Education plays a crucial role in providing the building blocks for success in life. But the days when individuals left school, started at a company and worked there until retirement are long gone and it is now recognised that learning has a role to play in supporting people throughout their lives.
Sometimes it’s because an individual decides that there are better career options available, or that career progression is difficult without further training. Then there are the women who’ve given up work to bring up children and the workers made redundant as skills become obsolete with the application of new technologies.
The list goes on and demonstrates that we all need flexible learning options on a lifelong basis to help us meet the challenges thrown up by life itself.
Lifelong learning is of course already available in many communities. Learning providers of all kinds work with adults, and the market is one that has a lot of potential for growth. The problem, however, is that in many cases the cost is a major deterrent. And yet the country needs to develop a culture of lifelong learning, for the sake of economic growth and because social mobility and personal fulfilment are both good for society in their own right.
So what to do? Well, one way forward would be to build on the reciprocal principle that underpinned the original concept of the welfare state. In return for paying into the coffers of the state, one would build up a learning entitlement. These learning credits would accumulate over time and would enjoy contributions from employers and the state itself, as an investment by both in the future of our country. These credits would then be accessed as and when individuals needed to tap into their entitlement.
Learning credits could help equip workers with the resources necessary to respond to their training needs. It would also give them control over how best to deploy those resources, thereby encouraging long-term planning; at the moment, training needs are often only recognised after a job has been lost. Better to anticipate the need for change, rather than to respond to it, when you’re also often at the mercy of the state and its rules and regulations.
Labour needs to make an offer in 2015 that promises voters more control over their own lives and more of a sense of fairness in terms of how welfare works to support those who pay into it. Learning credits could offer a significant contribution towards building that offer.