Kim Chaplain, Director for Work, Centre for Ageing Better

#100YearLife - Longer Working Lives

Through their £3bn pledge to establish a National Skills Fund the Government is offering a right to retrain to every adult, aiming to empower millions of people to achieve their potential and to create a powerhouse of human capital that will drive the economy post Brexit. Brexit and the subsequent withdrawal of free movement presents an interesting proposition for a rapidly ageing workforce.

The workforce is ageing fast, currently 32% of British labour is aged over 50 and this is projected to rise to 37% by 2040. We are all likely to live longer and this means our working life may need to be longer to support our retirement years. It needs to be embraced as an opportunity: there are benefits to an age- diverse workforce, and myths about productivity falling at older ages are not backed by evidence.

From no ‘16-24-Year-Old’ Left Behind to no ‘Older Adult’ Left Behind

Nevertheless, in my experience the focus of attention for skills training is still to target youth and to ensure “no young person is left behind”. As a result, most vocational training is designed for this target group, kicking in as an alternative to the more academic route of A-levels and university after GCSEs. It is often delivered “class-room style” in FE colleges. Is this really sustainable given the demographics?

By 2030 the majority of people in the workforce will have been out of full-time education for some time and evidence shows us that the numbers of this group currently undertaking further learning or training is in decline, suggesting that not much is going on to refresh and update the skill sets of the people that we know will make up the bulk of the workforce going forward.

We also know that a key issue for older workers is that they are not necessarily offered training and development as a matter of routine. When it is offered, the training is highly likely to be in a format most suited to a younger (often single) learner, with the result that the older worker is deemed somehow less able because they struggle with an unfamiliar format or something that does not fit with their lifestyle commitments.

The Future Ready Commission

  1. The Future Ready Skills Commission interim report has identified ten changes in the current and employment skills system which need to be taken forward:
  2. Careers information needs to be relevant to the local labour market and empower individuals to make informed decisions.
  3. Employment and skills should be integrated within local housing, transport and environment strategies.
  4. The local approach to skills, employment and health needs to be joined up to support progression to work.
  5. The skills offer for businesses needs to be simplified through coordination at the level of functional economic areas.
  6. Investment in technical education and skills should be increased to sustainable levels.
  7. Greater collaboration is needed in order to spread good workplace practices to improve business performance and productivity.
  8. The learning offer should be simplified and made more affordable, with the right level of finance that removes barriers to access and supports progression in learning.
  9. Employers need to be motivated to train and re-train staff and support progression at all levels, including those in lower paid work to gain higher level skills.
  10. Local areas should have strengthened responsibilities for planning the provision of technical education and training so that it is responsive to local economic priorities.
  11. Employers need greater influence over the design and delivery of technical training to ensure it is responsive to local economic priorities.

Employer Action

Employers need to wake up and smell the coffee and understand that they need to be proactive because there is not an endless supply of bright-eyed school leavers waiting in the wings to substitute their older workers as they exit. Further, the number of European workers has already reduced under the threatened withdrawal of freedom of movement and is likely to dry up in all but the very specialist skills areas as that becomes a reality.

The bottom line is that more than ever, employers will need to persuade people to stay active in the labour market for longer and so they need to think about how they might do this

A Meaningful Training and Retraining Offer for Older Adults

Most adults are going to work a little bit longer. We deserve to be well equipped with the skills we need to enjoy being productively employed in a rewarding job.

Policy makers cannot continue in the hope adults will “hop on a training course” designed for school leavers and fill gaps in workforce where there is no alternative candidate.

Access to Adult IAG

Access to good-quality careers advice and information is vitally important to make sure everyone’s skills remain relevant for the changing nature of work during the 2020s. We must aim to ensure “no one is left behind” in the skills game.

Using the National Skills Fund to Affect Change

The National Skills Fund is a new programme starting in 2021/22. The government should demonstrate their commitment to meeting the training and retraining needs of older workers as the state pension age increases to 66 in October 2020 and to 67 between 2026-28.

Top Three Recommendations:

1: Providers should deliver a Meaningful Training and Retraining Offer to Older Adults

Training providers receiving funding from the National Skills Fund should demonstrate how they are delivering a meaningful training and retraining offer to meet the learning needs of older workers.

Recommendation 2: Employers should tackle age biases for training and retraining

It is critical that employers gaining support from the National Skills Fund demonstrate that they are tackling age biases in access to training and retraining, and adopt Age-Friendly Work and Training Practices.

Recommendation 3: A Careers Services for Older Workers

We need an adult careers service which does not stop at 24 or 30 or even 40. A service must develop which truly understands the training and employment needs of adults who recognise they must continue working up to and beyond state pension either as employees or self- employed which is a form of employment which increases significantly from age 50.

Kim Chaplain, Director for Work, Centre for Ageing Better


Making a Success of the National Skills Fund

As we enter the 2020s, adults and employers are confronted with unprecedented economic and labour market change, in this context NCFE and Campaign for Learning asked twelve authors to set out their initial thoughts on the National Skills Fund, and the journey towards a ‘right to retraining’. 

These leading thinkers recommend policies for the reform of adult education to support a changing economy in this collection of articles.

Exploring the proposed National Skills Fund and an individual’s right to retraining in more detail, these articles highlight some of the major challenges the policy faces, alongside issues which are set to further impact the economy.

The authors are:

You may also be interested in these articles:

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