Labour proposes free retraining to tackle ‘skills crisis’

Labour's shadow education secretary Angela Rayner.
Image: Victoria Jones/PA Wire/PA Images

Labour will provide free lifelong retraining for all if it gets into power in next month’s general election.

It pledged to “throw open the door” for adults to study if they wanted to change career, had been made redundant or failed to get the qualifications they needed when they were younger.

The party said its plans, which form part of its proposals for a free “national education service”, would help ensure that automation does not put people out of work and that the workforce has the skills needed to tackle problems such as the climate crisis.

The number of adults achieving “basic skills” qualifications, such as English and maths, plummeted by 40% between 2011 and 2017/18, the party claimed.

The number of adults currently in education is at its lowest since 1996, it said.

Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner said: “For many, adult education is too expensive, too time-consuming or too difficult to get into.

“People have been held back for too long. We will make free education a right to ensure we have the skills we need to allow our economy to rise to the opportunities of the future.

“We’ll make sure no one is shut out of education by giving people the support, time and funding they need to train so that we have the skills we need to meet the changing nature of work and tackle the climate emergency.”

Labour pledged to:

  • enable adults without A-levels or equivalent qualifications to attend college for free
  • introduce the entitlement to six years of free study for qualifications at level 4-6 (undergraduate degrees and equivalents including Higher National Certificates and Diplomas, Foundation Degrees, Certificates and Diplomas of Higher Education)
  • provide maintenance grants to allow learners on low incomes to complete their training
  • give workers the right to paid time off for education and training
  • allow employers to design qualifications to make they equip learners with the right skills
  • reverse cuts to the Union Learning Fund, which supports union members to develop their skills
  • ensure everyone has access to a national careers advice service
  • offer 30 hours of free childcare to all two- to four-year-olds.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn suggested that the national education service would be funded by “ensuring the ultra-rich pay their way”.

“Tomorrow’s jobs are in green and high-tech industries. We need people to have the skills to take those jobs,” he added.

CBI chief UK policy director Matthew Fell said whichever party wins power would need to work closely with employers to help workers develop their skills and engage in workplace training.

“Businesses will be pleased to see Labour’s commitment to technical education and their ambition to put it on par with academic learning,” he said.

“Companies will be looking to whoever forms the next government to prioritise technical education, which includes seeing through reforms to apprenticeships and the introduction of T-levels.

“With all parties already committing significant spending to education in this election, proposals will need to be costed to ensure their financial sustainability.”

Yesterday, the Liberal Democrats announced plans for a £10,000 “skills wallet” for all adults, which could be spent on education and training of their choice. The Conservative party is also expected to announce policies to support lifelong learning.

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