need to be the ones that will benefit the local market the most. For Harrogate, the priority will be courses in science, construction, creative arts, healthcare and digital.
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Both industry and the government are fully aware that only a large-scale skills programme can protect jobs as we recover from the pandemic. While free qualifications for adults are an excellent way to enhance career prospects, education always has more impact when it really engages the learners, especially when it is something that they are passionate about.
We need to increase pipeline provision in priority areas such as engineering and digital, to meet the needs of adult learners who are employed but are not yet ready for level 3 study, and also address how we support those who are unemployed. There should be "stepping stones" courses, and our delivery models have to fit around the busy lives of adults. Rethinking evening classes and flexible delivery, increasing out of typical school hours classes and blended delivery options, will be significant to how flexible and responsive we can be as we support adults with upskilling or reskilling.
We need to remember that there could be a negative impact on some curriculum areas if we only focus on specific sectors, which could disadvantage some low-skilled groups. I have particular concerns regarding second language capacity and the impact on inclusion. The additional funding is for higher-level study, however at level 2 and below, there is no further investment. The government also needs to address the areas that have been neglected such as the visitor economy and creative sectors, which have been decimated through Covid.
Pathways to level 3
It is imperative that we provide the pathways to level 3 and have the right resources to be able to do so; this includes being able to promote offers in community settings as well as college, and work collaboratively with partners such as the Department for Work and Pensions, as well as businesses. Nonetheless, different areas of the country have different skills needs and devolved powers should address the wider skills shortages in their respective regions. More needs to be done around promoting the Level 3 offer and its benefits. I am looking forward to seeing how it evolves over time to reflect the needs of our locality and how curricula can be adapted to meet the needs of each industry.
The education sector is good at recognising where adults are starting from and takes into account those who have not been in education for a long time. Colleges are adept in providing inclusive experiences and are well placed to meet the needs of adult learners. In our planning, we need emphasis on how we address basic study skills – digital, research, managing time and academic writing. This should also take into account those who have been out of education for a long time, and those with undiagnosed learning needs, while supporting adults through their educational journey to be lifelong learners.
It is integral that we work with employers and encourage them to upskill or reskill their employees or potential employees. By creating the right curriculum and qualifications that enable staff to level up, we will create a springboard to industries being successful, adaptable, more efficient and competitive on a local and international level.
Ultimately, education institutions, businesses and local councils need to work together to demonstrate how increased adult learning will make a real difference to the labour market in their respective regions.
Ann Marie Spry is vice principal for adults at Luminate Education Group and Danny Wild is principal of Harrogate College