Will the rise in retirement age lead to a boost in adult education?

Published: 29 Aug 2017


At the end of July, the government had a surprise announcement: the state pension age rise to 68 would be brought forward. The rise was previously due to take place in 2044, but it has now been moved back to 2037, seven years earlier.

This sooner-than-expected rise will keep millions of people working for longer than they ever thought they would. In an increasingly digital economy, this will likely mean more people needing to learn new skills to stay in work. So will the rise in retirement age mean an uptake of enrolment in adult education, and create more adult education jobs?

The consequences of an aging population

Work and Pensions Secretary David Gauke cited an aging population and the need to create a “sustainable system” as the logic behind the state pension rise. So just how big is this “aging population”, and how fast is it growing?

According to projections from the Office of National Statistics, around 25% of the UK population will be aged 65 and over by 2046. This is a substantial change to the demographic makeup of the country in a very short period of time. Between 1996 and 2006 that figure was 15.9%, and it stayed consistent. Between 2006 and 2016 we have seen the elderly population grow exponentially in proportion to the rest of the country. The likely cause is increased life expectancy.

This demographic change is happening alongside major shifts in the national economy. The UK tech sector is reportedly growing faster than the country’s entire economy itself. One in ten new jobs is now tech-related. This, combined with a lack of adequate education, has led to a digital skills gap in the UK, wherein there are not enough job applicants with the digital knowhow required to fill the open job roles. Worryingly for the older generation, many have suggested young people are the answer to this skills crisis.

On top of this is the shift towards automation. Ten million jobs may be replaced by artificially intelligent machines in the next twenty years, just as the country’s working population continues to grow older. With non-technical jobs disappearing and older people having to keep working for longer, the conditions are all there for a boost in adult education, as older workers must learn new skills in order to keep employment.

Participation in adult education has been falling in recent years, so will this unique combination of social and economic factors turn this around?

Adult education to close the skills gap and help career rejuvenation

Citing a CIPD report in the Huffington Post, the academic Chris Ball says “two decades of under-investment” has led the UK to fall behind its EU peers in terms of digital skills. There’s no doubt that putting more money into further education would help address this.

The government appears to have taken note, with the introduction of vocational “T-levels” and what they are calling the "biggest overhaul of post-school education in 70 years." These new initiatives, though, are primarily geared towards young school leavers, not those currently in work. But if thousands of older people are set to lose their jobs to machines, and then need digital skills to get new ones, they are the ones who most need upskilling.

One way to allow for this would be to encourage apprenticeships for older people or to increase access to on-the-job training. This would allow people to switch disciplines mid-career far more easily than they can now. Programs like this would naturally lead to a boost in adult education. But there is another way adult education could benefit due to the rising retirement age.

Experienced workers could move into teaching roles and share their knowledge

Those whose skills are still valuable in the modern economy could also find changing careers a beneficial way to live out their last days before retirement. As many older workers will be in need of education, there will be greater demand for educators in the further education sector.

Those coming into the sector with knowledge derived from their careers will be able to encourage their peers by spreading their knowledge in the further education classroom. There are many adult education jobs available now for industry veterans and newcomers alike even before this major change.

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