It’s never too late for adult learning

Many of us are guilty of allowing our fears around adult learning to overshadow the rewards we’d get from it inside and outside of work. But every day I meet people who share their success stories of embracing learning as an adult.

Almost all of them have busy lives full of family and work commitments – but still they find the time to up-skill, learn and gain new qualification.

Just this month I’ve been helping a single mother take her first steps back into the work place. After the birth of her baby girl she was forced to quit her job, but since her daughter started primary school she begun volunteering as a classroom assistant.

A few weeks later she was offered paid employment from her volunteering work, and I’ve helped her enrol onto a training programme to become a teaching assistant. Now she has the best of both – spending time with her daughter whilst also working towards a recognised qualification to a future career.

The rewards of adult learning can be truly life changing. Psychologically you get a huge sense of personal and professional achievement, but there is also the social reward of meeting new people through the course.

Room for improvement

Lincoln has a population of about 100,000 people, but only 10% of adults are engaged in learning that is not through a university or a Continuous Professional Development (CPD) programme at work. This means there is a huge amount of potential out there for more people to build their confidence, up-skill, pursue a job promotion or even that career change they have been thinking about for years.

Nationally the statistics are not much better. The Higher Education Funding Council confirms there has been a 40% reduction in part-time learners since 2010 in the higher education sector.

This national statistic is worrying. Could it be because some universities and colleges are not delivering what part-time adult learners need? Or does the hike in tuition fees now mean that for many adult learners education is simply out of reach?

The bottom line

Adult learning can also boost the bottom line of a business. It is proven to improve a person’s productivity and engagement; and as a rule of thumb it’s more cost-effective to train someone internally, than it is to recruit a new member of staff with the right skills, but no experience of your company or sector.

Fear factor

The most common fear when someone starts a new learning programme is the fear of failure, closely followed by the fear that it will take hours out of their personal time. Neither of which are true. A typical adult learning programme will take just over an hour a week of your own time, and the rest is done in work. This balance, inside and outside of the office, can sometimes be less of a commitment then signing up to completing a qualification through night school.

How much does it cost?

Another worry can be the cost, and having to pay for tuition fees that are associated with your course. In these tough economic times I’ve seen training budgets being cut, which has left talented employees with no opportunity for further study.

But new funding loans are available to help with this. The government’s current loan is called 24+ Advanced Learning Loans. It helps you pay your tuition fees, and you only start making the repayments once you have completed the course, and when your income is over £21,000 a year.  

Take up for this loan across the UK has been slow. Either people aren’t aware of it or they are fearful of taking on debt when times are tough. But either way, the terms are very favourable, and whilst you earn under £21,000 a year you’ll never have to pay it back. 

Picking the right course

Adult learning, for people over 24 years old, generally takes three different forms. The first is full-time through a Masters or Post Graduate course. The second is around work based learning programmes such as NVQs, and the third is through advanced apprenticeships. The most popular ones in Lincoln are work based learning programmes and advanced apprenticeships, because they allow learning to be focused within an occupation or career.

In many cases, people know a lot more about their work place than they give themselves credit for, and a recognised training course can help people convert this knowledge into a qualification.

Thinking about Adult Learning?

I work with people who worry that they are not academic enough to return to learning. But that stigma soon goes away when they start to reap the rewards of enjoying their job more, and the financial benefits of learning new things.

Lincolnshire needs to be a county of highly skilled professionals, and we need a workforce that is evolving to meet the demands of employers.

Adult Learners’ Week (May 18-24) celebrates and rewards those learners who have taken the plunge back into education at a later stage in their life.