Lifelong Learning Week is a celebration of the power of learning to transform peoples’ lives. Coordinated by Festival of Learning, Lifelong Learning Week takes place early November each year. It is a collaborative week of activity bringing together a wide range of stakeholders in England to raise the profile of lifelong learning, and to celebrate the achievements of adult learners.
We decided to talk to James Blake, the C-Care Community Lead Coordinator delivered through The Plymouth Charter and for Skills Launchpad Plymouth. James’ role is to take the offer of Skills Launchpad out into providing bespoke skills actions plans that support an individual on a skills journey into employment or help them change career.
Working with multiple community organisations, he will develop a pipeline to enable support to reach the most disadvantaged and vulnerable members of the community and those most disproportionately affected by Covid.
Tell us about yourself
I’m a father, outdoors enthusiast and former primary school teacher. I currently work for The Plymouth Charter and Skills Launchpad Plymouth supporting individuals around the city to access opportunities to upskill, access training, explore options in education, develop their careers or further their future job prospects.
What does lifelong learning mean to you?
To me, lifelong learning means two things. For individuals it is to have the passionate, enquiring mind which is required to develop oneself. The willingness to explore opportunities and undertake learning which supports positive steps towards a goal at any stage of life – be that with regard to employment prospects or personal skillset. For training providers and employers alike, lifelong learning means accessibility of opportunity. To give learners and staff the chance to develop themselves and for businesses to make reasonable adjustments where appropriate in order to enable that development.
Why is it important to celebrate and champion adult learners and learning providers?
Adult learners need to be championed in order to promote the value of lifelong learning. There could still be perceived to be a stigma around accessing learning beyond the traditional ‘school’ years which holds some people back and limits their future opportunities. A wider awareness of those who have taken up opportunities, particularly from those who have overcome accessibility limitations such as digital access or literacy/numeracy, will help to raise the profile of a positive attitude towards lifelong learning. Training providers who can champion their adult learners can not only support this wider awareness but also help to raise their own profiles as well as contributing to the development of the current and future workforce.
Why do you think it is vital for policymakers, providers and employers to increase lifelong learning opportunities?
It is vital to increase these opportunities because it is hugely beneficial to the economy. Development can help address skills gaps where there are shortages in industry; improve productivity and efficiency in businesses; increase individual’s earning potential which then directly feeds back into local economies; improve individual’s wellbeing by improving their job prospects and employability which in turn gives them greater financial security and provides a more knowledgeable and learned society.
What has been your experience in Plymouth and within your role about adult participation in learning?
In conversation with adults around Plymouth, I have experienced a generally positive attitude towards learning. Individuals are keen to access opportunities and progress and there are often opportunities for them to be able to do this such as through free courses with On Course Southwest or fully funded training through CSW’s SMART SKILLS project - there is usually something which helps progression or employability. This participation can be hampered however by an individual’s lack of access to IT (meaning they can’t attend an online course), lack of transport and inability to pay to get to a course location, individuals experiencing social anxiety (prohibiting them from attending group sessions in new places) or low levels of literacy and numeracy. Working in city wide partnership with multiple organisations we can try to support these limitations and suggest ways in which individuals can access some great learning opportunities.
What can businesses and organisations do to aid in helping local communities and their employees in workforce development?
Business and organisations can support local communities by increasing their integration with local populations. Businesses raising awareness of their opportunities, celebrating their contributions and demonstrating their social value will encourage community members to become more involved with organisations and help contribute to their future workforce development. By being involved in this meaningful exercise, current employees can see the value a company puts in encouraging the development of this future workforce pipeline and can themselves, in turn, seek out further development opportunities in order to support progression.
For those interested, where can the people of Plymouth go to get support from learning providers?
For individuals who are interested in finding out more, whether they are in work and looking to progress or looking for their next opportunity, there is support through Skills Launchpad Plymouth. There are plenty of resources to access for free via www.skillslaunchpadplym.co.uk or individuals can sign up and they will be contacted by a member of staff to discuss their learning or development needs and to create a skills action plan to help them access opportunities.