Matthew Hancock celebrates Adult Learners’ Week. It is a chance, he says, for  people to seek out opportunities they might never have considered before

All of us in the further education and skills sector have a part to play to ensure that everyone in this country, regardless of their background, can be trained in the skills that they need to get on.

Historically we have had a poor skills base – which is the reason why we are engaged in a radical programme of education reforms. We want to emphasise rigour in our institutions and qualifications, and make the whole system more responsive to the needs of the individuals and communities that it serves.

Further education in this country began in the 19th century largely as a reaction against limited access to learning opportunities.

True to that spirit, the message of Adult Learners’ Week is that learning can do something valuable for you, whoever you are, wherever you come from, whatever your previous experiences of education.

Adult Learners’ Week is England’s biggest celebration of learning. It is not organised by the government and it isn’t about promoting any individual political agenda.

Much of it is designed locally, to celebrate what communities are doing for themselves.

Everyone should have the chance to learn. The desire to make the best of yourself and fulfil your potential is one of the most laudable human characteristics. This week encourages people to seek out opportunities they might never have considered before.

Employers, too, will be able to find out the advantages that taking on an apprentice, a trainee or improving the skills of their employees can have for their business.

Many people, and in particular young people, are already aware of the career and earning advantages that an apprenticeship can bring. Apprenticeships represent some of the best of vocational education, combining rigorous training with real employment; this week is a chance to find out how to take up one of the more than half a million apprenticeship places that are now on offer every year.

There are also thousands of opportunities for older people, people with learning disabilities or difficulties, people who are homeless, carers and care leavers, offenders and more, to improve their skills to re-enter the labour market, to progress in careers that may have stalled, or to learn what they need to prepare for a change of direction.

Still more adults will be introduced to a range of learning opportunities for developing skills, confidence, motivation and independence, enabling them to contribute positively to their communities, support their families and do well in their lives.

This week, the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education has rightly argued that investment in skills can have a real impact.

Not only can FE courses lift people out of unemployment and increase lifetime earnings, but research suggests that for every pound invested in apprenticeships returns at least £18 of value to the apprentice, their employers and the wider economy.

We are already taking steps to improve the system, but we need to go further to give everyone a chance to reach their potential and avoid being left behind by our international competitors.

Matthew Hancock, Skills Minister