From education to employment

The impact of FE learning on work, community and family

Carol Taylor is director of development and research at NIACE

A third of men and nearly a third of women who participated in further education (FE) got a better job as a result, Skills Minister Matthew Hancock announced on Monday.

This is the headline finding from The Impact of FE Learning, a new report from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills which was a great way to start the week. The research found that the primary motive for FE learning was to improve job prospects, or get a new job. This is great, although not surprising, news for those of us who have worked for years in what is often depressingly and unfairly referred to as ‘The Cinderella Sector’. Getting involved in learning as an adult actually does change lives! What a pity that this research has received almost no coverage, and that at least one of our FE colleagues has claimed it was a waste of money and that we all knew that anyway. We – those in FE – might know just how much learning can help people to transform lives but surely the point is to let others – learners and potential learners, employers, the Treasury, as well as the press – know it too?

There are three main points from this fascinating and comprehensive piece of research which have particularly interested me. Firstly, it illustrates the ‘…large and significant economic benefits associated with undertaking and completing learning and training. One third of men and 29% of women indicated that they had got a better job, while 18% of men and 12% of women indicated that they had received a promotion.’

Not only do most adults complete the course they are undertaking – ‘9 out of 10 are very or fairly satisfied’ with the course – nearly 60% indicate increased satisfaction with their job, over half indicate feeling more secure in their job and three in ten have gone onto further learning.

Analysis also shows that ‘the present value of the net benefit associated with undertaking and completing a National Vocational Qualification (for instance) at Level 2 stands at between £11,495 and £23,047 for men and between £21,284 and £43,335 for women compared to possession of the next highest level of qualification.

All this results in a considerable feeling of satisfaction, sense of well-being and security felt by employees; this must surely mean something to employers wanting to retain a happy and productive workforce at a time that is crucial for productivity levels across the economy.

But it is beyond the workplace where the impact is also being felt. This report also states that ‘…participation in adult learning ….between the ages of 33 and 42 increased the extent of race tolerance; reduced political cynicism; reduced authoritarian beliefs; and increased political interest…’ – the same analysis also indicates that ‘undertaking either one or two adult learning courses increased the extent of memberships and increased the probability of voting…


Again something that is not complete news to us but it is great to have confirmed that engaging in learning as an adult increases tolerance and engagement in life – developing the sort of citizens, I imagine, the Government, every Government wants – committed, engaged, interested in politics and voting; the sort of citizens who can ask questions and have a critical awareness of what is happening in our society and in their local communities.

At a visit to Sheffield last week, to see a group of learners engaged on a mentoring course, the outcomes reported by the learners were not what everyone would expect: ‘I have lost 4 stone in weight’; ‘I feel I belong now, on this estate’; ‘I became a school governor because i wanted to make a difference’.

But perhaps the most crucial piece of evidence from this report to convince the non-believers of just how crucial FE is, not just for now but for the future is the statistic that ‘…58% of women completing the education and training responded that the course had enabled them to help children with school work..’ and that ‘...the findings also illustrate the increased likelihood that individuals undertaking training and qualifications increase their appetite for further learning at a higher level, further reinforcing the possibility of transmitting learning within the family environment across generations.’

Again not surprising, but this message is not heard enough – learning as an adult helps support the next generation, enabling them to develop skills and attitudes to learning. The report also notes that ‘…parental education accounts for 5% of the cognitive gap…’ – the gap in the cognitive scores achieved by children in the richest and poorest households – ‘…the home learning environment accounts for 4% of the gap….while educational attitudes and aspirations of the child account for 20%; parental cognitive ability (16%), and parental attitudes and social skills (8%).’


Work, community and family – three priority areas for a cohesive, skilled and happy society… and learning as an adult, with its transformative effects, has a major role in helping the nation achieve this.

Carol Taylor is director of development and research at NIACE, which encourages all adults to engage in learning

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