According to research, commissioned as part of the first ever Colleges Week event, more than eight million adults are eager to develop new skills or enhance existing ones to raise their job prospects during the torrid economic climate.

The study, from the Association of Colleges, reveals a fifth (21 per cent) of adults in England have pledged to gain further qualifications of the next year, and a third (31 per cent) of these wish to upgrade their skills during the economic downturn.

david collins aoc2009David Collins, President of the Association of Colleges, said: "Understandably the current economic situation will trigger people to reassess their situation and to come to bold decisions about their future. Quite rightly people will be looking at the qualifications they have got and those they need to get to fulfil their future aspirations."

In the last three years, some 8.4 million people switched their careers, and 3.2 million plan to do so over the next 12 months. Colleges Week, which will run from 10-16 November, aims to highlight the crucial role colleges play in helping these individuals access the education and training they need to cope with difficult economic times.

Mr Collins added: "As we celebrate Colleges Week, we would encourage anyone interested in updating their skills to contact their local college to find out how they can unlock their talent and transform their life."

The survey also highlights the role money plays in the equation, with 38 per cent of participants saying their intent on returning to learning was based on increasing their earning power. However, one in ten of the 13 per cent pursing further qualifications said it was because they believed they were on the wrong path in life. These participants regretted the decisions made about their career and education in the past and were looking for a new start, showing the move back to learning was not always motivated by the money.

The research also discovered that 18 per cent of adults regretted not staying in education for longer. A quarter of those making changes to their education, skills or career were found to be doing so to gain skills they did not learn when they were younger.

Skills Secretary John Denham said: "Research like this shows that many people are looking at ways to change their lives.

"In these challenging times, we have made radical changes to and unprecedented investment in the training and skills system to allow more people than ever before to fulfil their potential and realise their aspirations.

"Colleges play a vital role in this. They not only train people so they can get a job or get on at work, they give people the opportunity to enjoy a much loved pastime and improve people’s basic skills, such as literacy, so they can lead a fuller life.

"Colleges week is a great way for institutions up and down the country to showcase this work and celebrate their success."

Colleges Week is led by the Association of Colleges in close partnership with the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills and the Learning Skills Council. Throughout the week colleges across England will showcase the result of the learning experience by running skills challenges from building an electric car to renovating a homeless hostel. The new event will focus on five themes showing the impact colleges have on developing skills, delivering excellence, helping businesses succeed, building strong communities and transforming lives.

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