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A lack of investment in adult skills is stalling progression, particularly for the most excluded

Helen Milner OBE, Chief Executive | Good Things Foundation

4 min read

Digital technology charity Good Things Foundation's Chief Executive reflects on the Social Mobility Commission report into the adult skills gap published this week.

Earlier this week the Social Mobility Commission published its report into the adult skills gap, and the impact it is having on social mobility in the UK. The results - as perhaps expected - show that a lack of investment in adult skills is stalling progression, particularly for the most excluded. 

People from lower socio-economic backgrounds are the least likely to take part in adult learning. And this means that they’re being held back. They’re less likely to progress within the workplace and so are often trapped in low paid jobs, and they’re also missing out on a wealth of other opportunities learning can provide.

There are a number of reasons for the lack of investment. The Government’s adult skills budget, along with many others, is being stretched. There are fewer opportunities to learn, and often the opportunities that are available aren’t reaching those who with the most to gain from them. 

All of this means that those who could most benefit from adult learning are the least likely to access it. This is why it’s so important that Government works with the community sector to widen access. They have to reach and engage people facing all forms of social exclusion - and these people are the most likely to be disengaged from education.

This means finding ways to fund community engagement activity as a pathway to further learning.  There needs to be a more progressive approach to funding adult learning that recognises it has a powerful impact on social mobility, which in turn can drive shared prosperity and social cohesion.

Through our network partners, we’ve supported over 2 million people to improve their basic skills, and the impact these improved skills have had on individuals is significant. 86% progress to further learning, and 76% progress to positive employment outcomes. Giving people a taste of learning, and showing them what they can achieve, leads to a range of positive benefits. People are more likely to be able to better manage their money, and their health. They’re more likely to be able to help their children with their own education, and they will feel more connected to their communities. 

Basic digital skills are a crucial part of the adult skills mix, and people who are lacking them are being left behind in today’s increasingly digital world. At Good Things Foundation, we know that by building digital inclusion into community-based learning, the positive effects are even greater. We are increasing confidence and personal efficacy, as well opening up ways people can take advantage of opportunities, from jobs to better health. 

There's also a powerful economic and social case for building in digital inclusion. There are 11.3 million people in the UK who don’t have digital skills, and although this number is falling, there will still be 6.9 million lacking these skills by 2028. Giving everyone in the UK basic digital skills will bring a benefit to UK plc of £21.9 billion. And these people are more like to be socially excluded too, so we have responsibility to ensure that they’re not being left behind. Current government policy risks increasing this inequality if digital services, like Universal Credit, don’t build in digital inclusion support from the outset. 

That’s why as part of our Bridging the Digital Divide campaign, we’re calling on government and other partners to make a commitment to getting 100% of the nation digitally included by 2028. We know, as this report acknowledges, that both government and employers have a role to play. But although both are taking steps to try and close the divide, not enough is being done quickly enough, which is why we’re calling for co-ordinated action now. 

The ‘vicious’ cycle of learning that the report references - where those most in need of learning are left furthest behind - needs to be broken. And to do this, we need to ensure that learning is both available and accessible. This means informal, community-based support as a pathway to more formal and more advanced learning: and building in digital inclusion as a further driver of opportunity. 

The UK risks both being left behind as a nation, and leaving behind the individuals who can most benefit from learning opportunities. And with the challenges we are facing in the coming months and years, we can no longer risk missing the opportunity to make positive change for those who are most excluded.

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