Adult Education Position Paper

Adult education will play a fundamental role in building back following the disruption caused by the pandemic. The challenges facing adult education are significant, but there are also considerable opportunities to ensure all adults can access support to develop skills and progress into or within employment.

Even before the pandemic, adult education was badly impacted by years of funding cuts and underinvestment. However, the profile and prominence of adult education has increased significantly through the devolution of adult education funding to Combined Authority areas and the announcements of the Lifetime Skills Guarantee and the Lifelong Loan Entitlement (LLE).

The UK economy continues to suffer significant technical skills gaps; it is estimated that by 2024 there will be a shortfall of four million highly skilled workers. In addition, the UK faces a range of future skills challenges, driven by rapid technological change, and an ageing population. The pandemic has only exacerbated these underlying challenges. More than ever, adults will need the support to move into work and help them transition in their careers.

Across the labour market, we are starting to see a recovery, as employment increases and unemployment falls. Even still, the current unemployment rate of 4.8% is 0.9 points higher than before the pandemic. This is certainly well below some of the worst-case scenarios predicted in March/April 2020, but the rate is still higher than at any point in the last few years. These relatively buoyant unemployment numbers are also likely the effects of the extraordinary support offered to employers through the coronavirus job retention scheme. It is highly likely that once the existing support mechanisms are withdrawn, the number of unemployed will rise significantly. A clear policy of accessible and high-quality upskilling and retraining opportunities will be vital to navigate the postcovid economic reality.

This paper sets out what we see as the critical opportunities for improving the adult education system. This includes understanding how adult education policy at a national level interacts with regional policy, the prospects for further reform, and the budget allocation and reconciliation process.