North East England Chamber of Commerce has urged Government to expand and invest in the adult education system, to help tackle the region’s low skills base, more important than ever due to the pandemic.
On behalf of its members including Further Education Colleges, Chamber chief executive, James Ramsbotham said: “Our region is facing many structural economic challenges which will fundamentally alter how the skills system needs to operate. These challenges include not just the Covid-19 pandemic, but also the UK’s exit from the European Union and the shift to more automation and digitisation.
“The pandemic has rapidly accelerated a technological evolution. The onus will, therefore, be on the skills system to help people re-enter work and, where necessary, new sectors of the economy. Research has consistently shown a strong correlation between adults undertaking education and training courses and successfully re-entering work, particularly for non-graduates.”
“Ensuring that our skills system is fit for purpose is integral to the North East’s future prosperity and ability to level up. The North East entered this crisis with an already high unemployment rate, which leaves the region disproportionately vulnerable to any national increase in joblessness.”
The letter states the North East adult education system is suffering from long-term under-investment and rock bottom participation rates. These low rates in adult education are also disproportionately concentrated in lower-socioeconomic groups,
In addition, if participation rates are to increase, the barriers preventing adults from taking part in adult education and training must be tackled. These include support currently only for people who don’t have a level 3 qualification already and no training allowed for people on benefits, who want to have to attend over 16 hours tuition a week.
James Ramsbotham said: “Government needs to demonstrate the value of adult education and retraining on a wide scale with participation rates at record lows. It is particularly important to target those from lower-socioeconomic backgrounds who are less likely to engage in adult education, despite benefiting disproportionately from it.
“Before the last election, the Conservative manifesto committed to re-prioritising the further education system. The North East has one of the lowest skills bases in the UK, with workers often locked into low paid jobs or falling into unemployment at higher-than-average rates. Ensuring that the adult education system has the attention and funding it needs will be crucial to the levelling up agenda. Now is the time for Government to commit to life-long learning.”
The Chamber letter was co-signed by its members Darren Hankey, principal, Hartlepool College and Nadine Hudspeth, director of communications, Gateshead College. A copy of the letter is here and a case study of Darren Hankey’s own experience of the benefits of adult education on his own life is here.