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Lifelong learning, the National Retraining Scheme and establishing the National Skills Fund - take-up, delivery and adapting to a changing labour market following the pandemic


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Matt Hassan, National Retraining Scheme and National Skills Fund Programme Director, Department for Education
Iain Murray, Senior Policy Officer, TUC
Nic Trower, Senior Policy Advisor, CBI
Juliet Stuttard, Director, PwC UK
Patrick Craven, Director of Assessment Policy, Research and Compliance, City & Guilds
Dr Fiona Aldridge, Director, Policy and Research, Learning and Work Institute
Kenny Barron, Unite the Union; Joe Billington, National Careers Service; Stephen Cole, CITB; Lesley Giles, Work Advance; Jack Orlik, Nesta; Dr Susan Pember, Holex; Patrick Spencer, Centre for Social Justice; Simon Tindall, The Open University and Paul Warner, Association of Employment and Learning Providers

Chaired by:
Baroness Garden of Frognal, Deputy Speaker, House of Lords
Lord Watson of Invergowrie, Shadow Spokesperson for Education

The agenda:

  • What has been learnt from the National Retraining Scheme
  • Creating an effective retraining offer - funding, scope, and engagement with industry and the workforce
  • Case study: international approaches to lifelong learning
  • The role of qualifications in the future lifelong learning landscape
  • Adapting to a changing labour market following COVID-19 - careers advice and guidance, retraining, digital literacy and the impact on labour mobility
  • Lessons from the National Retraining Scheme pilots and user research, and the next steps for the National Skills Fund

The discussion will also look ahead to:

  • the role of the NRS in dealing with medium term skills needs following the COVID-19 pandemic
  • the establishment of the Government’s new £2.5bn National Skills Fund prior to an expected consultation on the fund which will look at long term skills needs
  • wider issues around lifelong learning


With concerns being raised by some in the sector, and with projected costs for both the National Retraining Scheme and National Skills Fund yet to be outlined - delegates will discuss:

  • cost expectations
  • sources of funding, including the potential balance of contributions from government, employers, and users.

Size and scope

Discussing what has been learnt so far from the National Retraining Scheme, with:

  • pilots initially focused towards adults in low-skilled work and occupations susceptible to automation
  • the first phase of the Scheme ahead of full rollout available only to adults aged 24 and older, qualified below degree level, and within a certain wage threshold.


What will be needed to develop programmes that:

  • adapt to user needs
  • ensures high take-up
  • secures the involvement of hard-to-reach groups
  • serves those who are otherwise unlikely to receive retraining - particularly those lacking the time, money, and the confidence or necessary skills to retrain.

Strategic aims

How to achieve the overarching objectives of both the NRS and National Skills Fund, for:

  • creating a culture of retraining and lifelong learning
  • overcoming the barriers that adults face to retraining - looking at the roles of:
    • careers advice and guidance - and how it will need to develop
    • qualifications and awarding bodies.

The changing skills landscape following the pandemic

With the Government increasingly focusing on digital skills across the spectrum, we expect discussion on:

  • the contribution of the National Retraining Scheme to maintaining and updating the digital literacy of the workforce
  • opportunities for retraining in data science and artificial intelligence skills, with plans for this to be supported by the Adult Learning Technology Innovation Fund
  • the shape that the National Skills Fund should take to support long term skills needs following COVID-19 - including how:
    • the Fund can complement existing support which is available
    • support employers - particularly SMEs
    • how the Government can ensure the best possible return on investment.

Broader economic impacts

With the National Retraining Scheme and National Skill Funds widely considered as a response to work automation, we also expect discussion on:

  • how the programmes can be designed to combat macro-economic challenges, such as skill shortages, productivity issues, and labour mobility
  • examples of how retraining is being approached outside the UK.

Developments that are relevant to the discussion:

  • The first phase of the NRS - in the Liverpool City Region, the West Midlands Combined Authority, the Leeds City Region LEP, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough combined authority area, the Heart of the South West LEP and the North East LEP.
  • The forthcoming Government consultation on the establishment of the National Skills Fund with a report by City and Guilds recently calling for government to release and redirect £3bn in funding assigned for the National Skills Fund to support those that have lost their jobs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The announcement by Government of reforms to Higher Technical qualifications to improve support adults seeking to retrain and upskill, including new qualifications from September 2022 with a Government quality mark.
  • Launch of the new digital service ‘Get Help to Retrain’ last year and the recent issuing by Government of a tender as part of the NRS for groups of employers, providers and local authorities to deliver a new training model in the digital sector with the partnership providing 12 week courses.

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