From today, 11 million adults can access free training courses through the Lifetime Skills Guarantee, the government has said.
The guarantee, first announced by prime minister Boris Johnson in September, allows adults to gain a first level 3 qualification for free.
Around 400 qualifications are available to take from today, and are backed by £95 million in government funding for 2021-2022.
Mr Johnson said: “As we cautiously lift lockdown restrictions, the government’s focus is on recovering from the pandemic and building back better. The Lifetime Skills Guarantee is fundamental to that – with free courses giving adults the expertise they need to find new, better jobs.
“My message is clear. At every stage of your life, we will help you get the skills you need to train, retrain, and get into jobs you want and our economy needs.”
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Education secretary Gavin Williamson said: “The launch of these free qualifications for adults is a pivotal moment in the delivery of our Lifetime Skills Guarantee, which will make sure everyone can train, retrain or upskill throughout their lives.
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“As we build back better and rebuild our economy, it is vital we level up more opportunities for people across the country and help more people progress in work.
“This offer will help give millions of adults the chance to gain the skills they need to secure rewarding careers in key sectors of the economy including construction, healthcare and digital. With almost 400 to choose from, there is something there for everyone.”
Labour: 'An April fool's joke'
However, last night Labour published analysis that showed 9.4 million jobs would be excluded from the guarantee.
Shadow minister Toby Perkins compared the guarantee to an "April fool's joke".
He said: "You would be forgiven for thinking the Conservatives' Lifetime Skills Guarantee is an April fool's joke, rather than a plan to help reskill our country after this pandemic.
“The Conservatives' mishandling of the Covid crisis has led the UK to experience the worst economic crisis of any major economy. Their limited plans will now leave millions unable to access the skills they need to play their part in our recovery.
“Minister should urgently widen eligibility for the Lifetime Skills Guarantee to ensure it reaches all adults who could benefit.”
Association of Employment and Learning Providers chief executive Jane Hickie said: “The guarantee is a welcome and essential development but in terms of a first qualification, we need to go much further to tackle the massive challenge of skilling adults displaced by automation or the pandemic. One immediate issue is that it is nigh on impossible for a level 3 qualification to be delivered and completed between now and the end of the academic year which is what the government is asking independent training providers to do with their adult learners with no guarantee of funding beyond 31 July. We have to wait for new adult education budget contracts to be awarded for 2021-22 before ITP provision can start in earnest.
“AELP is also interested to see whether the government has responded positively to requests from the combined authorities for additional qualifications to add to the approved list of qualifications. We have considerable sympathy for the reasons behind these requests.”
Tom Bewick, chief executive of the Federation of Awarding Bodies, said: We welcome the additional investment in adults who may have missed out on obtaining a Level 3 qualification in the past.
“However, the Lifetime Skills Guarantee has deployed a flawed model. The eligibility for funding qualifications has been decided by Whitehall officials, instead of the needs of individuals and employers affected by a post-Covid labour market. People who have been made redundant as a result of the pandemic will be unable to retrain using this route if they have already attained a Level 3 qualification, like A-Levels, in the distant past. FAB will continue to monitor the situation carefully as the new scheme rolls out. We will push for more sectors and qualifications to be included. Above all, we continue to make the case for a more joined up approach in terms of various skills and employment schemes run by the Department for Work and Pensions and those managed by DfE.”
David Corke, director of policy, Association of Colleges said: "The recovery will be skills-led. We are facing unprecedented challenges, including a potential post-furlough shock and mass redundancies. The ability to train and retrain will never have been more important as we protect people’s livelihoods and support them to move into new employment, potentially in new sectors. It is good to see that government is offering those on Universal Credit the opportunity to study on some of the level three courses or as part of their Bootcamps scheme.
"It is a good start, but it needs to go further – people need to be given the opportunity to study up to the full length of their course to give them the best chance to find meaningful employment and enter into high paying jobs. Extending the scheme would be the right thing for people, for businesses and for the economy."