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The future is soft

The future is soft


21 Oct, 2019

Employment patterns are changing, nowadays a job for life is rare and it is expected that in future it will be normal to change career many times during your working life. Do you have the skills to succeed in this new world of work?

Research by Centre for Cities shows that, by 2050, machines will be doing many of the jobs currently done by humans. Jobs like construction, administration, storage and customer service will be done as easily using technology. Today we use apps to order goods that can be delivered by drone, or book tickets to travel on self-driving trains when a few years ago we would have spoken to a member of staff to place the order and a person would have delivered our goods. But there are some things that humans are better at, often known as soft skills. Human abilities for critical thinking, creativity and problem solving are difficult to get machines to do – and that means we need to adjust to this changing job market.

These skills need to be developed – in particular critical thinking, problem solving, creativity and interpersonal communication. As you can see from the table below, current job market analytics reveal that the top five skills have changed between 2015 and 2020. 

How the top five skills have changed


1. Complex problem solving
2. Coordinating with others
3. People management
4. Critical thinking
5. Negotiation


1. Complex problem solving
2. Critical thinking
3. Creativity
4. People management
5. Coordinating with others

Making sure you are prepared for change is vital to help you succeed in this changing world of work. Access to Higher Education Diplomas can help you develop these skills for use in higher-level study, but they are transferable skills that can easily be applied to the workplace.

The Access to HE Diploma is a qualification designed to prepare adults for study at higher level. It is equivalent to A-levels and is usually studied over one year. In 2017–18 more than 37,000 people registered to study an Access to HE Diploma, most of them completed their studies in one year course. Our course search1 can help you find an Access to HE course.

Three of the top five subjects studied by Access to HE students are linked to occupations that are expected to show the most growth by 2023.

Looking at the types of degree-level jobs in Wiltshire that are predicted to grow between 2019 and 2024, we see that nurses, teachers and production managers/directors in manufacturing are growth areas. Access to HE Diplomas can prepare you to continue your studies at university to take on one of these jobs and potentially increase your earning potential.

What type of people do Access to HE courses? There is no such thing as a typical Access to HE student. Recent data show that they are more likely to:

  • be female
  • be aged between 20 and 29
  • be black or from an ethnic minority
  • live in a deprived area 
  • study close to their home.

But they all have one thing in common: success! 

Although most Access to HE students are returning to education after many years away, and in some cases having had poor or disrupted school experiences, they do well both in their Diploma and completing their degree.

Sue grew up in a service family and had attended many schools by the age of 12. Her education suffered and it wasn’t until her own children had grown up that she returned to study. She completed her Access to HE course and became a teacher.

Paula is a healthcare assistant who wants to progress. As a working mum of four young children she knew the Access to HE Diploma would be hard work, but focussing on her goal, to become an emergency nurse, keeps her going. She is coming to the end of her Access to HE Diploma studies and is looking forward to going to university.

The pressure of intense study, combined with work and family commitments, can cause problems for some students. It’s a problem recognised by many universities, which work hard to create a welcoming, safe and inclusive community. Some have dedicated mental health support, which includes initiatives to tackle loneliness, self-harm and suicide prevention. Around a quarter of students at university are experiencing mental disorders in any 12-month period, and instances of anxiety and low self-worth have risen sharply, particularly in the LGBT community.

A total of 28% of the 23,950 students who entered higher education with an Access to HE Diploma in September 2017 had a mental health condition. For further education colleges, in particular, these challenges can be hard to address. Just 63% of colleges have dedicated mental health support, with time and money being the main barriers.

Engineering undergraduate Layla is also a mother of four and was in a cohort of eight mature students on her Access to HE engineering Diploma. However, when she arrived at university she had to adjust to being the only one who wasn’t a teenager – and the only female student in her class. ‘It was isolating,’ she says. ‘Lecturers need to be aware of us and what Access to HE represents.’

Tommy is an ex-Royal Marine, who freely admits that his life became ‘quite chaotic’ after his military career was cut short by cancer. Tommy enrolled on an Access to HE Diploma in social work so that could help others like him. He found the structure to stay on the straight and narrow. He starts his new career as a social worker at the beginning of June. What does he think of the Diploma? ‘It saved me,’ he says.

Last year, 26% of Access to HE students got the highest degree outcome, a first-class honours degree, the same percentage as those who went to university with A-levels and other qualifications. Access to HE students are equally successful in work: 90% of graduates with an Access to HE Diploma were employed or in further study six months after completing their degree.

Service leavers have several options to fund their studies: 

  • Enhanced Learning Credits (if you’re registered) 
  • the Publicly Funded FE/HE scheme (the higher education course must be done immediately after the Access to HE courses)
  • an Advanced Learner Loan.

The publicly funded FE and HE scheme pays for your Access to HE Diploma and degree, as long as the Diploma is in a subject leading to degree and is done immediately before your degree studies. Your education officer will have more information. You may prefer to use learning credits (ELC or SLC) to pay for your course, and many Access to HE providers are on the ELCAS website. 

Advanced Learner Loan repayments don’t start until you start to earn more than £25,000 per year. And if you successfully complete a QAA-recognised Access to HE course, the balance of the loan will be cancelled when you complete your higher education course. For more information about Advanced Learner Loans, visit the website. 

You may also receive a childcare allowance grant that doesn’t need to be repaid. You can see if you get help for childcare using the calculator on the website, here: Many universities also offer funds to help with the cost of going to university.

It is important to look in to your funding options carefully, to make sure you make the best choice for you and your family. Access to HE providers, your education officer or transition staff should be able to help you choose the best route. 

Higher education is not for everyone, but it could be your route through transition. 

Find out more 

You may find the following websites helpful.
Access to HE website: 
Real-life stories: 
Diploma database: 
Advanced Learner Loans: 
Enhanced Learning Credits:



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