Why every week should be adult learners’ week in Wales

The persistent gender gap is just as serious and damaging as the persistent skills gap, argues Emma Richards

This week (19 – 25 June) is Adult Learners’ Week, an annual campaign that celebrates and promotes the value of adult learning opportunities and investing in skills in the workplace.

We know that on a personal level adult learning changes lives. We also know that on a national level it is key to increasing jobs and economic growth.

That’s why it is so promising that every year, over 10,000 adults in Wales participate in Adult Learners’ Week activities as part of the wider Festival of Learning.

However, this figure is set against a steady drop in general participation rates, which should be of huge concern to policymakers and economists alike.

Welsh Government figures show that in 2015/16 there were 85,740 adult (aged 25+) learners at further education institutions, local authority community learning and work-based learning providers, down from 102,425 in 2014/15 and 123,120 in 2013/14.

While the majority of these learners are women, the percentage of women has been slowly falling, down from 62.7 per cent in 2013/14 to 61.2 per cent in 2015/16.

Unfortunately adult community learning budgets in Wales have undergone several years of cuts, which has no doubt had an impact on learner numbers. Earlier this year, however, the Welsh Government announced a 13 per cent increase in funding, which will hopefully see the situation improve a little.

Low levels of adult skills is one of the main barriers to finding employment and progressing in work. It is also one of the main things holding Wales back as a nation.

This is especially important right now; this week UK representatives are in Brussels to begin the long and potentially difficult journey of leaving the European Union. For Wales to compete in the global market our adults need to be equipped with the skills they need.

Skills gaps are a particular problem. The latest information we have, from the Employer Skills Survey 2015, shows 14 per cent of employers reported skills gaps within their establishment, with approximately 54,000 staff lacking proficiency in their current role (4.5 per cent of the workforce in Wales).

The proportion of employers with skills gaps actually fell between 2013 and 2015, and employers are to be congratulated for making good progress towards upskilling their workforces. But if we are to fully close this stubborn skills gap, both individuals and employers must take more responsibility.

Just as serious and damaging as the persistent skills gap is the persistent gender gap. Studies show women’s employment is concentrated in low-paid areas of the economy, and this divide extends to the Welsh Government’s nine priority sectors for supporting investment. The latest statistics show that in 2014, some 30 per cent of women in work were employed in a priority sector, compared to 56 per cent of men.

Though this is a concern, the statistics are at least going in the right direction; in 2013 only 28 per cent of women in work were employed in a priority sector.

A particular issue for women in work is under-utilisation, which is when employees have skills and qualifications above those required for their current role

Under-utilisation in Wales takes place most prominently in public administration, education, and health and social work, all sectors in which the workforce tends to be more dominated by women.

At Chwarae Teg We are committed to helping as many women as possible to reach their career goals. Our training and development programme Agile Nation 2, which is funded by the Welsh Government and the European Social Fund, works with women to help them identify, develop and make the most of their strengths and talents while supporting them to gain the confidence and skills to be the best they can be in their career.

So far 1,170 participants and 265 businesses have enrolled on the programme, and we are looking forward to helping more women to build the skills, knowledge and confidence to take the next step in their careers.

And of course we want to see a Wales where everyone can achieve and prosper, no matter their gender.

To achieve this we need everyone, from the government down to the individual, to understand and appreciate the value of investing in skills and in adult learning opportunities. We want every week to be adult learners’ week in Wales.




Emma Richards is Women’s Programme Lead at Chwarae Teg

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