Strong belief in the value of learning and the pressing need for skills are not enough to motivate adults to participate in lifelong learning
In 2019, Cedefop launched a pan-European opinion survey on adult learning and continuing vocational education and training (CVET).
Demographic trends and technological change increase the need for adults to learn and adapt to changing job content and working conditions. De- spite this, most EU Member States have consistently underperformed in their efforts to reach targets for adult participation in lifelong learning.
In 2010, the EU set a target of 15% of adults par- ticipating in lifelong learning by 2020 (1). Only a hand- ful of Member States met the target; the EU average in 2019 was 11.8%. It fell to 9.2% in 2020, mostly due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
To understand these numbers more fully, Cedefop launched a pan-European opinion survey on adult learning and continuing vocational education and training (CVET) in 2019.
The findings show that adults of all ages and across all occupations and qualifications recognise the need for new skills. This need, however, seems insufficient to motivate adults to participate in learn- ing and CVET at the desired levels. Raising adult participation may require new, more learner-centric, policy approaches.
POSITIVE ABOUT LEARNING AND LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES
Cedefop’s survey also measured participation in organised work-related learning in the 12 months before the survey. This covers any learning activities that are intended to improve knowledge or skills for work and could be undertaken by adults in work or looking for a job.
Although the data are not directly comparable, Cedefop’s survey findings are similar to those of the latest Adult education survey (AES), which was carried out in 2016. Both surveys report that around Cedefop’s survey clearly shows that low partici- pation is not because adults are negative about adult learning and CVET. On the contrary, it confirms that men and women of all ages and education levels, un- employed or employed in all types of occupations, ir- respective of skill level, regard adult learning and CVET as important for finding, performing and progressing in jobs and careers. They also expect adult learning and CVET to become more important in the future and believe that governments should prioritise investment in them. Adults aged 65 and above and retired adults are just as positive about adult learning and CVET as the adult working population, defined as those aged 25 to 64.
Adults believe that there are many opportunities to learn. They also welcome the measures to encourage participation in learning, such as financial incentives, support with childcare and flexible working hours. However, despite positive attitudes, opportunities and support, the main reason adults give for not participat- ing in adult learning and CVET is because they see no personal need.
PARTICIPATION AND SKILL DEFICITS
Cedefop’s survey findings point to skill deficits (Table 2). Participation in organised work-related learning is higher among younger age groups in the working population. The survey found that 57% of 25 to 34 year-olds were either participating in training when surveyed or had done so in the previous 12 months, compared to 33% of those aged between 55 and 64. Despite notable differences in participation in learn- ing between some age groups, around 88% of all age groups in the working population say that they need to keep their skills up to date constantly to do their job.
Participation in learning is much higher among those with a high-level education (52%) compared to those with a low-level education (17%). While it might be expected that 92% of people with a high-level education say that their job requires them to keep their skills constantly up to date, less expected, perhaps, is that 78% of those with a low-level education say the same.
There are large differences in participation in learning by occupation, ranging from 72% for profession- als to 27% for those in elementary occupations. A surprisingly high proportion (64%) of people working in elementary occupations say that their job requires them to keep their skills constantly up to date. This is important as, traditionally, elementary occupations, such as security guards or some care workers, are regarded as unskilled.
Across all age groups in the working population, around 28% say that they lack technical skills and 23% say they lack general skills. Technical skills are those related more specifically to their job or occupation, while general or transversal skills, such as communication, are used across many occupations. Men are more likely to say that they lack general skills.
These findings underline that changing job con- tent is not limited to certain age groups or occupations. They also show that adults least likely to participate in adult learning and CVET – older workers and those with a low-level education or working in elementary occupations – are also those most likely to agree that they lack general and technical skills to carry out their job at the required level.