As prime minister Boris Johnson enters Downing Street with the primary task of delivering Brexit, he will also face important choices about investment in public services and increasing living standards. Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, published earlier this week, reveals what some people on low incomes think should be prioritised post-Brexit: providing jobs and training for young people who do not go to university, helping low-paid adults gain new skills, nurturing local businesses and reviving high streets.
I agree that a focus on learning and skills should be a key priority for the new PM. Economic and technological change is transforming the labour market, resulting in significant job losses for some and changes in the demand for skills for many more. And workers will need help to adapt, particularly those with lower levels of qualifications whose jobs are most at risk.
Improving opportunities for lifelong learning has never been more important – not only for work, but also for health, wellbeing and active citizenship, too. Learning and Work Institute research shows that much more needs to be done to boost investment in skills and stop the UK falling behind. In contrast, however, the adult skills budget has been cut in half over the past decade, halving the number of adults who are learning and training. Our adult participation survey reports the lowest levels of participation in learning in over 20 years.
Last week, as part of wider efforts to reverse this decline in investment and participation, the government announced the initial rollout of the National Retraining Scheme, in Liverpool City region, with the launch of a new digital service, Get Help to Retrain. The service will help adults to identify existing skills, explore local job opportunities and assist them in finding training courses to gain the skills needed to progress. Career advisers will be on hand to provide more intensive advice and support.
The National Retraining Scheme: four considerations
Alongside the NRS announcement, the Department for Education also published Learning and Work Institute’s interim evaluation of the cost and outreach pilots, established to test innovative approaches to lifelong learning and inform the design of the National Retraining Scheme. Although still at an early stage, the evaluation highlights several considerations for the development of the NRS:
- Firstly, as well as addressing some of the practical barriers to learning and training (such as time and cost pressures), efforts are also needed to tackle attitudinal barriers – for example, that learning isn’t relevant, that it wouldn’t be of value, or that it would be too hard to learn new things.
- Secondly, a diverse range of outreach and engagement activity is needed to demonstrate the value of learning in helping people to achieve their ambitions and aspirations – both in relation to work and wider life.
- Thirdly, employer engagement is key – in shaping the scheme, in promoting and encouraging engagement, and in offering employment opportunities for retrainers.
- Finally, access to appropriate information, advice and guidance (IAG) is critical in helping people to understand what they can access, how and the benefits of doing so. For some, this need only be light-touch; others will benefit from more in-depth support.
While I welcome Get Help to Retrain, it would be a mistake to assume that on its own, the creation of a digital platform will result in the gear-change needed to address the challenge ahead. Indeed, both the Cost and Outreach Pilots and our wider research demonstrate that most adults aren’t considering training, that they rarely seek out IAG about possible opportunities, and that where they do, they are more likely to approach their employer or look to their local college.
In order to ensure that the pilot is a success, I’m keen to see how employers, providers and local organisations across Liverpool City Region work together to provide an accessible, relevant and high-quality retraining offer, and importantly raise awareness, build confidence and stimulate demand for learning and retraining.
Dr Fiona Aldridge is the director of policy and research at the Learning and Work Institute