Everyone, from business people to politicians agree that infrastructure makes a huge difference to economic performance.

Digital, transport links and R & D are all considered as central to the future of British business and all have powerful and visible lobby groups to make their case to government for both regional and national investment. One critical part of our natural infrastructure which lacks such support and is often less tended to is our people strategy, particularly in the areas of vocational education and lifelong learning.

The skills base of our population will be one of the key determinants of our post-Brexit future. An ageing population coupled with an increased rate of change within job markets and accelerated technological advancement means adult education is increasingly critical to supporting sustainable growth at an individual, community and national level.

The good news is that further education has a long heritage of supporting adults and lifelong learning. Colleges and independent training providers are as passionate about the differences they make to the lives of adults as they are about their positive impact on the life chances of young people; creating access, progression and transformative experiences. Our challenge as a sector will be how we deliver access and influence against a backdrop of changing work patterns, technology change and pressure on funding.

The world of work is undergoing a massive shift. Entire occupations and industries are simultaneously expanding and contracting, and the skills needed to keep updated in most industries are constantly changing: Average human knowledge is doubling every 13 months, and IBM predicts that in the next couple of years, global knowledge will double every 11 hours. The emergence of the “gig” economy is reshaping the traditional employer-employee relationship as more contractors fill roles once reserved for full-time workers. 

Added to this, it seems that with the advent of Brexit our access to both skilled and unskilled labour from abroad will also change – even if exactly how remains unclear.

Continued adult education is the transformational bridge to span the gap between the skills required by the ageing, increasingly automated post-Brexit economy and those that currently exist in the workforce. 

Employers and workers alike are demanding “plug and play” platforms that enable access to smaller bites of just-in-time education throughout their careers. Such opportunities enable adult learners to incorporate learning, anytime, anywhere, alongside other commitments such as work and family. Similarly, adults can use bite-sized learning to sample subject content and applicable learning before committing to something more substantial.

That’s why Pearson has developed a new, short, “taster and refresher” provision, alongside our existing modular approach to qualifications.  These short courses support adult learners seeking to switch career paths or to refresh their knowledge in existing or sectors of interest. These are delivered using digital solutions and blended learning to support access and progression for learners.

Using localised labour market information, we are working with colleges to map our new and existing provision against local training needs and skills shortages.  In addition, we are creating career progression maps that can be used by colleges to provide information to learners on opportunities within a sector which are matched to job roles and pathways. 

The political and economic landscape requires us to constantly update, retool, rethink, and relearn. Learning, like life itself is a mountain bike ride, uncertain and requiring flexibility and a constant reassessment of the plan and the route.  Adult learning opportunities serve as guides, enabling us to continue on that journey. It’s a crucial journey not just for the individual involved but for the whole country – supporting improved productivity, economic growth and social well-being.