At findcourses.co.uk, we believe more can be done to help learners get access to funded training.
While the UK has so far seen a rapid but incomplete post-pandemic economic recovery, huge challenges remain for both employers and employees in terms of plugging the skills gaps that can help combat unemployment and get the right skills into the right roles.
The BBC reports that in October 2021, the UK unemployment rate was estimated at 4.5%, compared with 4% before the pandemic. This is a coupled with a record high level of vacancies - 1.1 million between July and September 2021, according to the Office for National Statistics, since records began in 2001.
In this period of change and crisis the UK government has set their sights on learning as a way of upskilling and retraining people - in order to combat unemployment and overcome the challenge of skills shortages.
However, in a recent survey over 80% of our users didn’t know how to check their funding eligibility and weren’t aware that funded courses might be open to them - this knowledge gap is what we are working hard to tackle.
Moving forward into 2022, we believe funded training will help learners achieve their career goals and navigate the post-COVID 19 economy and the emerging job market.
Read on to find out how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted learning, learners’ interest in funded courses, the knowledge gap that learners have in accessing funded courses, and what we aim to do to make learning more accessible.
Learning has become even more of a priority
The COVID-19 pandemic has made learning new skills a a priority for many people: which is good news for training providers.
According to our most recent survey on how COVID-19 has affected learning, 53% of respondents say that the pandemic has made them more likely to spend time on training in the next 3 months.
The top 2 reasons cited by respondents on why they are more likely to learn something are:
I have more time to dedicate to a course (selected by 56.8% of respondents)
I want to make myself more valuable to my employer (36.8%)
Other reasons include:
I am job seeking and need new skills (24%)
I want to bolster my CV (23.7%)
I want to take my mind off of things (23.7%)
I am preparing to switch careers (19.2%)
“I want to achieve something rather than be idle during this time.”
- Respondent’s answer
“If one does not focus on upskilling & re-skilling in some area related to his/her profession, he/she is likely to become obsolete or less relevant.”
- Respondent’s answer
In terms of what people are looking to study, this varies (also good news for training providers) rather than focusing too heavily in one area. Based on emerging trends, we expect the growing appetite for learning to translate into increased uptake of training courses across all skill sets, particularly in technology and soft skills.
According to a report by degreed, the main areas that people are looking to upskill in 2021 are technology skills and soft skills. These technology skills include IT and programming and data analysis while the soft skills cited include leadership, communication, project management and creativity.
People searching for funded training courses is on the rise
Along with the rising interest in learning in general, there was a spike in interest in funded courses over the past year. We at findcourses.co.uk saw a striking 29% increase in users searching for funded courses in 2020.
There was an increase in users searching for free or funded courses on findcourses.co.uk across almost all age groups, except for the 45-54 age group which saw a marginal 0.5% decrease. We saw the highest percentage increase in those aged 18-24 (223.5%) and 65+ (88%). The 25-34 and 55-64 age groups saw increases of around 26% while there was a 10.5% increase for those aged 35-44.
The highest percentage increase for those aged 18-24 could perhaps be explained by the fact that young people were among the hardest hit by job losses during the economic downturn caused by the pandemic.
Meanwhile, the second highest percentage increase was for the 65+ age group. This may reflect this older cohort’s increasing awareness of the importance of upskilling and re-skilling so that their skill sets don’t become obsolete to employers and recruiters.
Both male and female users increased their search for free or funded courses on findcourses.co.uk in 2020.
Although the percentage increase for male users (68%) is higher than that for female users (19.7%), the absolute numbers of male users are lower than female users - there are approximately 75% more female users than male users that searched for funded courses in 2020. This bucks the overall search trend where there are approximately equal numbers of male and female users for the site.
The higher interest shown by female users for funded courses may perhaps be explained by the fact that women tend to be in jobs that are more vulnerable in an economic downturn. Hence, female users are more likely to look for free training courses to make themselves more valuable to employers.
Appetite to upskill and re-skill but inadequate understanding of funding access
Learners have expressed strong interest in training to both upskill and re-skill. However, many still lack the knowledge to access funding and funded courses.
According to our January 2021 survey asking users what they expect their career and learning goals to be in 2021, 69.4% say that they are likely or very likely to upskill and a similar proportion (69.4%) say that they are likely or very likely to re-skill.
Upskill = to learn new skills or to teach workers new skills
Re-skill = to learn new skills so that you can do a different job
- Cambridge Dictionary
Of those who are likely or very likely to upskill in 2021, the 45-54 age group shows the highest likelihood of upskilling (32.5%) while the 18-24 age cohort has the lowest likelihood (7.5%) among the different age groups.
Interestingly, the likelihood to re-skill in 2021 increases by age cohort. This indicates that the older cohorts are more open to the possibility of learning new skills to do different jobs.
Based on our January 2021 learning and career goals survey, 37% of users are interested in taking advantage of the 2021 re-training fund offered through the government’s Lifetime Skills Guarantee. However, of these users , 87% don’t know whether they’re eligible for funding or funded courses and 89% don’t know how to access funding or where to find out about funding.
This shows that while people have the appetite to upskill and re-skill, many of them lack the knowledge to access the funded courses or funding that they are eligible for.
Government schemes to boost learning - what are they and who will they help?
The coronavirus pandemic has had a drastic impact on the job market. In response, the government has launched a number of initiatives to combat unemployment including the landmark Lifetime Skills Guarantee.
The Lifetime Skills Guarantee offers all adults without an A-Level or equivalent qualification a free, fully-funded college course. This scheme is available from April 2021 and is backed by the £2.5 billion National Skills Fund. It aims to train and retrain job seekers to prepare them for jobs of the future.
“As the Chancellor has said, we cannot, alas, save every job. What we can do is give people the skills to find and create new and better jobs. So my message today is that at every stage of your life, this government will help you get the skills you need.”
- Prime Minister Boris Johnson, 29 September 2020
In the Autumn 2021 budget, the chancellor Rishi Sunak further announced a £3 billion spending package on education and training that will demonstrate the government's commitment to a "skills revolution", the BBC reports.
The £3 billion investment will consist of:
- £1.6bn for new T-levels for 16 to 19-year-olds. T-levels are the government's new vocational qualifications, equivalent to three A-levels, and have been developed with businesses to meet the needs of industry.
- £550 million in the National Skills Fund which will quadruple the number on Skills Bootcamps, expand the all-age level 3 entitlement and fund an additional 24,000 new traineeships a year.
- £830m to revamp and modernise colleges in a five-year scheme.
How we’re working to make learning more accessible
The apprenticeship levy, introduced originally in 2017, suffered from a knowledge gap when it was first launched and arguably still suffers a degree of misunderstanding, leaving nearly £319 million that could have gone towards upskilling and re-skilling unspent in 2019.
We at findcourses.co.uk want to make sure that funded courses, access to funded and funding eligibility don’t suffer from the same knowledge gap.
That’s why we’re working to make access to funding easier to understand for our users by:
Highlighting courses eligible for funding and including terms of application
Creating a UK-wide funding guide with 300+ funding options outlined for our users
Creating a funding FAQ to answer questions
Building a re-training hub to answer our users’ questions
Do you want to help us boost the understanding of access to funded courses? Or perhaps you are looking to promote your funded courses? Contact us today to learn how we can work together to make learning more accessible.