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I recently saw that a study which showed that two million fewer adults are benefiting from adult education. The study, which was carried out by the Learning and Skills Council, showed that in 2003-04 more than 5.1 million adults were on courses funded by the Learning and Skills Council. By 2006-07 this figure had fallen to just 3.1 million.

This begs the question: Why are fewer adults in training and how can we encourage them to come back?

It is vital that we continue to develop the workforce through adult learning. I may be slightly biased but I believe – as I am sure many of you do - that learning is an integral part of our personal development – no matter how old we are or what position we hold within an organisation. Whether people are at the top of their game, looking for a promotion or seeking employment, training can help them achieve and maintain goals and develop new skills.

Adult education is also integral to the UK’s workforce - we need to ensure that once the recession is over we are still in a competitive position and have the skills base required.

Is it that we need to change the perception of adult education? For a long time some aspects of education were labeled more of a ‘hobby’ or a ‘craft’ as opposed to a learning experience. This led many people to associate this area of learning with qualifications such as pottery, Indian head massage and holiday Spanish – all of which are popular qualifications and have their own place on the learning spectrum.

However, adult learning has changed significantly over the past few years. It is becoming increasingly focused on specific skills and the training which is now required.

It is vital – now more so than ever - to make sure people are offered the relevant training, and that the FE sector provides the resources and qualifications required, to get us through this difficult economic downturn and come out this recession successfully with a highly trained and skilled workforce.

There are a range of qualifications currently available which can help us do this and we need to start shouting about the importance of this element of learning.

We need to look at provisions such as employability qualifications to strengthen and support adults looking to develop their careers. This will also help businesses upskill the workforce.

With the right support and encouragement, these qualifications will be increasingly sought after and demand will continue to grow. Some people may critisise the simplicity of this type of qualification. Surely though, if they are developing communication skills, personal effectiveness, working environments, team working skills and IT literacy – to name but a few – we should all be embracing them and offering them as a tool towards gaining and retaining employment.

At NCFE we have also seen a pattern of adults coming back into learning to retrain. This has been particularly apparent for tradesmen who are looking to pass on their knowledge to develop a new generation of a skilled workforce. With the development of qualifications such as Preparing to Teach in the Life Long Learning Sector, we are providing a new career choice through accessible and flexible learning. This must continue to ensure we are fully prepared for the need for skilled workers which will soon be on the horizon.

I also ensure I practice what I preach both myself and the strategic management team at NCFE recently completed a qualification in coaching for success - ensuring we all refresh our skills to benefit the whole organisation. (This is also going to be rolled out across all the management teams).

As long as it is relevant to you, your professional development or your job it is worth doing.

The FE sector now needs to pull together and encourage more adults into learning. The opportunities on offer can make a big difference to people’s lives and their potential career paths.

We need to continue developing and delivering relevant qualifications and focus in encouraging adults back into learning. With the number of benefits and opportunities this brings has it shouldn’t be a hard sell.

I am confident that figures in adult education will increase. The employment market is competitive and people want to stand out from the crowd, retain their positions and show employers that they are dedicated to personal development and skills development.

David Grailey, Chief Executive at national qualification provider NCFE

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