The UK development organisation and membership
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Animated Edition - Issues 1996 - 2001
Lifelong learning
Animated, Summer 1999. Where does it all begin? Encouraging a sea change in attitudes towards learning is imperative if it is to become a staple part of each of our lives and for all our lives. Ruth Churchill unravels the maze of current initiatives and highlights METIER's crucial role in achieving Lifelong Learning for all
Call me crazy, but I thought the big thing was Investors in People (liP). Then Best Value was launched. Fine. OK. So we incorporate that... only for it to be followed by New Deal. Slightly stretched, I can handle it... then, Lo and Behold! UfI (The University for Industry) drops out of the sky. Phew! Weekend reading becomes compulsory. Ah! And we must not forget the Post 16 Review, Skills Benchmarking, the development of our National Occupational Standards and Qualifications, the Skills and Cultural Industries Task Forces' recommendations? Oh! And by the way, have you got an Individual Learning Account (ILA)?

Confused? You will be. It is all nicely topped off, of course, with Lifelong Learning. So it is no wonder people start foaming at the mouth thinking of more suitable acronyms for the three 'L's'. Whatever was wrong with plain old 'Education and Training'? With the new white paper on Lifelong Learning expected any day, it is vital that the dance sector knows what it is and what it can offer so that you can respond with strength.

Lifelong Learning means different things to different people and, as a concept, it can sometimes appear too broad and intangible. However, Lifelong Learning manifests itself in many different ways and yes, you can touch it and you can feel it. Higher, Further and Adult Education and The University of the Third Age have been doing versions of it for years, as have much of the arts community even though some of them do not know it (throughout the centuries community arts has been the forerunner of Lifelong Learning as a creative educator). But many people, including parts of the business community, have never even heard of Lifelong Learning and do not realise its importance to themselves, their employees, their board and their budgets.

What is clear is that Lifelong Learning is a reality. It is a way of increasing the skills base of employers and, therefore, the economic security of the country. It plays a crucial role in achieving the National Learning Targets identified to raise standards in education. It acts as a vehicle for increasing participation in learning, enhancing social inclusion throughout different communities. It is about improving the quality and variety of our learning environment (at home, at work, at the community centre, in the pub, on your own or with friends, family and colleagues), and at any level or stage in our lives - lifelong. Above all, it is about increasing access to the content, style, language, design, cost, fitness for purpose, and take-up of learning opportunities, education, training, understanding, aptitude, knowledge, reasoning, insight.

Why is this important for you? Well, both the Skills (Department for Education and Employment -DfEE) and Creative Industries (Department of Culture, Media and Sport) Task Forces have recognised the enormous potential return to the economy from appropriate investment in skills development.(1) They also acknowledge the ability of high quality training and education to raise the economic and social standards of this country, by moving towards an integrated learning society. However, the arts sector has been traditionally hampered by the lack of an accredited skills training framework (its first National Vocational Qualifications were approved in late 1995), a refusal by practitioners to accept the developing vocational training framework, and a paucity of research on the skills gaps that need addressing.

The importance of this has been laid out in the DfEE's The Learning Age and opportunities for redressing the balance have been identified through strategies such as Investors in People, the National Grid for Learning and the UfI. These policy initiatives have informed the context for the vocational accreditation framework currently being developed by METIER within its commitment to Lifelong Learning.

So why have we not heeded the call long before now? METIER's research has revealed some very real barriers that need to be overcome before Lifelong Learning can truly become an inherent part of our culture:

  • The arts economy consists of large numbers of small to medium sized enterprises (SME's) employing fewer than 250 workers, or micro businesses employing less than 10 workers (including freelancers), these are often subsidised and not cash-rich.

  • 34 per cent of our workforce is employed in insecure circumstances - seasonal, short-term, commissioned or freelance labour or temporary contracts. It appears that this pattern of job destruction and job creation occurs more rapidly in the arts and cultural industries than in many other sectors. (2)

  • Whilst this encourages a positive climate of flexibility, it creates huge demands upon employees to develop their skills and preserve their employability. But at the same time this has significant disincentives to SME's to invest in training.

  • Arts workers are often required to work long and erratic hours with frequent touring or working away from the central base, and uncertainties over funding and long-term paybacks on investment can render intermediate cash flow difficult.

  • Uptake of learning is inhibited by the dearth of suitable learning materials regarding the business and entrepreneurial skills needed to meet the needs of arts workers, and by the shortage of learning environments which have suitable flexibility for freelancers and SME's in the cultural industries.

  • We think that our sector is different, a special case, and we often do not accept that the issues we face to do with skills shortages or lack of suitable training could be the same as those in other sectors. This leads to missed opportunities for economies of scale in solving some of these problems with other sectors, many of whom are in similar positions.

How are we overcoming these?
As a National Training Organisation, METIER has a responsibility to represent the arts and entertainments industry throughout the UK. We work together to set National Standards for occupational competence and we do this with industry professionals, on the basis of their experience - not on set criteria devised by bureaucrats or consultants. The Standards are designed to help people working in the arts to increase the quality of their work, the breadth of their knowledge, and the efficiency and effectiveness of their practice. It embodies the practice of Lifelong Learning.

On the basis of these Standards, METIER's vocational training framework offers an ideal opportunity for artists and arts administrators, managers and facilitators to counter many of these barriers to learning in a cost-effective way, whilst achieving national recognition through the Scottish or National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs). Currently there are 13 qualifications (rising to over 50 by 2002), including one for the Dance Practitioner, to cover the gamut of arts-based jobs.

We can expect a high level of educational attainment but a lack of vocational and/or practical skills and knowledge amongst people joining the sector, and relatively high levels of access to information and communications technology equipment.(3) Therefore, the learning environment needs to be a mixture of online distance learning materials and on and offline support structures. These can be accessed online through our European funded NetGAIN programme (www.Netgain.org.uk) or METIER's site for all arts Lifelong Learners (www.Metier.org.uk). Coming soon are two new sites funded by the Union Learning Fund, one for facilitation and outreach support for community Musicians leading to NVQ's in Delivering Artform Development Sessions, and the other for leadership, business management and mentoring skills, primarily for musicians but adaptable in the future for any art form.

METIER also plays a role in shaping key areas of government agenda, acting as a focus for the sector, disseminating the information in accessible formats, brokering strategic partners to deliver these initiatives and input into new ones, and representing the industry response back to government. This is a finely balanced role between not overwhelming everyone with useless information, taking the sector voice to a higher level, and influencing national strategies so that they are more closely aligned to the sector's needs. (See www.lifelonglearning.co.uk)

We are, also looking on the industry's behalf at its models of good practice in supporting the sector. As well as identifying these infrastructures,
METIER's Transnationality Strategy will involve partnership projects with other cultural institutions and individuals to make their Lifelong Learning mechanisms more universally accessible.

So Lifelong Learning is clearly much bigger than education and training, and much more inclusive of all the elements needed to make education and training more relevant to our lives, rather than being bolted on when we have the time or the money. METIER has Lifelong Learning at the heart of all its work. We think that it is enormously important to encourage a sea change of attitudes towards learning an inherent part of everyone's culture. It does not have to be overwhelming, and amongst any of your reasons for learning, fun should be near the top! So its back to IiP, UfI and ILA's - but fortunately METIER briefings (on and offline) can cut down your reading and allow for other learning you may have prioritised for yourself.

Ruth Churchill, Head of Lifelong Learning, METIER. For further information contact her on +44 (0)1274 738800 or email ruth@metier.org.uk

References
1 The Creative Industries Task Force Mapping Document, 1998, asserted that: 'In the UK the creative industries generate revenues approaching £60 billion per year... the sector is growing faster than, almost twice as fast as, the economy as a whole.'
2 The Arts Council of England, Employment in the Arts and Cultural Industries', London, 1995
3 Tony Collier and Associates, Working Out: Graduate Views on Current Support Mechanisms in the Arts and Entertainments Industries, METIER, 1999

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Animated: Issues 1996 - 2001