The National Retraining Scheme is an important innovation by the government which promises to ensure we maximise the skills and opportunities of our increasingly longer working adult skills base. Having a new national scheme is an exciting development which has the potential to prepare people for the future and be a game changer in the way we think about lifelong learning. Having worked through, managed and led many of the predecessor schemes, I thought it was timely to write down what might be the barriers and pitfalls.

There has been much acknowledgement that the country needs a lifelong learning strategy that meets the needs of new industries and technological advances in the context of a post-Brexit trading world.

This should be a strategy which brings together existing and often competing policies for adult education, skills and apprenticeships programmes, with new innovative approaches to adult learning. 

I am keen that we should maximise the opportunities this scheme presents, both for individuals and the economy at large. 

However, I believe policy makers spend too much time focusing on what employers say they want, when they really need to find ways to motivate adults.

When developing a new scheme, we need to avoid the mistakes of the past, whilst embracing best practice that has come through from before. The paper sets out the level of the challenge ahead, as well as 10 recommendations to build a quality programme that will support all adults to their intended destination, regardless of their starting point. In this paper, I explore what can we learn from the past, who it should it be focused on, and barriers to learning, and I suggest some solutions.

There are several reasons why we need a strategy. We are expecting people to work longer, there are changes to jobs because of automation, we may have less skilled workers after Brexit and, although more people are in employment, they are often in low skilled and low waged jobs and need to progress from benefits into sustainable work where they don’t have rely on state support. We also have a rise of the atypical worker with the ‘gig’ economy and increase in the self-employed. All these issues lead us to the urgent the need for retraining.

The rationale is convincing, but how do we get over the barriers to learning new skills, including the attitude of individuals towards pursuing their own retraining needs. The first barrier for many individuals is confidence and attitude to further learning. If they are in a low skilled job, it is often because they didn’t do well at school and have a whole range of psychological barriers to learning. They may lack confidence and have a distrust that new training will work for them. Others are done with learning – they have their first qualification, it has got them a job and that’s it! 

People often quote ‘lack of time’ and ‘short of money’ for not upskilling themselves, and without financial incentives or other benefits it is hard to persuade them that lifelong learning is a good thing.

The report ‘Shaping the new National Retraining Scheme’ by Dr Susan Pember on behalf of NCFE and the Campaign for Learning is out today. 

Dr Susan Pember is a former senior government official and Director of Policy and External Relations at HOLEX