Stephen Evans

Stephen Evans, Chief Executive
Learning and Work Institute
United Kingdom





Adult Education and Development: 
Which skills and competencies do we need to survive in the future?

Stephen Evans: Learning and skills are central to a fair, inclusive and prosperous society. They help people to play an active role in their community and society, support their children in their education and development, and are increasingly vital to employment and career opportunities.

Yet today too many in the UK find themselves locked out of opportunity and without the learning and skills they need.

Essential skills: The 2011 Skills for Life Survey found that one in four adults have low numeracy skills and one in six have low literacy skills. The 2011 Census showed that 850,000 adults were ‘non proficient? in the English language. Worryingly, the UK is in the bottom four countries for literacy and numeracy skills among 16 24 year olds in the 2013 OECD Adult Skills Survey. Almost one in four adults lacks basic digital skills. All of this is linked to shortfalls in financial capability, active citizenship and health capability.

The importance of these essentials is only going to grow. Our economy and society are changing. The advance of technology makes digital skills ever more important to access public service, open up new ways of learning, and finding work. More and more jobs require basic levels of literacy and numeracy: today, only one in two people with no qualifica tions are in work.

Professional and technical skills: Beyond this basic core of skills, a range of technical and professional skills is vital for the growth industries of the future, such as technology, engineering and science. Here the UK performs relatively well in terms of higher level skills and has some of the best universities in the world. But our intermediate skills base is less strong. Despite some great provision and world leading industries, the UK has a relatively low proportion of people qualified to intermediate level. This can make it challenging for people to progress from low pay if they lack the skills to gain a higher salary, and for employers to compete in the global economy.

Adaptability and flexibility: The main thing we know about the future is that it cannot be predicted accurately. Many of the jobs of the future have not been invented yet. And new ways of connecting people and engaging them will be cre ated too. At the same time, the UK’s population is ageing and working lives lengthening: today’s school leavers are likely to have 50 year careers. So ensuring people are equipped to adapt and respond to change and uncertainty is essential. This also means updating skills as technology moves on, and changing jobs and careers multiple times. Learning and flexibility are the best way to help people adapt to change and make the most of it.

How can we learn them?

Flexibility and adaptability are just as vital to our learning and skills system as they are to our society and economy. People learn in a variety of ways: from friends, family and colleagues, in the workplace, at home or in the community, online, and in the classroom. All of this learning, whether it is formal and leads to a qualification or informal and focused on a specific question, is valuable.

Essential skills: Those of you familiar with the Learning Through Life inquiry into the future for lifelong learning will know that it recommended a set of capabilities all citizens should have for the 21st century. The Learning and Work Insti tute have taken this forward by arguing that the UK should double its investment in basic skills so that all adults get the chance to build their literacy, numeracy, digital, health, financial and citizenship skills by 2030. And we’ve developed the Citizens’ Curriculum as a new way to do this: locally led, developed with the active participation of learners, and interlinking the life skills of language, literacy and numeracy, with health, financial, digital and civic capabilities. The results of our pilots are positive: practitioners and learners have both told us of the benefits, and we have shown clear savings to other public services because people are more engaged: one local council saved €4.35 for every €1 spent.

Professional and technical skills: The UK Government has published a Skills Plan based on the findings of the Independent Panel on Technical Education led by Lord Sains bury. This aims to establish clearer pathways for technical education. The Learning and Work Institute welcome the principles and aims of these changes: the test for their success will come in the details of their implementation and how they work for adults as well as 16 19 year olds. Apprenticeships are the other key Government policy in this area: combining work with training in professional and technical skills. They have targeted 3 million apprenticeship starts by 2020, with the content of learning led by employers. The Institute has welcomed the drive to expand apprenticeships, but we have called for a greater focus on access to apprenticeships (so that everyone who can benefit can access one) and quality (so that apprenticeships have real benefits for employers and individuals). Both the Skills Plan and expansion of ap prenticeships apply to England only: the Scottish and Welsh Governments have separate approaches.

Adaptability and flexibility: Lastly, it is clear that the ways in which we learn have changed, are changing and will change. For example, there is a big growth in use of digital and online methods of learning. At the Institute, we are proud to be pioneering this: from developing new ways of digital learning in prisons, to supporting Further Education colleges to develop new online ways of learning, to incorpo rating technology into family learning and using Apps. It also means a greater focus on bite size learning and learning in informal ways, as well as traditional longer qualifications. This all brings such exciting opportunities: we are only at the beginning of this journey. 

Important notice: If you click on this link, you will leave the websites of DVV International. DVV International is not responsible for the content of third party websites that can be accessed through links. DVV International has no influence as to which personal data of yours is accessed and/or processed on those sites. For more information, please review the privacy policy of the external website provider.