Future teachers, carers and nurses could be held back from realising their potential and risk stifling economic growth if proposed cuts to community learning courses goes ahead, councils warn today.
Local leaders should instead be given more freedom to bring together employers, jobseekers and training providers to ensure vacancies can be filled by local people with the right skills and qualifications.
The Local Government Association, which represents more than 350 councils across England and Wales, say next week’s Autumn Statement is an opportunity to reverse plans to curtail adult learning provision which supports health and wellbeing, and helps build local communities.
These include courses such as family learning and healthy eating, helping residents manage their household budgets, studying English, or learning digital skills. GPs also use them as a social prescribing tool to help those experiencing loneliness and depression.
Many adults – including those with the lowest qualifications, low confidence, those out of work for some time including for health reasons, or who want to change career – use these first steps courses to engage in learning, and with dedicated support go on to further learning to fill skills gaps in in-demand roles, including teaching, social care, nursing and many others.
Councils say the current plans, which are intended to focus activity solely on achieving employment for all learners, will have unintended consequences for the Government’s ambition for growth, as it will reduce local options for people looking to increase their skills and manage life’s challenges.
A separate report by the Heseltine Institute for the LGA, published today, also sets out how the national approach to adult skills is too fragmented and complex for learners and employers to navigate, with councils and combined authorities best placed to join this up and fill the gaps.
The report found that whilst government investment has focused on level 3 Free Courses for Jobs provision (A-level or equivalent), there are millions of adults who are locked out of progressing to this higher level training because they do not have a Level 2 (GCSE or equivalent). It recommends a more balanced funding approach and a far more joined up system locally, including devolving more powers to respond quickly to new labour market trends including digital, net zero and automation, whose impacts will vary from place to place.
With 80 per cent of the 2030 workforce in employment now, the report says in-work training is vital to achieve economic growth by providing increased financial incentives for employers to invest in skills, alongside local support for businesses to help translate these skills into productivity gains.
However, the Adult Education Budget has been halved in recent years and is set to be reformed into a new Skills Fund. The LGA said the Government should allow councils and combined authorities maximum freedom to plan this successor Fund with employers including those leading local skills plans, training providers, charities, and others. This would help identify and encourage more adults into learning and onto good jobs fit for the future.
Existing work between central and local government to roll out the Multiply adult numeracy programme is also proof that local, partnership approaches to identify and engage residents in learning are the most effective.
Cllr Kevin Bentley, Chairman of the LGA’s People and Places Board, said:
“Growing the economy will not be easily achieved if we cannot provide the routes to jobs of the future.
“Our rapidly changing labour market means we need to be investing more now to give people the right skills and qualifications to keep up with demand, whether it be in new green technologies or providing the next generation of teachers, nurses and care workers.
“Every area has its own unique mix of jobs, qualification levels, unemployment and vacancies, which a one-size-fits-all national approach to tackling our looming skills deficit will not solve.
“Councils know their areas best and need the right funding and powers to help prepare a workforce fit for the future. This includes extending to all councils the ability to fully manage adult education budgets in their areas.
“Providing people with the means to upskill and increase their opportunities, including encouraging older people and those with little or no qualifications into work, will be ultimately how we boost growth, spread prosperity and help to level up the country.”
Councils and devolved authorities are already working to maximise the impact of individual national employment and skills programmes on the ground by turning them into a more coherent local offer for residents, communities, businesses and other employers to realise their potential, and believe more can be achieved through place-based approaches.
- Essex County Council is supporting the transition to EVs by creating a new Electric Vehicle Centre at Harlow College, so Automotive Technicians can train to maintain and repair EVs, futureproofing local employers skills needs, and using community learning to raise awareness about EVs and help owners understand their vehicles.
- Liverpool City Region is using its devolved Adult Education Budget (AEB) to address progression route gaps towards Level 3. It is supporting the Workers’ Educational Association (WEA) with a Test and Learn pilot to help unemployed residents gain a bespoke Level 2 Maternity Nurse qualification, with the aim of progressing towards the industry required standard of Level 3.
- West Midlands Combined Authority’s digital retraining adults bootcamps is in response to local employers’ growing and unmet digital skills needs. Working with training providers it creates a bridge into digital jobs for unemployed residents and career changers. The pilot supported 1,500 learners, with 65 per cent into positive outcomes.
- In 2019/20, Westminster Adult Education Service (WAES) supported 126 adults to achieve GCSEs in English and maths. One learner, Nadia, a mother from Morocco, started as an ESOL student and became interested in teaching assistant roles to support her own children’s schoolwork. After volunteering, achieving maths and English grades, she qualified as a teaching assistant, and now works in a local primary school. For more examples, see our report on the value of adult and community learning.
- Devon County Council rapidly moved from dealing with the Flybe closure to dealing with the impact of the pandemic. It provided business advice, redundancy support, digital signposting, and a new curriculum offer to meet demand in digital, literacy and numeracy skills and employability qualifications tailoring support for people needing to transition to new jobs or sectors, including over 50s with low qualifications and in lower paid sectors; sole traders, and furloughed or redundant workers.
- Bristol City Council’s ‘Move In, Move On, Move Up’ helped homeless people build skills, resilience, confidence and independence. Funded by DWP and the council, specialist partners combined support including housing, health, drug and alcohol support and debt advice. Between December 2020 and October 2021, it supported 100 rough sleepers, including 28 who started employment and 35 who completed an English language course.