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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.