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Keep Young People Learning Skills up to Age 18, Think Tank Urges


A think tank is urging the Welsh Government to scrap the school leaving age of 16 and replace it with a ‘skills participation age' of 18 to help equip young people for the jobs of the future.

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) says Welsh Government has made good progress on implementing a number of reforms to education and training in Wales, but in its new report finds it needs to do more. The report recommends the implementation of a package of education and skills reforms to support workers in Wales of all ages to build a fairer and stronger economy.

For younger people, they should scrap the school leaving age of 16 and replace it with a “skills participation age” of 18 to instil learning throughout their lives and to ensure that “every child in Wales, whether in a job or continuing in education, would receive high quality learning through to adulthood.”

For older workers, the Government should set an ambitious target of creating an additional 30,000 adult learners in Wales through an investment of £60 million per year to tackle the effects of automation, an ageing population and Brexit. This would ensure Wales had one of the highest rates of adults in education and training in the world.

The research maps out plans to make the right to lifelong learning a reality, but also warns of the scale of the challenge that automation, Brexit, the climate crisis, an ageing population and growing economic inequalities will bring. For example:

  • Many Welsh jobs could be automated: 130,000 jobs in Wales have a high potential for automation – more than the UK average
  • The Welsh population is ageing: There are currently 33 pensioners per 100 people of working age, but this will increase to 40 per 100 by the late 2030s- this is higher than any other nation of the UK
  • Wales’ future workforce has already left compulsory education: 80% of the 2030 workforce, and over 60% of the 2040 workforce have already left compulsory education

IPPR argues that Wales can rise to these challenges to build a fair and strong economy that works into the future. To do this, it should implement IPPR’s package of recommendations, which also includes the creation of a new Open Institute of Technology to provide new bite-sized and flexible learning for adults and tackle the challenges of automation, a new ‘master apprentice’ programme for older workers to pass experience onto younger generations, and new agreements to ensure employers do their fair share to get Wales ready for the future.

Russell Gunson, a Director at IPPR, said:  

“Today we’re calling on the Welsh Government to make their proposed ‘right to lifelong learning’ a reality. Workers of all ages must be able to benefit from the education and skills they need in the future if we are to build a fair and strong economy amid the significant challenges we face.

“For young people, we must look at introducing a ‘skills participation age’ of 18 years old to make sure every child in Wales is in learning, whether in the workplace or the classroom.

“The Welsh Government has introduced good reforms to education and skills in recent years, but it must do more to match the scale of ambition to the scale of the challenges faced. From a rapidly ageing population to automation, Brexit and the climate crisis, these changes aren’t on the horizon, they have already begun.

“Wales is changing, and so must the education and skills systems to make sure Wales can take the opportunities and meet the challenges it faces”.