We are already looking at the supply of skills training, writes Fiona Aldridge. Now we need to encourage people to want grow these skills.

In yet another busy news week for the sector, it can be easy to miss some of the most interesting developments, especially when they’re launched without the major fanfare of an industrial strategy, or the wider news appeal of a decline in apprenticeship numbers.

For me, one such development was last week’s government foresight review into the Future of skills and lifelong learning, bringing together an impressive body of evidence to consider the policy implications for five of our most important challenges: low levels of literacy and numeracy, work-readiness of labour market entrants, mismatch in the demand for and supply of skills, low skills equilibriums, and how we support learning across the life-course.

This will be a valuable evidence base for many years to come. It has already played a role in shaping one of the more overlooked announcements in Justine Greening’s speech at this week’s Skills Summit.

One million fewer adults are learning than five years ago

Alongside a series of announcements aimed at developing the skills of young people – a new skills partnership, the T-level consultation, the Institutes of Technology – a £10 million investment was announced to “test the best ways of incentivising adults to train in the skills that their local economy needs”. This is important; if we are to address the skills needs both of today and the years to come, we must focus on those who are already in the labour market, not just those who are entering it.

This is the second announcement in as many weeks, detailing how the £40 million “career learning” package, first mentioned in last year’s spring budget, will be spent. The £10 million Flexible Learning Fund is designed to address a range of challenges in the supply of adult skills provision. This investment is focused on increasing demand

Over the coming months, Learning and Work Institute will be working with local partners in Leeds, Devon and Somerset, Lincolnshire, Stoke-on-Trent and the West Midlands to design and support a range of outreach and cost pilots. Each pilot will explore different approaches to engaging more adults in learning. It will also trial and test ways of overcoming some of the financial barriers that adults face. Our learning about what works will inform the National Retraining Scheme.

As the foresight review shows us, the challenge is significant. One million fewer adults are learning than five years ago, and many lower-skilled workers say that they aren’t interested in developing their skills, that they feel too old or don’t have the confidence to learn new things.

But it also shows that the prize is high. Learning benefits not just the individual, but also their families, their communities, their employer, as well as the wider economy.

Developing your skills is associated with higher wages and a greater chance of being employed and progressing at work. And as our local partners recognise, it is critical in addressing skills gaps, boosting productivity and stimulating growth. These are exciting times and we look forward to sharing progress with you as the pilots develop.

Fiona Aldridge is assistant director of research and development at the Learning and Work Institute

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