Why mums need access to adult learning that works for them

A new report from Digital Mums highlights the benefits of providing adult learning tailored to mums and how a perceived lack of up-to-date skills is stopping many from returning to work.

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In a world of work where everything is changing, it’s important to keep your skills up to date. Although this applies to most of the workforce these days, if you have taken a career break for any reason the perception – whether it is your own or prospective employers’ – that your skills are out of date can be a huge barrier to getting back in.

Georgie Krone took 10 years out of a career as a City banking lawyer to bring up her three children, thinking it would be easy to get back in due to her qualifications and experience. She didn’t find it easy at all, though. “I didn’t even get my foot back in the door, let alone get anywhere near being offered an interview,” she says.

“I phoned some legal recruitment companies and they said don’t bother coming in as nobody will be interested in you as you’ve been out of work for 10 years and your skills are out of date.” Georgie is now running a social media company after retraining, but her experience is far from rare.

A new report from Digital Mums out today shows that over half of mothers worry about their skills dating while on a career break (52%) rising to 72% of mothers in London. Interestingly, millennial mothers expressed the strongest concern about outdated skills, double that of mothers aged 41-50.

The Locked out of learning report found that their worries are founded. 21% of mothers stated that outdated skills/knowledge had stopped them getting a job. This rises to almost half of mothers in London (49%). 28% stated that outdated skills/knowledge had put them off applying for a role. This issue also impacts their potential to re-enter work at the same seniority level.

One in five mothers cited a lack of up to date skills/knowledge as a factor in taking a more junior role, which rises to one in four for 18-30 year olds, suggesting that the problem is getting worse rather than better.

workingmums.co.uk’s annual surveys consistently show a very high level of interest in training and retraining among working mums which fits with this picture. However, the Digital Mums report shows less than half of women have engaged in formal learning in the last three years and around a third had not engaged in the last decade. This was higher for mothers over 50.

The report predicts thinks will worsen if nothing is done to engage these women as jobs – and associated skills – change rapidly and that they will become more marginalised and discriminated against.

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So why aren’t mothers engaging in formal learning? Partly it is an issue of time, having the ‘headspace’ to learn and failing confidence. Younger mothers in particular don’t have the money to learn and, significantly, are much more likely to cite mental health issues as a barrier to learning than older mothers. Meanwhile, older mothers feel they are too old to learn.

Yet, Digital Mums points out how adult learning can boost mental health and job prospects and satisfaction. It suggests that investing in adult learning for mothers would bring a £8.1bn return on investment.

What can be done?

Digital Mums’ report calls on the Government to increase investment in adult learning [yesterday Labour promised six years’ free access to education and training to all adults available throughout their lives and the Lib Dems proposed a £10,000 grant for every adult in England to put towards education and training. The Conservatives have a National Retraining Scheme for adults needing to update their skills for work]. The Digital Mums report also calls on the Government to trial ‘back to work’ bursaries for mums who are out of work, radically reform apprenticeships so some can offer 100% distance learning and make it easier for independent, innovative learning providers to access adult learning budgets.

The report also recommends that employers provide a training bursary to all women going off on maternity leave, tailor training to mums [for instance, avoid evening sessions and consider part-timers],  flex around training and add an accredited or transferable skills-based course component to women returnership programmes.

For adult learning providers it says more could be done to provide free, mobile-friendly, short courses to encourage mothers onto the learning ladder and build a culture of inclusivity for mothers.

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