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Adult learning: the ripple effect

David Hughes is chief executive of the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE)
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David Hughes, chief executive of the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE), discusses the impact of adult learning on the wider society.

Up and down the country, hundreds of adult learners have been recognised for their incredible achievements in education, as part of Adult learners’ Week (14-20 June). Hosted by NIACE in conjunction with thousands of partner organisation, this celebration highlights not only individual successes, but also the transformational power of lifelong learning in terms of health, well-being, employment prospects and so much more for the learners themselves as well as benefits for communities, families, businesses and the economic growth of the UK as a whole.

Backed by a range of supporters including the European Social Fund (ESF) and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), NIACE’s Adult Learners’ Week raises awareness of the dynamic personal, social and economic benefits of adult learning.

For adults, returning to education is proven to enhance career prospects, with research illustrating how qualifications can significantly heighten employment opportunities. Acquiring new skills has also been shown to improve learners’ life satisfaction, health and well-being. Through our Adult Learners’ Week Awards, we have witnessed these benefits in the life-stories of hundreds of people. This year we had a record number of nominations for awards from all over England and from all sorts of organisations.

It was great to see family learning nominations this year, following our Family Learning Inquiry report last year. In families we see children and their parents benefitting, with many of our winners, and those nominated for the awards, reporting the joys of using their new skills to help their children, from assisting with their schoolwork, to volunteering at local clubs or supporting a child with particular learning difficulties.

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Within the workplace, training opportunities have been shown to have positive impact for the employers and workers alike. By facilitating and encouraging learning, organisations can build a more satisfied and capable workforce, increasing staff retention in the process. Productivity can also be greatly improved for those staff who are able to access training opportunities at work, for example the Centre for Economics and Business Research found that gaining an apprenticeship raised an employee’s gross productivity by £214 per week.

In a ripple effect, the benefits of adult education have been seen to spread from individual homes and businesses into the wider society. In returning to learning at an older age, people are much more likely to engage in other areas of their lives, from community or voluntary work to political engagement.
Our Adult Learners’ Week award winners have taken up a wide range of activities from volunteering at homeless shelters to helping out at local schools, and many are now actively pursuing careers on the back of their volunteering. In opening up the possibilities of new skills, abilities and qualifications, learning can widen people’s prospects in all areas of life.

For this year’s Adult Learners’ Week, we are encouraging all learners and learning providers to ‘Pass it on’ and share their positive experiences and stories of adult learning with others. By bringing to life the benefits of learning a new skill, both individuals and organisations can inspire others to get involved in learning, further broadening the benefits of adult education for the whole of the UK.

David Hughes is chief executive of the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE)

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