Adult Training and Retraining for All in the 2020s

A new policy pamphlet launched by the Campaign for Learning and NCFE calls on the new Conservative Government to use the much welcome £600m a year National Skills Fund to level-up the skills of adults aged 24 and over, wherever they live.

‘Making a Success of the National Skills Fund’ features a star-studded array of contributors from the post-18 education and skills sector -including higher education, further education, LEPs and combined authorities— there is real excitement that the National Skills Fund could be a stepping stone to a Right to Retrain in the 2020s.

Contributors and their articles are:

  • Stephen Evans, Learning and Work Institute - Renewing Lifelong Learning through the National Skills Fund
  • Tom Bewick, Federation of Awarding Bodies – Backing Adults – Turning the National Skills Fund into Skills Accounts
  • Mark Dawe, Association of Employment and Learning Providers - Funding Skills Accounts through the National Skills Fund
  • Ewart Keep, University of Oxford - A Dual Approach - Retain the National Retraining Scheme and Devolve the National Skills Fund
  • Jamie Driscoll, North of the Tyne Combined Authority - Devolve the National Skills Fund to Elected Mayors and LEPs
  • Gemma Gathercole, Coventry and Warwickshire LEP - The National Skills Fund and Part-In, Part-Out Devolution
  • David Hughes, Association of Colleges - Bringing the National Skills Fund and Adult Education Budget Together
  • Simon Parkinson, Workers’ Education Association - The National Skills Fund – Engaging the Whole Community
  • Kim Chaplain, Centre for Ageing Better - The National Skills Fund – No Older Adult Left Behind
  • Greg Wade, Universities UK - HE and FE must collaborate over the National Skills Fund
  • Andy Westwood, University of Manchester - From the National Skills Fund to a ‘Right to Retraining’
  • Mark Corney, Policy Consultant - The National Skills Fund - Creating a Retraining Revolution

In recent years, we have seen unprecedented change across the UK’s economic and labour market. Longer working lives and automation will impact on adults of all ages in prosperous and less prosperous areas of England and no adult should be left behind.

In their 2019 General Election manifesto, the Conservatives promised to introduce a National Skills Fund from 2021 which would provide £3 billion over five years, contributing towards retraining and upskilling the adult workforce.

The collection of articles in the paper explore the proposed National Skills Fund and an individual’s right to retraining in more detail, highlighting some of the major challenges the policy faces alongside issues which are set to further impact the economy, such as:

The Devolution Issue - A critical question the Government should consider is how funding for the National Skills Fund should be distributed. Some contributors call for the NSF to be devolved to elected mayors and LEPs. Others call for the NSF to be combined with the Adult Education Budget and allow providers to compete for funds. There are also those who suggest that funding should be devolved to adults through a system of personal skill accounts linked, perhaps, to a right to time off for adult retraining.

The National Retraining Scheme - There is also a strong case to retain the National Retraining Scheme. It is one of the few programmes with a focus on sectors rather than a single employer - such as the apprenticeship levy - or a geographic area - such as the Adult Education Budget. The decision by the Government not to have a low-skilled worker route under its skills-based immigration system due to be introduced from 1st January 2020 will mean sectors such as adult social care, hospitality and construction will have to recruit from the resident labour force. A skills-based immigration policy adds to the case for retaining and expanding a sector-focused National Retraining Scheme.

Building on the Post-18 Review of Education and Funding - The National Skills Fund will need to operate alongside existing funding streams including the partially devolved Adult Education Budget. Last May, the Review Panel on Post-18 Education and Funding in England called for an extension to free training for adults of any age seeking a first full Level 2 and first full Level 3 at a cost of £500m. There is a strong case for adopting this proposal. This would mean the National Skills Fund could be used to support re-training.

More than Free Courses - An often quoted adage is that skills can help adults out of insecure and low paid jobs, but in today's flexible labour market, the reality is insecure and low paid jobs prevent training and retraining. The challenge of creating a retraining revolution goes beyond free provision. Low paid adults in insecure jobs have to put earning before retraining unless they receive maintenance grants and loans to help them make ends meet whilst training.