Working longer means more help for adult learners

2005

The draft Age Discrimination Regulations finally appeared in mid-July along with the third and final consultation document, suitably titled Coming of Age.

In the comment which followed, there has been very little focus on the fact that the Regulations cover lifelong learning and training as well as employment.

The adult learning scene has entered particularly turbulent waters this summer because the adult share of the £10bn Government budget for post 16 learning is falling.

The law requires the Learning & Skills Councils to give funding priority to 16-18 year olds. Adults - especially adults over 30 - come at the tail-end, after what is called 'foundation education' and the expansion of higher education to meet the Government's aspirational target of 50 per cent of school-leavers going on to university.

This focus on 'first-chance' or foundation learning may seem reasonable. Reducing the proportion of 20 year-olds embarking with inadequate foundation learning is necessary and there is not enough public money for all adults to learn whatever they want.

However a globally competitive skilled UK workforce is a central Government objective. If we only act at the entry level, and make insignificant impact on the existing workforce, it will take decades to catch up, if ever. There is a credibility gap between the rhetoric of the Skills Strategy and actual delivery.

Nor is the obsessive focus on first-chance learning (to the near exclusion of second or third chance learning) any way to respond to demographic change.

Life-long learning has to underpin extending working life and multiple careers.

Foundation learning will not serve individuals for a 40 or 50 year working life. There has been no real debate about the overall allocation of education spending between schools, higher education and all-age learning. But there needs to be one.

The Third Age Employment Network (TAEN) cares deeply about guidance for lifelong learning and employment, and the provision of learning opportunities for the existing workforce.

How much of the £4.5bn annual training spend by employers contributes to developing the skills of people in mid and later career?

Concerted action by employers, the State and individuals themselves (with the support and the work of Union Learning Reps, Sector Skills Councils and others) can re-equip people with a potential and self-perception that goes far beyond a definition circumscribed by what they have done in the past.

We don't have simple answers. Our aim is to raise awareness of the gulf between the age profile of adult learners and the adult population.

We seek to illustrate that real lifelong learning is also integral to solutions to the Pension "crisis" and saving for retirement.

The Pension Commission will publish their final report in November. It must include the potential for skilled, varied, productive and rewarding work in later career based on lifelong training and access to re-skilling.

About The Author

Patrick Grattan
Patrick Grattan

Patrick is Chief Executive of the Third Age Employment Network (TAEN), an independent charity, working for better opportunities for mature people to continue to learn, work and earn for as long as they want, or need, to do so.