Our vision is for a prosperous and fair society in which learning and work provide opportunities for everyone to realise their potential and ambitions throughout life.
We live in a country of great strengths: one of the richest in the world; with world-leading industries including science, creative industries, and green technology; and some of the world’s best universities and educational establishments.
The decades ahead are filled with opportunity. Green growth can create new jobs as we move to a net zero economy by 2050; advances in technology will lead to new industries and new ways to live and work; and the UK has significant scope to improve productivity. Access to learning and work are central to these opportunities: skills and employment support can both help new industries to grow and help people find fulfilling jobs and careers.
However, we face significant challenges too. Economic growth has been weak since the financial crisis, holding back living standards and limiting the resources available for public services. Talent may be evenly distributed across the country, but opportunity is not: social mobility is lower than in other countries and inequalities between groups and areas stark.
Falling participation in learning and unequal access to education and work have contributed to these challenges. More than a million fewer adults are taking part in learning than a decade ago, meaning we risk falling further behind other countries in the years ahead. Nine million adults have low literacy or numeracy in England, and the UK lags other countries in intermediate skills. These shortfalls limit life chances, social inclusion and economic growth.
The pandemic has also had a profound effect, in many ways increasing existing inequalities. Government action helped to limit the economic impact, but the number of people out of work still rose substantially. Some groups and areas have been affected more than others, with young people hit by a double whammy of disrupted education and a weaker labour market. At the same time, people’s interest in learning was highlighted during lockdowns, with an increase in participation in learning, particularly online.
As we enter the decades ahead, the tectonic plates of our economy and society are shifting, at times accelerated by the impacts of the pandemic:
- Changing economy. Technology is advancing and the world is ever more connected. This means a rising bar for skills both to find work and to get on at work, but also new ways for people to learn. Changing trading relationships will also lead to changes in the economy, as will the move to net zero emissions by 2050;
- Changing demography. Our population is aging, increasing demand for healthcare and the number of people with caring responsibilities: learning can contribute to health and wellbeing. Longer working lives combined with a changing economy, increases the need for people to update their skills and retrain more often; and
- Changing society. We have more ways than ever to connect with people locally and globally: this can expose us to a wider range of views or trap us in an ‘echo chamber’ with only those who share the same views. There is also an increased awareness of the number of people suffering from loneliness. Learning can help people make new friends and social connections, and be more active citizens.
We want the 2020s to be a decade of recovery and renewal. We want more people engaged in learning, improving our skills base, increasing employment, and ensuring wider and fairer access to good quality work with opportunities to develop and progress. That is essential for increasing prosperity, building connections between people and communities, and widening opportunity so that no one’s life chances are limited by their background.
Learning and work need to be golden threads running through our approach to improving health and wellbeing, increasing employment and careers, building connected and active communities, and ensuring a prosperous and fair society.
How we make a difference
Learning and Work Institute has a heritage of more than a century and a focus on the future.
Our work is centred on: leading the debate so it focuses on the key challenges; influencing policy so it increases and widens opportunity; testing new ideas to engage people in learning and work; and building and spreading good practice for policymakers and practitioners.