Use it or Lose it – Uncovering Best Practises to Maximise the UK’s Adult Education Budget

One of the government’s many longstanding endeavours to address the ongoing skill shortage crisis in the UK – which has been further exacerbated by the pandemic and the aftermath of Brexit – is the Adult Education Budget (AEB).

31 May 2022

In a nutshell, the AEB offer courses in multiple sectors, including key industry areas like construction, digital & IT, social care, hospitality, engineering, green skills, business skills, customer service and a range of leadership & management skills.

  • Funds can be used for anyone aged 19-23 to achieve a level 2 or 3 qualification, provided they don’t already have one.
  • The AEB may be drawn on to fund low-wage learners aged over 24 to obtain their first level 2 or 3 qualification.
  • The AEB is available to anyone who is unemployed to fund any course or qualification up to level 2.
  • The AEB can be used to fund any low-waged individual, whose first language isn’t English, to improve their language skills up to level 2.

How could the AEB positively impact the UK’s skills scene?

Each year, a generous fund approximately £1.5 billion is allocated to cover training opportunities for adults (aged 19+). And yet, each year millions remain unspent and, ultimately, are returned to the coffers. Considering that employers are chomping at the bit to fill vacancies, and the fact that workers with the right skills simply aren’t available, it’s alarming that we’ve not yet mastered the art of making use of the AEB in its entirety.

This year’s deadline is looming ahead, with the 2021 budget expiring at the end of July 2022. Should we not utilise the AEB as fully as possible, there is a very real possibility that next year’s budget will be reduced.

While in the past, we’d simply recruit the exact skill set needed for the job, the mismatch between the skills employers want and what they can actually find has made this method mostly ineffective. A more flexible approach is now needed. More and more organisations are now recruiting people who aren’t necessarily armed with the right skills, but do possess the right personality – they then upskill these candidates to meet workforce needs (or upskill internally, from the start).

There are a number of very real benefits of making full and proper use of the AEB:

  1. Long-term unemployed individuals – such as those displaced by the pandemic, for example – could benefit from AEB-funded skills training.
  2. Low-wage earners are able to broaden their skill set and progress further into better-paying careers with more promising opportunities.
  3. Level 3 Skills for Jobs offers an opportunity to re-train those who need new skills to meet the fast-paced progressions in technology, and to perform optimally as times change. This allows low-skilled and unemployed people to obtain a second, fully funded Level 3 qualification from a list of priority skills needs, as outlined by the government.
  4. Organisations are able to make their workforce feel more valued and increase staff retention through upskilling. They’re also able to attract candidates who possess an eagerness to learn, by incorporating training opportunities in recruitment packages.
  5. Unlike many other rigid programmes and apprenticeships that can span from one to four years, AEB-funded courses come in all sizes, timeframes and sectors, which enables training providers and employees to build courses that are just right for their skills requirements and the unique capabilities of their people.

Why aren’t we using the AEB on time, and how can we do better?

If we consider the un-used AEB funds that have been historically returned to the government over the last several years, we can surmise that there are challenges that hinder training providers and employers from accessing the full benefits of what’s available to them. Here are some possible reasons why:

  • Not knowing how to access the funds and encountering discouraging barriers along the way.
  • Being unsure on how to put together a tailored course that’s suitable for adults working in a particular sector.
  • Difficulty in finding the right content and course material needed for effective and easy delivery of training.
  • Restrictive eligibility criteria, and a lack of understanding of who is eligible for what funding.
  • Lack of awareness – many adults and employers are unaware of what they can access, outside of apprenticeships.
  • Inflexible learning models that make it difficult for adults (with all those adult responsibilities!) to remain motivated and make progress in their learning.

At City & Guilds, we have entire teams dedicated to helping providers and employers navigate adult skills development opportunities. We’re committed to work together with our partners to ensure that more people benefit from the AEB. Some of the key actions that we’ve seen drive greater success in the adult learning space are:

  • Engage more in conversation about AEB-funded courses, in order to generate interest, awareness and understanding for employers and eligible adults.
  • We encourage and support providers to create more flexible learning models to accommodate adults as they work, juggle costs of living, and raise their families. (Make use of distance learning, online learning, and blended learning.)
  • Employers shouldn’t underestimate their learner’s ability. Consider running multiple courses, more advanced courses and longer courses, to get the very best out of upskilling endeavours for willing-to-learn and capable employees.
  • Certain AEB-funded courses can add further value to existing apprenticeships where applicable and where the learner is eligible. Explore these options, while being sure that the adult skills course will not interfere with the apprenticeship, but rather enhance it.
  • When in doubt, employers should work closely with their training provider to identify and curate tailored qualifications that meet their unique skills requirements.
  • Mostly, don’t be afraid to ask for help during the application process, adult skills course selection process and in the weeks or months that follow – when accessing course materials, undergoing assessments and implementing learning objectives.

We’ll share what we know on adult skills development delivery and the AEB

We’ve put together a selection of helpful course delivery plans to help our customers choose the right qualification and use the AEB budget in some of our key industries. We welcome your call to access and discuss these plans.

You are also most welcome to head on over to our Adult Skills page for more information.