Adult education in unemployment figures fight

Education bosses in Wolverhampton are battling to help under-qualified people improve their chances of getting work – after latest figures revealed the city had the seventh highest rate of adult unemployment in the country.

Wolverhampton Council
Wolverhampton Council

Statistics showed 10.3 per cent of the working age population claimed unemployment benefit in December 2020 – an increase of 73 per cent over 12 months.

The national average is 6.4 per cent.

The increase is due largely to the devastating effect of the Covid-19 pandemic, with the city’s adult education services also being hit significantly.

Adult Education Wolverhampton (AEW) is working to attract more residents from deprived communities, with low levels of skills and qualifications and high levels of unemployment, the city’s education chiefs told a meeting of the council’s scrutiny board on Tuesday night.

Councillor Dr Michael Hardacre, cabinet member for education and skills, said services in the city had faced a number of difficulties in the past year.

“We were challenged to continue learning remotely – learning is always better done face to face – and we’ve had to overcome many barriers for students,” he said.

“These include their digital skills, connectivity, digital deficit, lack of devices and having the right home environment.

“This has exacerbated the digital divide nationally, regionally and locally and has led to us devising schemes whereby we are providing many of our students with the internet accessibility capability that they actually need.

“Adult education, of course, is based in the community and it’s largely – but not only – to do with basic skills and employability skills, and we all know that there is an issue in the city.

“Adult education works extremely hard with its partners in order to upskill our population – something that is going to be much more needed as we come through the recovery from Covid,” he added.

Joanne Keatley, the council’s Head of Adult Education, said the AEW curriculum was designed to improve health and wellbeing and provide people with the qualifications and skills sought by the majority of employers in today’s market.

“The pandemic has now impacted on two academic years for us. One of the main impacts has been on participation in learning itself, as adults haven’t been that forthcoming in engaging in new learning with us, and this has been consistent nationally,” she told the meeting.

“We concentrate on engaging those residents with low or no qualifications and those with low literacy, numeracy and digital skills, as well as those who are unemployed and looking for work.

“Also, we try to engage with those who are employed but on a low wage, looking to see how we can get people to improve their skills in order to gain promotion or take a different career path that may give them a higher wage.

“We’re also looking to engage those from the most deprived areas of the city who suffer with multiple deprivation, and where learning would make the most impact for them,” she added.

Ms Keatley said that since the pandemic had struck, AEW had frontloaded intensive digital skills development on courses and enhanced loan services for laptops and internet connectivity.

The council receives just over £3 million annually from the Department for Education (DfE) via the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) to provide adult education services.

Funding is split equally between qualifications and community learning. AEW funding is for adults aged 19 and over.

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