Minister Halfon's speech at the Skills Matter Event

Minister Halfon delivers a speech on adult education at the Skills Matter Event

 The Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP


Good morning. I’m delighted to be here today.  

The organisers will tell you that my schedule hasn’t made it easy! but I’ve prioritised this event because lifelong learning is so important to this government’s skills revolution. 

Adult Education: 5 priorities  

My 5 priorities for Adult Education are: 

  • Community Learning 
  • Careers Guidance 
  • Adult Learning for Jobs 
  • the Lifelong Learning Entitlement 
  • Skills Devolution 

Community Learning  

I often talk about the Ladder of Opportunity. (In fact, it wouldn’t be a Halfon speech if I didn’t mention it!)

But it’s not just a slogan – it’s a philosophy about the opportunities that education needs to provide. Particularly for people whose backgrounds won’t furnish them with the careers insights, advantages or introductions by their parents that many of us take for granted.   

Wherever you come from, there should be skills training routes available to help you improve your prospects and progress to sustainable, well-paid work. 

One of the 2 pillars that holds-up the Ladder is social justice.  

This is a core part of my personal mission in politics, and why I have such enthusiasm for skills training and lifelong learning. It is not fair that opportunities to enter good work, with progression and a rising pay scale, are often not given to those who need them most.  

Community learning, my first priority for adult education, tackles that inequality head-on.  

It draws in those furthest from the workplace - people who have often had poor experiences of education and life - to begin learning again. It is educational seed capital that can lead to tremendous things. This can include helping someone learn to read, improving their numeracy and digital skills, or building their confidence. All of this can support learners to progress onto training programmes that can lead to a good job further down the line. That is real social justice in action, giving people the means to improve their prospects. I’ve seen the difference it can make in my own constituency of Harlow, where our community learning has moved to the local library in a state-of-the-art building. 

That’s why we will continue to support community courses with demonstrable wider benefits, such as health, wellbeing and integration. We will fund this via Tailored Learning when we introduce the Adult Skills Fund in August. The funding will be flexible, as it is now - enabling courses to be tailored to learners, tailored to local skills needs and tailored to employers.  

Careers Guidance  

Good careers guidance is my second priority for adult education, and the first rung on the Ladder of Opportunity. It’s the first rung because ideally, we need to get it right early - in schools and colleges. But it’s also essential for those who want to upskill (and up their earning power!) in adulthood. We are building a single, unified careers system that successfully supports adults as well as young people.  

The National Careers Service is the best place to start. It provides free online guidance, as well as community-based advisers to support those with recognised barriers to work.  

I recently visited National Careers Service advisors and clients at their West London employability hub and found so much enthusiasm for the unique power of good careers advice. Advisors were helping people get on career-boosting courses like Skills Bootcamps and Free Courses for Jobs.  The work being done there really epitomised my philosophy that adult education should be an integrated part of adult life – something people repeatedly turn-to to stay on top of industry standards, grow their skills, and assess and improve their career options. Overall, the service has now helped over 1.3 million people gain a new a job or learning outcome.  

We want more people to be open to retraining, and our new Skills for Life advertising campaign ‘It All Starts With Skills’ is designed to encourage that. The accompanying Skills for Careers website provides a single starting point for information on skills and training. Anyone can browse their skills and technical options in one place. It’s designed to inspire people looking for a change or a new direction, helping them build the foundation of a great, new career.  

My long-term vision is to create a one-stop-shop, where citizens of any age and background can explore all their career and training options at any point in their lives. 

Adult Learning for Jobs 

Adult learning for jobs is my third priority, and follows on from careers guidance.  

The third rung of the Ladder is about championing the skills that employers need – and this is what we’ve really tried to do with our shorter training courses. Many sectors are crying out for skilled people to fill their vacancies. And many candidates just don’t know what’s out there, waiting for them. That’s why we designed Skills Bootcamps and Free Courses for Jobs to match learners to the skills and sectors that really need them. 

Skills Bootcamps offer free, flexible training for adults to get a head start in these sectors - such as digital, engineering & construction, and HGV driving. Bootcamps last up to 4 months, allowing participants to build their sector-specific skills. The courses include a job interview at the end, and are ultimately about bringing motivated adult learners to a role or apprenticeship where they can shine. 

We recently introduced Creative & Design, and Early Years & Childcare bootcamps, having consistently exceeded our targets for people starting these courses. It’s our ambition to deliver 64,000 bootcamp learner starts in 2024-25, funded by up to £550 million through to 2025.  

This means more adults will getting the skills needed to climb the Ladder of Opportunity to good jobs - which at the same time, are filling local and national skills gaps. 

Free Courses for Jobs also provide adult learners with valuable skills to fill job market gaps. They give those eligible access to 400 Level 3 qualifications, in subject areas from engineering and construction, to accounting and health & social care. These courses have been carefully chosen to offer good wage outcomes and address the economy’s skills needs. They have proved popular, with over 61,000 enrolments between April 2021 and  October 2023. 

I also need to mention the Higher Technical Qualifications programme, which has transformed the quality of technical education at Levels 4 and 5. It supports the third rung of the Ladder, which is about high-quality qualifications that command respect because of their rigour. HTQ learners are assessed against  employer-developed standards, which means students and businesses can be confident that these qualifications deliver job-relevant, future-ready skills and knowledge.  

Digital HTQs were launched in 2022, and have since been joined by many, many more,  - including construction, education, healthcare and engineering. They’re a great option for those upskilling within a role, or seeking to retrain for a new career. 

The Lifelong Learning Entitlement 

The Lifelong Learning Entitlement is my fourth priority, and the fourth rung of the Ladder of Opportunity.  

It will revolutionise further and higher education when it launches in the 2025/26 academic year.  

The LLE will provide a tuition fee loan entitlement equivalent to four years’ post-18 education (£37,000 in today’s fees) for use throughout people’s working lives, all the way up to age 60. It will be available for full years of study at higher technical or degree levels.  

But, importantly, it can also be used for modules of high-value courses, regardless of whether they are provided by FE colleges or universities.  

With the LLE, learners will have real choice in how and when they study, enabling them to acquire life-changing skills at their own pace. Like getting on and off a train, learners will be able to alight and board their post-school education when it suits them, rather than being confined to a single ticket. They can choose to build their qualifications over time, fitting them around other commitments. I hope the LLE will mark an important sea change in how learners  choose to ‘spend’ their post-school education, allowing them to consider how best to deploy their LLE allocation to bolster their career. 

Skills Devolution 

Finally, my fifth priority: devolving skills education planning.  

This is an important part of creating a local skills landscape that matches the local economy. Local Skills Improvement Plans are a way of hardwiring local needs into local provision, as colleges are now required to consider their area’s LSIP when making decisions on provision.   

The aim of these employer-led local plans is to ensure that all provision – be that apprenticeships, T Levels or Higher Technical Qualifications – is of high-quality and meets the needs of local employers.  

LSIPs were published for the first time last year, with tremendous engagement from businesses, training providers and colleges. The programme is backed by the £165 million Local Skills Improvement Fund, to help providers respond to their LSIP and pivot provision towards local needs.    

If your education institution or company hasn’t yet got involved, please search for your local LSIP  and become part of an essential, employer-led dialogue about local skills needs. 


I know many of the initiatives and achievements I’ve described would not have come about without the contribution of many of those in the audience here today and I want to thank you for that. 

While you have helped us undertake a skills revolution in the last decade, there is still much to do to make skills matter and put lifelong adult learning at the heart of industry and education. 

In my office I have a picture of John F Kennedy - the 35th President of the United States. 

Back in the 1960s, he said:  

“We choose to go to the Moon … and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”  

His point was – that’s what makes it worthwhile! We could spend less money and time and effort, but we wouldn’t have a space programme - or an apprenticeships programme, or HTQs, or the LLE, - to be proud of.  

I know this because I’ve been campaigning for these reforms for a long time. We’re doing it not because it’s easy, but because it’s hard.  

Because we know that every enquiry to Skills for Life that’s followed through, and every training course undertaken, ultimately means a new path up the Ladder of Opportunity to better work for the learner - and better business outcomes for their employer.  

That’s why skills matter, and what makes this work worthwhile. 

Thank you.

From: Department for Education and The Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP