Lifelong learning on upswing, study shows

A significantly higher number of British Columbians are participating in adult education and training programs than were a decade ago, UBC researchers say.

Compared to previous Statistics Canada figures measuring adults' participation in education and training, the rate of increase in B.C. was more than double the rate for Canada.

"This likely reflects the faster economic growth in the province, but may also reflect growth in commitment of adult learning in B.C. relative to Canada overall," says Kjell Rubenson, a professor of Educational Studies.

Rubenson and doctoral student Gong-Li Xu recently completed an analysis of Statistics Canada's 1994 Adult Education and Training Survey (AETS), the fifth in a series of questionnaires initiated in 1986.

More than 47,000 Canadian households were sampled for the 1994 AETS, 4,231 of them in B.C.

"Our analysis shows that the highest participation rates in adult education and training were associated with those with a university education, an income over $50,000, a white-collar occupation and working for large employers like public administration, health care and education," the researchers report.

They also note, however, that once disadvantaged groups are recruited to education and training, the chance that they will return for further programs increases.

The survey revealed that 58 per cent of participants in any form of adult education and training received employer support. Overall, 26 per cent of people employed in B.C. received some employer-supported training or education.

Employed workers with a university degree received the greatest amount of employer support at 40 per cent, compared to 30 per cent of those with a post secondary diploma or certificate and only 10 per cent of employees with less than a high school diploma.

Levels of interest in lifelong learning, based on socialization at home, school and work, and structural disparities in society at large may help explain the inequalities that exist between groups, the researchers say.

Their report also states that better-educated employees may engage in education and training programs more frequently because their jobs provide direct opportunities to do so and encourage them to invest in their own development.

Despite the increased emphasis on an industry-led workforce to increase Canada's competitiveness in the global economy, and greater participation in adult education and training programs, the report cautions public policy makers and employers against focusing on merely supplying a skilled labour market.

"It is not enough to increase the extent of human resource development in the labour force, or to make existing education and training programs more relevant," the report states.

"It is also necessary to overcome the minimalist approach to the utilization of workers' skills. The real problem might be ensuring the skills are used and developed at work, rather than simply concentrating on supply."

The study was conducted under the auspices of the Faculty of Education's Centre for Policy Studies in Education with funding from the B.C. Ministry of Education, Skills and Training. The complete report is available at