A national initiative to help adults in employment access lifelong learning and training opportunities has seen a huge take-up in its first six months.

The innovative Personal Learning Account (PLA) programme originally provided a range of free courses to people over 19, living in Wales, who are employed or self-employed, and earning an annual salary of less than £26,000.

But with UK Government's recent announcement that the furlough scheme is to be extended until October, there is now an opportunity for employees who are currently on leave from their work to access the free training regardless of their salary level.

The two-year project is being piloted by Grŵp Llandrillo Menai in North Wales and Coleg Gwent in South Wales.

The aim of the Welsh Government-backed programme is to remove barriers to learning and upskilling among adults and address the rising skill shortages facing priority sectors in Wales.#

At Grŵp Llandrillo Menai, North Wales's largest provider of further education, the programme has already seen over twenty learners gain skills and qualifications in a range of industry sectors including engineering, construction and ICT.

Originally, teaching took place at the Grŵp's campuses across North Wales, but with the new rules around social distancing, the college has now moved to an innovative online learning model.

This has allowed learners to continue to access a wide range of PLA courses from home. Dafydd Evans, chief executive officer of Grŵp Llandrillo Menai, said:

The PLA is a transformational project, which is already helping to empower people with the skills they need to achieve their career goals, either to progress and apply for new jobs within their existing career or to follow a different path altogether. As a leading FE provider, it also assists us to equip our learners as well as the local workforce with the skills they need to be able to capitalise on career opportunities within key growth industries, both now and in the future.

He added:

Especially given the current economic climate, we know that people who are already in employment are discouraged from committing to upskilling when faced with common barriers such as a perceived lack of time, money, skills or qualifications. The PLA initiative breaks down those barriers by giving people the chance to access free, part-time courses that offer flexible and convenient learning around their existing lifestyle.

One participant, Logan Betts, had already completed his Forklift Truck and IOSH Health and Safety qualifications through the programme, before starting the CITB Health and Safety Awareness course through online learning. Logan said:

I received a fantastic and detailed coursebook before the training took place. The online teaching was very well presented with the lecturer using their real-life experiences to highlight the importance and reality of what he was teaching.

Given the opportunity, I would definitely choose to do other courses of this type online. The convenience of studying at home without the cost of travel makes it far more accessible. I personally recommend the Personal Learning Account. It's a fantastic opportunity for people to develop their skills and qualifications without the cost.

To get more information contact Grŵp Llandrillo Menai on 01492 542 338 and ask to speak to their career advisers, or alternatively email changeyourstory@gllm.ac.uk