The education column with East Riding College principal Mike Welsh: We can transform peoples’ lives

In June, the Association of Colleges published a new report calling on the government to scrap unhelpful universal credit claimant rules that have created an ‘education vs work’ choice for many unemployed people.

Thursday, 24th June 2021, 11:00 am
East Riding College’s St Mary’s Walk campus.
East Riding College’s St Mary’s Walk campus.

Current rules can prevent people from participating in some learning or training programmes if they also receive unemployment benefits.

In other words, the very people that we would like to be able to access training can end up being the ones that are excluded from it, without giving up some form of financial support to switch to full-time learning.

As I am sure anyone can appreciate, this can be a really difficult decision and a great leap of faith, more especially for those with families, other dependents or caring responsibilities.

Mike Welsh, principal at East Riding College.

And yet as educators we know that many people who do take that leap of faith – often struggling through financial hardship to do so – do reap the benefits of committing to learning and training. And most importantly, do go on to secure fulfilling jobs in the long run.

What the current system can do is pit training against job-hunting in an either-or scenario, when in fact the choice to retrain is not realistically open to all.

Here at East Riding College we are already supporting unemployed people in partnerships with their local Jobcentre Plus (JCP). However, the ‘Let them Learn’ report from the Association of Colleges highlights how disconnected the education and welfare systems are. The last thing anyone in education wants is a system that discourages people from getting the skills they need.

The Association of Colleges is calling for a change to the system and with it, the role colleges play to support unemployed people, especially those at risk of becoming long term unemployed.

Recommendations include reforming universal credit rules and extending the Lifetime Skills Guarantee to everyone, not just those without any existing Level 3 qualifications.

They are also calling on the Government to set out a national strategy for the role of education and skills in supporting employment, to provide clear progression pathways for people on current programmes like Kickstart and Restart.

The pandemic has led to increased unemployment and the furlough scheme is due to end in September, but there is also a much longer-term issue to address. The reality is that in the 21st century people will have much longer working lives and therefore face the very real prospect of having to retrain to start new careers later in life.

The system needs to accommodate these changes for sake of the future economy.

At East Riding College we already know from our own experience that when we can work together with employment support providers and employers, we can transform peoples’ lives.

Advice on retraining is available at the college in Bridlington to anyone who needs it, along with information on finance and funding, bursaries, childcare and counselling support for our students.

There is help available now to those who need it, but a joined-up national strategy would benefit even more people.