A national initiative to help adults in employment access learning and training opportunities has seen a huge take-up and has now been extended to all furloughed workers.

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. However, with UK Government's recent announcement that the furlough scheme is to be extended until the end of April 2021, there is now an opportunity for employees who are currently furloughed from their work, or at risk of being made redundant, to access the free training regardless of their salary level.

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 150 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 blended-learning model. This has allowed learners to continue to access a wide range of PLA courses from home.

Two participants, Neil Bridgstock and Adrian Jones, have already completed their Forklift Truck qualifications through the programme. Neil said:

I had never even sat in a forklift truck before this course, so it was amazing how much I could do by the end of it! The mix of online and face-to-face learning was good as I felt that I knew some of the theory before I started the hands-on training, and it helped to not overload me with information.

The individual attention meant that I could really focus on what I wanted to achieve, and there was no pressure of feeling like you were holding others up.

I have already been using my knowledge to help me plan some tricky site clearance at work, and am looking forward to putting it into action. My long-term aim is to get into fabrication, so being able to use a forklift to move heavy materials is going to be invaluable.

Adrian was also impressed with training he received, saying:

I was previously working as a theatre lighting technician, but with the events industry being hard-hit by the pandemic, I felt like I needed to secure qualifications that would improve my future employment prospects.

To anyone thinking about accessing the scheme - I would tell them to stop thinking about it and just go for it! The tutors I met at the college were informative and positive. I can't recommend them enough.

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.

To get more information contact Grŵp Llandrillo Menai on 01492 542 338 and ask to speak a career advisers, or alternatively email pla@gllm.ac.uk You can also find out more about the scheme by visit the website - www.gllm.ac.uk/personal-learning-account/