Big fall in the number of young people in learning

16 May 2013

The proportion of young people aged 17–24 taking part in learning has fallen by 7 percentage points in the last year. There has also been a fall of 6 percentage points in the proportion of unemployed people participating in learning. These are the latest findings of the annual NIACE adult participation in learning survey for 2013, published ahead of Adult Learners’ Week (18–24 May 2013).

David Hughes, Chief Executive of NIACE, said:

“We know from our winners of this year’s Adult Learners’ Week Awards how much learning helps people to transform their lives. People move into fulfilling careers, they become dynamic members of their communities, they improve their health or sometimes they exchange a life of offending for a life of contributing. Therefore it is encouraging to see the rise in the number of people in part-time jobs who are learning and this suggests that they see the link between improved skills leading to better prospects at work.

“However, what is particularly worrying is the fall in the number of young people who are taking part in, or even considering, learning. If these young people can’t see the positive impact learning can have on their lives then it suggests a ‘creeping hopelessness’ amongst them which could have lifetime consequences on their confidence, self esteem and life chances. Add this to the increasing number of those who are not in learning who say they will not learn in future and the picture looks extremely bleak indeed. We look forward to seeing what impact the raising of the participation age to 18 has on this.”

While the headline figures show no change in the overall level of participation from last year’s findings – around 1 in 5 (19%) adults are currently learning, and 2 in 5 (38%) have done so in the last 3 years – the survey for 2013 shows that:

  • There has been a substantial fall – of 9 percentage points (from 88 to 79%) – in the number of young adults (aged 17 – 19) participating in learning.
  • There is also a fall of 5 percentage points in learning for those aged 20 – 24 from 70 to 65%.
  • The proportion of unemployed adults taking part in learning has fallen by 6 percentage points from 41 to 35%, the lowest level since the survey series began in 1996.
  • There has been an increase in participation among part-time workers – from 42% in 2012 to 48% this year – who are now more likely to participate than those working full-time (44%).
  • Current participation in learning remains a key indicator of future intentions to learn. Over four-fifths (83%) of those who have not taken part in learning since leaving full-time education say they are unlikely to do so in the future.

David Hughes, ended:

“There needs to be an effective strategy to reverse the big decline in the numbers of young people who are learning. For a start it is great news to see the impact Apprenticeships are having on people of all ages. We are also pleased that Traineeships have been announced for 16 – 18 year olds but they need to be extended to, at least, those aged up to 24. The Government needs to do two things to make sure Traineeships work. Firstly, high quality work placement opportunities are crucial. Secondly, young people need to be able to either access benefits, or be paid a wage, whilst on Traineeships. We are also calling on employers to play their part in this. Young people deserve the kind of opportunities which will motivate them and help them gain the skills, confidence and ambition they need to overcome the hopelessness they may be feeling that there aren’t jobs for them.

“Following discussions with NIACE the Government has announced that there will be screening of all Work Programme participants to assess their skills needs and put in place training and support. Implementing this is now a matter of urgency which we will work with Government and Skills and Work Programme Providers to ensure participants get the skills they need for sustainable jobs.”


View the headline findings in our particiaption survey infographic: