Adult education ‘heading in the wrong direction’, says CBI

Business group calls on government to improve recognition of informal training

A business group has called for improvements to adult education, warning that employers are facing challenges in upskilling and retraining employees at a time when the nature of work is changing.

In a new report, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) called for more transparency around apprenticeship levy funds to upskill and retrain employees, and an expansion of the National Retraining Partnership to include all government departments as part of a set of recommendations to prioritise adult education.

The CBI also urged the government to improve the ‘passporting’ of informal, quality training and skills under the National Retraining Scheme so they are recognised by employers.

Matthew Fell, the CBI’s chief UK policy director, said adult learning was “heading in the wrong direction at precisely the wrong time for our economy and our society”.

Fell continued: “Technology is rapidly changing the world of work, and with it driving up demand for new and higher skills. Good employers recognise the importance of investing in their people throughout their career, which includes making use of their apprenticeship levy money for high-quality ‘re-traineeships’.

“We need the partnership of the century between individuals, business and government to get this upskilling and retraining agenda right.”

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Lizzie Crowley, skills adviser at the CIPD, also called for more investment into adult education, warning that if improvements weren’t made, the UK risked slipping down in league tables for skills. “With technological change and further disruption in the labour market with reduced access to migrants following Brexit, these things are likely to worsen,” she said.

Crowley said there was a need for more investment into accredited forms of learning as a lot is currently informal, meaning individuals can’t use what they’ve learned as transferable skills when they change employers.

She added that as well as increased further education funding, any changes to the current systems should be done in a way that does not add to confusion for employers. “Skills policy has been a longstanding problem for the UK. Every successive government seems to dismantle the institutions and skills policies of the previous administration,” she said.

“We’d like to see the government build on what’s already there, rather than going for wholesale attempts to change the system.”

The idea of passporting was also welcomed by Joanna Cain, director of education and deputy chief executive at the Workers’ Educational Association, who said such a system would help engage frontline employees who often miss out on training.

“Passporting informal training will bring benefits to adults and staff on something that may be informal, short sessions and using it to engage frontline staff, who have been excluded from workplace training previously,” she said.

Chris Jones, chief executive of City & Guilds Group, said the rising demand for skills was being exacerbated by an ageing workforce. “With people working longer and later into their lives, it’s never been more important for employers to prioritise upskilling and reskilling people at all ages and at every stage of their career,” he said. 

“As skills gaps widen and technological innovation continues to transform the workplace, employers have a responsibility to provide learning and development opportunities for their entire workforce.”

David Willett, corporate director at The Open University, said flexible working was crucial to close the skills gap. “Flexible learning delivered through flexible means must be at the heart of this initiative to give employers and employees what they want, and the productivity boost the country needs,” he said.

“Technology is rapidly changing the world of work and with it driving up demand for new and higher skills.” 

Adult education is at its lowest in 20 years, despite an increase in high-skilled roles, according to a 2017 Department for Education survey.

At the same time, digital skills are becoming ‘near universal’ requirements for employment – and between May and July 2019, 46 per cent of employers of permanent staff expressed concern about finding enough suitable candidates for hire, according to research earlier this year.