Learning needs don’t end when people reach early 20s

5th December 2013

The Government must not alter its commitment to raising skill levels in order to drive long-term and sustained economic growth, urges NIACE in response to the Autumn Statement which included news of 30,000 extra places in higher education and 20,000 more Higher Apprenticeships.

David Hughes, Chief Executive of NIACE, said:

“The Government deserves credit for recognising that it will not be possible to build a sustainable recovery on the basis of low-skill jobs that add little value. Britain’s competitive advantage lies in a knowledge-rich, innovative economy which utilises the skills and creativity of the entire population to the full.”

“What is worrying though is the absence of announcements to help people re-skill or raise their skill levels during their working lifetime. Preparing people for entry to the labour market, whether through apprenticeships or higher education is important but it is not the whole story. Learning needs do not end when people reach their early twenties.”

Overall the Autumn Statement is a mixed bag for adults who want to learn.

  • NIACE believes that because of the rise of the state pension age adults will need access throughout their career to opportunities which help them refresh their skills and knowledge, to retrain and maintain their employability as they age. Our Mid-Life Career Review Pilot Programme will play an important part in preparing adults to plan the second half of their working lives to help avoid the model of retirement as a ‘cliff-edge event’ and make it more of a process of transition.
  • The expansion of higher education of an extra 30,000 places is very welcome, as is the decision to go on to lift the cap on HE student numbers. However, it would be unfortunate if universities responded simply by increasing full-time courses for young people. This presents a potential opportunity to incentivise the supply of, and demand for, flexible and creative ways to participate in higher education, which need to reflect curriculum diversity and labour market need.
  • The decision to scrap National Insurance payments for workers under the age of 21 is a bold move to encourage businesses to start hiring, but it is essential that new jobs are not dead-end, low-skill jobs at the bottom of the labour market. They must be jobs with training and opportunities for career development. Similarly, the proposals for Traineeships need to have quality as the main focus and emphasise the benefits of training.
  • The plan to introduce 20,000 more Higher Apprenticeship places over two years will only happen if employers rise to the challenge. We urge the Government to monitor closely the effect this has on the numbers of Apprenticeships offered in small and medium-sized businesses and to have contingency plans ready in case there is any fall-off in the number of places that are available.

David Hughes added:

“We have warned repeatedly that the introduction of loans for Apprenticeships for those aged 24 and over is not working. Only 94 people have applied for a loan for a Higher Apprenticeship in the first quarter of this year, and urgent action is needed. Otherwise adults are not going to get the training they need, employers won’t have the skilled workforce they are crying out for and the prospect for prolonged economic growth will be at risk.

“So far we have not heard exactly how the Government will fund the extra £1 billion of savings from departmental budgets. There remains a real risk that opportunities for adults will narrow at a time when they are essential for a sustained economic recovery.”