Adults get poor skills advice

July 2, 1999

Government initiatives to encourage lifelong learning are not working, according to the director of a five-year, Pounds 2 million research programme on the learning society.

Frank Coffield, of the University of Newcastle, is launching a "a powerful critique of lifelong learning policy" at an Economic and Social Research Council conference next week.

"A lot of policies on lifelong learning are just not working and that is not going to go down well with a government that lays claim to evidence-based policies," said Professor Coffield, who oversees 14 research projects.

One study, by Francis Green of the University of Kent, showed that employers do not value those with intermediate qualifications such as A levels and non-vocational qualifications. Although the government encourages the workforce to take such qualifications, there is a low demand for them.

"It has been argued that the area in which Britain is particularly deficient, compared with other European countries, is intermediate skills. However, in 1997, the proportion of jobs requiring intermediate skills was 35 per cent while the proportion of the workforce with intermediate skills was 48 per cent.

"This implies that many people with intermediate skills are doing jobs which require little or no qualifications," said Professor Green. The study was based on interviews with 2,500 British workers.

A separate study found that students aged between 16 and 19 were not always given the most appropriate advice on progressing into further and higher education because of the rivalry between education providers.

"The serious competition between further education and schools is to the detriment of students. Careers advice has got worse over the past few years because it is not in the interest of the institution to give an overview of all the available options," Professor Coffield said.

Adults did not fare any better. "We are told that adult workers may need to change their job and re-train several times over the course of their career. However careers guidance is fragmented and its quality is very patchy. Careers advice has not been geared up for adults," he said.

Another study looked at how knowledge and skills develop at work. "Managers responsible for lifelong learning in the workplace don't know how to create a micro-culture that will promote it," Professor Coffield said.

Some employers discriminated inadvertently against those with families by asking workers to develop their skills in their own time, he said.

Speaking Truth to Power: Research and Policy on Lifelong Learning, Bristol Policy Press.

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