FROM learning in the workplace to taking up courses in the community, education does not have to stop when you leave school. But the economy and funding has a big part to play in the sector's success and survival. This week education reporter EMMA MACKINTOSH takes a look at the modern learning environment for adults.

WITH stories about education standards for school-age children dominating the headlines, it is little wonder that the adult learning sector can sometimes feel a little neglected.

But with increased tuition fees at universities driving more people to study closer to home, and more employers entering into work-based learning programmes for staff, the focus is shifting to post-16 education in Wales.

Last year in Gwent 16,858 people enroled in community education through the Gwent Adult Community Learning Partnership, while according to the most recent Welsh Government data, more than 7,000 people were taking part in work-based learning in Gwent in 2009-10.

This is not to mention Wales' 36,000 apprenticeship places, ranked best in the UK and growing all the time. When deputy minister Ken Skates AM addressed a conference of work-based learning providers at Newport's Celtic Manor last month, he spoke about a Labour party pledge from the Blair era, to get 50 per cent of people into university or higher education.

What about the other 50 per cent? he asked.

But in the current economic climate, not all organisations offering education for adults have confidence that the swinging axe of budget cuts will not be brought to bear on them.

Pam Hales is community education manager at Gwent Adult Community Learning Partnership, a franchise operating within Coleg Gwent and one of the largest partnerships of its kind in Wales. It has 600 staff, reduced from around 1,000 when it first started.

The college has a partnership agreement with the five Gwent councils so all adult education enrolment comes through the college. It receives funding from the Welsh Assembly and the partnership allocate it to Gwent's local authorities for them to put their curricula together, said Ms Hales.

Its focus areas include literacy and numeracy, essential skills, those aged 50 and over and those not in education, employment or training (NEETs), as well as independent living skills, arts and crafts, general education, languages and ICT.

"Councils own and manage the tutors and the buildings we use but we manage the quality side of it," said Ms Hales. "In 2014-15 we are facing huge cuts and that's going to have a major impact on what we are going to be able to provide."

With other areas of education protected, community education could be left behind, said Ms Hales.

"We are probably looking at a 10 per cent cut," she said. "If there are specific courses that learners want and don't fall in the remit, we will have to charge [them]."

Meanwhile, work-based apprenticeships and learning on the job is flourishing, with greater Welsh and UK Government emphasis than ever and focus shifting to how more positions - and therefore jobs, as apprentices are employees - can be created.

Jeff Protheroe is operations manager at the National Training Federation for Wales (NTFW), a membership organisation representing more than 100 companies and with access to 35,000 employers.

Its role is to act as a voice for work-based learning providers and work with Welsh Government and others to ensure apprenticeship schemes are fit for purpose.

Since its inception 10 years ago there have been "massive changes" to the sector, said Mr Protheroe.

"Not so long ago it was all about higher education and everyone going to university, and that is simply not working," said Mr Protheroe, referring to the deputy minister's speech.

"What about the other 50 per cent, the people who are not able to go to university? The whole education policy is diverging from England more and more, such as with GCSEs and other forms of learning, the Welsh model is very much based on skills not just knowledge."

When asked about learning for older people, he said: "We have to be very proud of our all-age apprenticeship programmes, because anybody at any age can potentially access funding for an apprenticeship. When you talk of apprenticeships, you typically think of young people, but the average age of apprentices in Wales is 27 and it's quite simply a framework of qualifications based on national standards."

Millions of pounds has been poured into apprenticeship programmes in the UK in the last few years and one of the few things holding organisations back from creating more apprenticeships is the UK economy, as each apprentice must be an employee, too.

"There's a lot to be said for community learning but the main thing our members and our sector is about is employability and skills, and if the economy takes off and people take on more [people] there's more scope to deliver more apprenticeships," said Mr Protheroe.

"As an organisation we've gone from lobbying and being a bit of a nag to working for more closely with Welsh Government."