Promoting lifelong learning - the importance of basic skills | NCFE

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Promoting lifelong learning - the importance of basic skills

By Dan Howard Operations Director for Learning for Work, NCFE

3 November 2021

The recently published ‘Getting the basics right: The case for action on adult basic skills’ report from the Learning and Work Institute is filled with important research and findings that we should all be paying close attention to, across the sector and beyond.

The report begins by outlining how basic skills, such as English, maths, ESOL and digital skills, are crucial to supporting adults’ life chances. Yet over 9 million working-aged adults in England currently have low basic skills in literacy or numeracy, of which 5 million have low skills in both areas. Further to this, around 18% of adults aged 19-64 across the UK do not hold a qualification at Level 2 or above.

The report then goes on to highlight that, despite these high levels of need, Adult Education Budget (AEB) funding has been halved from 2011/12 to 2019/20. In this time, participation has fallen in all programme types across every Mayoral Combined Authority in England – with the report stating that the “need to widen access to [basic skills] is increasing.”

The importance of basic skills

Basic skills – also known as transferable skills – prepare individuals with the tools they need to prosper in life, as well as get into work (in a variety of industries) and progress within a lifetime of learning.

The positive impacts of training in basic skills on the individual, the economy and on wider society has been supported repeatedly by evidence. These include personal outcomes such as improved self-esteem and confidence to complete everyday tasks, as well as increased employment rates, job satisfaction and pay.

As well as skills in English, maths and digital, we also know that building essential skills such as resilience, confidence, problem solving, collaboration and mental fitness is vitally important to individuals thriving and fulfilling their personal potential. In our experience, a combination of these skills helps to arm individuals with a platform that’ll help them to navigate their futures, wherever this takes them.

What does the future hold?

As we look to the future, having access to these basic skills in a challenging and competitive labour market will only become even more crucial.

Digital technology, for example, will continue to expand across our personal, social and economic lives. As stated in the report, 90% of all jobs will require some element of digital skills in 20 years’ time. Yet over 5 million of adults are at risk of lacking basic digital skills by 2030 - placing these individuals at a real disadvantage and highlighting the growing digital skills gap.

We know that basic skills share themes that are common to all sectors and valued by employers in every industry. Evidence tells us that ‘jobs for life’ are a thing of the past and the average individual now changes careers up to 7 times in a lifetime. With these multiple careers in mind, it’s crucial that adults are prepared to retrain and move between sectors with ease.

That’s why essential skills should be embedded within learning to equip individuals for whatever path they take. At NCFE we’re ensuring that these transferable skills are integrated into all our products and services – including English, maths and digital, but also sustainability, and health, wellbeing, safety and equalities. By doing this, we can help to set up learners for success from the start of their learning journey, and ultimately deliver better outcomes for all both in work and life.

A call to action – what is needed?

There’s no question that being equipped with basic, transferable skills is vital to supporting an adult’s life chances. Education has the power to be the great leveller and we believe that having a foundation of basic skills is something individuals from all walks of life should be entitled to. It’s about opening up access and opportunities for everyone, regardless of their status or background. We’re doing what we can to work towards this reality, collaborating with stakeholders to ensure we’re shaping learning solutions in these areas that make the greatest possible difference.

We echo the Chief Executive of Learning and Work Institute Stephen Evans’ call to action, that we “urgently require a clear strategy to increase participation, backed by a focus on funding, policy and practice”. The decline in participation in adult basic skills learning must be reversed, and this can only be achieved through collaboration involving a wide range of stakeholders, and further investment.

Finally, we welcome the government's freshly announced £560 million programme Multiply - a new digital platform which aims to improve adults' numeracy skills. Access to bespoke maths programmes for adults and businesses alike will help boost wellbeing and employment rates, as well as improving productivity and employee retention rates. However, to ensure this programme is truly accessible to all, both digital and literacy skills must also continue to be prioritised alongside it.

Support from NCFE – find out more

At NCFE, we’re proud to have funded qualifications available under the government’s Adult Education Budget, Lifetime Skills Guarantee, Restart, and Traineeships provisions. Paired with our skills assessment tools and resources, we help to facilitate learning and to develop key skills.

For more information or support, please contact [email protected].