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Making adult education in the North East fit for the future

As well as delivering benefits to mental health and wellbeing, adult education helps to equip people with the skills they need in the workplace. As new technologies bring changes to job roles, North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) Skills Director, Michelle Rainbow, takes a look at how adult education provision in our region can keep pace with the new skills that employers are looking for.

Having a skilled workforce is vital if the North East is to have a bright economic future. And it’s not just about the skills that employers are looking for now. It’s also vital that we’re equipping people with skills that will stand them in good stead as our economy changes – we know that the skills employers looked for in the past are not what they’ll be looking for in five or 10 years’ time, and our adult education provision needs to keep pace with these changes.

Across all sectors of industry we’re seeing jobs change as a result of digitalisation, automation and AI. From a business perspective, adopting new technologies is imperative, but for employees, it can be seen as a risk: do you have the skills employers will be looking for over the next few years? Will your job role change? Are your digital skills up to date?

These questions are relevant to people working in all areas of our economy. For example, in retail, we are likely to see a decrease in the number of people employed on the shop floor in physical retail outlets. However, online roles will increase. Some of the skills needed in these online roles will be the same – customer service and sales, for example – but employees will also need to be up to speed in terms of their digital skills.

Adult education can help people to future-proof their skillsets. It can help people move into new roles, help them to progress within their workplace, and it can also help make sure that they can still be in that role in five or 10 years’ time.

Employer needs are constantly evolving so it’s important that training providers really understand the direction of travel. We need to listen to employers and be responsive, making sure that employers and training providers are working together to shape adult education.

As well as future-proofing the workforce, skills development can drive up productivity – employees with new skills bring knowledge back into businesses, share what they know with other staff, and help businesses to stay competitive.

There are clear benefits for the individual and their quality of life as well. Lifelong learning broadens horizons, it gives people opportunities to progress and it keeps us mentally alert and active.

From a personal perspective I’ve found that lifelong learning – not only through formal learning but also through continuing CPD, attending conferences, subscribing to literature and staying up to date with changes in the sector – keeps me motivated and makes me more confident about my role.

As we continue to create more and better jobs in the North East, the North East LEP will help to shape adult education provision, providing insight into future skills demand and helping training providers to understand what it is that both employers and employees are looking for.

Learning doesn’t stop when we leave formal education. Lifelong learning is about acquiring new knowledge and skills throughout life and we must make sure that this is accessible to everyone.

Find out about the role skills play in the North East Strategic Economic Plan.


Home / lifelong learning

Planning for our region’s ‘upskill battle’

This week, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) published a report into the importance of lifelong learning in our modern economy.

They’ve entitled it ‘An upskill battle’, which perfectly encapsulates the challenge we face as we respond to an ever-changing sector and skills landscape, and as we work to develop a more competitive economy for the North East.

The very nature of this challenge – particularly around technology, digitalisation and innovation – is that the landscape will continue to evolve and change. It is indeed an uphill battle. So how do we plan and prepare for a future that could change the very moment we think we’ve caught up with it?

The North East Local Enterprise Partnership has been working for some time now – with employers, training providers, schools, colleges and other partners – to explore these challenges and keep them at the top of the agenda when it comes to future planning around employability and skills in the region.

And as highlighted by the CBI in their report, lifelong adult education and careers guidance need to be a fundamental part of the solution.

The demands of today’s global, digitally-driven economy require a broader, more agile skillset than ever before. It’s a fast-moving landscape that waits for no-one. Employers and government need to recognise this quickly and work together to make sure that people can access the training and support they need to remain productive throughout their working lives.

Employers need to build training and skills development into their business models, and government needs to ensure that training is accessible and affordable for those who need to pay for it themselves.

We also agree with the CBI that we need to extend careers guidance beyond 19 and abandon the idea that teachers can equip young people with all the knowledge they need at the start.

Instead, we need to think about careers guidance as a journey from primary-age to retirement, and this is particularly important for those who experience loss of work or whose skills face becoming obsolete.

If we can put the right support, guidance and training opportunities in place in our region, we can revive, revitalise and extend working lives and create a workforce that’s adaptable and ready to take on whatever the future economy may throw at us.

An important part of this will be around supporting people to understand how they can map and transfer their strengths, skills and knowledge from one role to another throughout their career.

That’s why we particularly support the CBI’s suggestion that government should look to develop a nationally recognised skills ‘passporting’ tool as part of the National Retraining Scheme, so that informal training and skills are taken into account when looking for future employment. The Department for Education’s Get Help to Retrain scheme, piloted in the North East, is a good step towards this, supporting people to map their current skills and signposting opportunities.

This CBI report highlights some very stark realities; people will typically work up to twenty years longer than their parents, well into their 70s, meaning the growing need for adult education and a shift towards a lifelong learning culture is critical.

Working into our 70s and beyond is a challenge that many of us will personally face. The time to plan for that future, is now.

Michelle Rainbow, Skills Director, North East Local Enterprise Partnership.