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Time in invest in lifelong learning and adult education

Two recent reports from the OECD and the European Economic and Social Committee point out that investment in human capital, adult learning and training is vital to help people adapt and navigate an ever changing labour market. 

The OECD Employment Outlook 2019 ‘The Future of Work’ recommends that countries focus on comprehensive adult learning strategies (particularly for those with low skills or whose skills are in danger of becoming obsolete) and that all workers be given adequate opportunities for retraining and upskilling throughout their careers.  The OECD notes that allowing all workers to benefit from future opportunities is the single most important challenge we face.  Investment in lifelong learning and adult education is one of the best tools at our disposal to ensure we meet this challenge.

The European Economic and Social Committee report on Supportive Education Systems examines what changes are required to prevent skills mismatches and develop supportive education and training systems.  Skills, vocational education and training and lifelong learning are areas highlighted for investment.

In Ireland, the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs found that one in three jobs has a high risk of being disrupted by digital technologies, with this more likely to mean changes to job roles and tasks rather than job losses.  The sectors most at risk are retail, transport, hospitality, agriculture and manufacturing.    What is most worrying is that the jobs at highest risk are elementary, low-skilled occupations and the impact is most likely to be felt by people with lower levels of educational attainment. 

Ongoing skills development and lifelong learning for people in employment and people who are not in employment must become an integral part of the education system.    An education and training strategy focussed on preparing people for the impact of digitalisation and the transitions within the workforce that this transformation will mean should be developed.  This strategy must be flexible enough to adapt to regional needs, and people with low skill levels in particular must be a focus of this strategy.

Access to appropriate education and skills development from early years to adulthood is one of the key public services that enables participation in society, public life and the labour market.  Social Justice Ireland has long argued that focus of our education system must be to ensure people are engaged and active citizens and have the necessary critical and creative skills to navigate an ever-changing employment environment, can to adapt to transitions as they occur and participate fully in society.