The absolute priority of the government’s skills policy is professional integration. And with the appointment of MP Gillian Keegan as Secretary of State, we can expect this to be further underscored. As Minister, Keegan advanced the Skills for Jobs white paper. His likely employment outcomes will continue to be his priority.
It’s understandable; As the cost of living crisis rages, stable employment becomes more important than ever. But a professional qualification is not the answer for everyone.
The cost of living crisis will hurt us all, but its impact on those who are already the most disadvantaged will be even harsher and will be felt in a variety of ways. Community-based adult learning is a lifeline for many people in disadvantaged communities. Although it is not a panacea, its promotion and support of community learning is crucial in times of economic hardship. As a means of helping individuals and communities regain control of what matters to them, it is hugely empowering.
We know that cost is already a common barrier to learning, and the added pressures associated with the cost of living crisis, including childcare and transport, will put courses out of reach for many more. . Plus, working overtime to make sure you can feed the family – and the meter – won’t leave any free time to learn.
But focusing only on qualifications for the job could make matters worse. Straight progression to work is simply not a realistic prospect for everyone. Progression to a job or Level 3 can take time and require incremental steps.
Adult learning that promotes direct progression to work will not help those who are out of the labor force due to illness or disability, or because they are parents or part-time caregivers full, or because they have retired (including those who have not reached retirement age). The crisis is having a serious impact on all of these groups. Yet they might be excluded from learning opportunities that could improve their well-being, life skills and help them make a positive contribution to their communities. But help with practical day-to-day activities, such as personal budgeting and healthy cooking and eating, can help you cope better during difficult times.
While other forms of social connection and personal fulfillment are limited by a severe lack of disposable income, adult learning offers a way to stay active, make friends and overcome social isolation. This aspect is also crucial in terms of improving mental health and well-being, which bring their own economic benefits.
The WEA recently published Impact of adult learning report shows that short courses can be transformative. Our strategy is to deliver a blended program of learning for life, learning for work and learning that builds communities. And we want to see multi-stakeholder efforts to support this, by creating a national policy framework, which promotes community learning for those who need it most.
Leaning on Keegan Skills for Jobs and David Blunkett Learning and skills for economic recovery, social cohesion and a more equal Britain report released last week, we urge both major parties to adopt a more comprehensive national strategy that captures the broader outcomes of adult learning – jobs certainly, but also health and community connections.
Although there is financial support available for low income learners, this is not well promoted or known. The Department of Education should fund a national campaign to promote adult education classes of all types, particularly for individuals and groups hardest hit by the Covid and cost of living crises.
Jeremy Hunt, the new Chancellor, has indicated that we have an extremely difficult spending cycle ahead of us. But reducing spending on adult learning and skills would be a false economy. No budget is safe, but Keegan must convince the Treasury that the return on investment in adult education – in terms of productivity and the costs associated with improved wellbeing – outweighs any purported cost savings. ‘efficiency.
In the difficult times ahead, adequate support for adult education can help communities not only survive, but lay the foundations for rebuilding.