Lessons for lifelong learning and re-skilling 

Approximately two thirds of AAT’s 90,000 students are aged over 25. This suggests that many of our students are either retraining or upskilling – the buzzwords of our educational age.

Against a backdrop of rapid technological change, labour force movement and understanding that there is no longer anything close to a job for life. This is even more profoundly highlighted by the fact more than 3,000 AAT students are aged over 50.

Taking inspiration

There are thousands of examples of students successfully reskilling by taking an AAT qualification, sometimes in adversity, and going on to bigger and better things. These serve as a particularly strong example to others that retraining, and reskilling is something that should be embraced rather than feared.

Taking just one such example, 33-year-old Diana Mikolajewska, a single mother who started her studies with AAT just 10 days after the birth of her second child. Within a couple of years, she had changed jobs and was working as an accounts assistant and a couple of years later set up her own accounting practice. She is now a Chartered Accountant.

Older workers

Of course, reskilling is not the preserve of those in their twenties and thirties who may not yet have found the vocation that’s right for them. It’s also increasingly essential for older workers who may have been made redundant, been out of the workforce for some time due to caring responsibilities or are simply in need of change. In 2017, AAT and City & Guilds jointly commissioned a report into Lifelong learning for ageing workers”, which made several detailed recommendations as to how older workers could be encouraged back into the workplace.

These recommendations include; improving the capacity of JobCentre Plus to provide tailored advice to older workers; encouraging employers to implement workplace mentoring schemes and to incorporate mid-life career reviews as well as urging learning providers to rethink the content, marketing and delivery of courses to improve their appeal to older workers. AAT also recommended that it would be sensible to pilot new funding streams and ways of signposting funding to assess the impact on loan uptake among the over-50s.

International experience

Much can also be learned from international approaches that are being taken to reskill the current workforce. For example, in Singapore the Future Skills Credit, which is a $500 credit -paid directly to the training provider – available to any Singapore Citizen over the age of 25 for retraining purposes. In South Korea, the unemployed are entitled to almost $2,000 for vocational education and training.

In the UK by contrast, HM Treasury quietly dropped plans to join the two thirds of OECD nations who allow self-funded work-related training to be deducted from taxable income. AAT responded to the 2018 consultation on the subject and suggested such reform was long overdue and that Government proposals did not go far enough. However, the 2018 Budget documents accompanying the Chancellor’s speech regrettably confirmed that they would not proceed with a measure that would have increased reskilling and upskilling opportunities for many. 

Taking action

Of course, whilst we can complain about a lack of support from Government, there are funding pots available for employers, the most obvious being the Apprenticeship Levy. Although it can sometimes be daunting, there is also nothing to stop individuals wanting to retrain to find their own way.

For example, irrespective of age or educational background, a quick search of the AAT web site will enable you to find an AAT apprenticeship in most UK towns. More widely, if accountancy isn’t for you, there are a host of other reskilling opportunities with the likes of Government departments, local authorities, charities and private sector organisations large and small.

In the not too distant future, all this should be complimented by the much needed and long overdue National Retraining Scheme being operated by the CBI and TUC and backed by tens of millions of taxpayer’s money.

The future is bright, opportunities are plenty for those willing to embrace change and never has the adage, “the world is your oyster” been more appropriate than today.

Phil Hall is AAT's Head of Public Affairs and Public Policy.

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