From education to employment

Welcoming Adult Learners’ Week

This week sees the start of Adult Learners’ Week (ALW) as well as the Learning at Work (LAW) day on Thursday. Up and down the land people will be taking part in a vast array of sessions from photography, to tracing their family ancestry, to making smoothies, learning stress-busting techniques and taster courses in languages and computer skills.

Some of the sessions may help people with their work, but most will be about the sheer enjoyment of learning. The week, co-ordinated by NIACE and the Campaign for Learning, encourages learners to take up anything from Pilates to PhDs and is supported by unionlearn and unions. It is often through these informal sessions that people gain confidence and enthusiasm for study and learning. A new interest in following the family tree often leads to taking up courses in the computer skills necessary to locate those long-lost relatives from the mists of time. That fun taster session in holiday French may enough to banish memories of conjugating verbs on a Friday afternoon at school.

An evaluation of LAW by unionlearn’s Southern & Eastern region in 2007, found that more than 15,000 people in the south east took part in courses generated by the event. Everything from Arabic to yoga was on offer. Significantly, a high proportion of those taking part in LAW went on to do some other form of learning or training. The event led to a significant number (12 per cent of participants) signing up for Skills for Life assessments, while others were signposted to higher education courses. Taking the lead in putting on these events were union learning reps, who negotiated with employers to provide time off for employees and venues to accommodate the events. Many of the activities were run in partnership with HR and training teams. ULRs also worked with local colleges and other learning providers to provide free or discount tuition. The day itself is a valuable showcase for local colleges to advertise their wares.

Last year, overall an estimated 100,000 adults took part in more than 4,000 learning events. The difference between this year and recent times, is that less funding is available. The SERTUC evaluation noted that the funding was not only useful for making events happen, but it was an effective lever in getting employers to match it, sometimes in cash but more likely in time off (and the odd raffle prize). For this year, unionlearn has provided advice and guidance on how to put on events during the week at no cost. The early indications are the ULRs will still go ahead and put on events and the week will be a success.

Most importantly, the support provided by unionlearn, unions and employers has meant that ALW and LAWD are firmly embedded in many workplace calendars and will continue whether or not there is funding. ALW has grown from strength to strength and celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. Long may it continue to inspire and encourage adult learners.

Tom Wilson is director of unionlearn, the TUC’s learning and training organisation


Read other FE News articles by Tom Wilson:

A climate for change?

Tax relief not reaching most effective work-related courses

Bright sparks why apprentices can shine

Related Articles