Skills and Training

Learning new skills

This page helps you to consider what training opportunities are right for you and what support you can receive as a single parent to help you in your training.

You may want to improve or refresh your skills at any time in your life. You may find this especially helpful when starting your career, changing your career, or returning to work after an absence. Alternatively, you may wish to learn a new skill for your own personal growth and enjoyment, such as taking classes in cooking, public speaking, or art.

Finding a course

The National Careers Service is an excellent resource for finding training opportunities. You can use their course finder to search for courses in your area and their lists a large number of free courses you can take.

Choosing the right training for you

If you are looking to improve skills for your current job or for a new one, it helps to have a clear idea of what you are trying to achieve and then identify what kind of training would help you. Here are some methods you can use to help work out what kind of training is right for you.

Core skills

English, maths, and IT skills are relevant to many career paths. There are many options for improving these, which can find out about on the English, maths, and IT skills section of gov.uk.

Skills assessment

A good first step is to think about what skills you currently have and look at where you may want to improve. Which of your current skills are you strong at that would help you moving forward? Are there areas you are weaker in, or are there any gaps in your skill set? The National Careers Service has an online skills assessment tool which can help you with thinking about this.

If you are looking to change career, you may want to think about what kind of transferrable skills you currently have.  Transferable skills are a set of skills that you have a lot of experience with which could work in a new job.

Do your research

If looking for a new job, it can be helpful to examine what skills are described as required or desirable in job applications for roles you find interesting.

You can also browse National Careers Service job profiles for roles you are interested in. Each profile includes a section on the required skills and knowledge for the role.

You may also find it helpful to discuss your options with other people, especially with people who have professional insight into what your career.

  • The National Careers Service has a helpline and online webchat to discuss your options.
  • If you are employed, talk with a colleague or your employer about skills training that may be helpful for you.
  • If you are unemployed, talk to your work coach about what skills training could help with your work search goals.

Apprenticeships

If you’re looking to get started with a new career, you could consider an apprenticeship. An apprenticeship is a job that teaches you the skills you need as part of you work. At least 20% of your time will be spent training and studying, while the rest of your time will be spent doing the work required by the job.

Apprenticeships have the advantage that you are being paid while learning, and that you have already started working in your chosen career. However apprenticeships can sometimes be difficult to balance with childcare needs, so it is important to look at what time commitments are expected.

You can read more about apprenticeships on gov.uk’s apprenticeship pages and on the Which? Apprenticheships hub.

Help with costs

Bear in mind that there are training courses that do not always cost money. The NCS skills toolkit contains a large number of courses which you can take for free.

If you are employed, you can make a case to your employer that improving your skills benefits them and see if they are willing to pay for some or all of the training costs.

If you do have to pay for the training yourself, you may be able to apply for financial support to help. If you’re aged 19 or over, on a further education courseand on a low income you could get Learner Support to receive financial support while you are training.

The money can help pay for things like:

  • accommodation and travel
  • course materials and equipment
  • childcare

You apply for Learner support through your training organisation or school, so ask about this option when looking at courses.

If you are under 20 years old, you can instead apply for Care to Learn.

Finding the time

Finding the time for things is never easy as a single parent, so the idea of adding a new training course to your schedule may seem daunting. However, there are some options to help with this.

Taking time off

You may be entitled to take time off work so that you can train or study.

You may have the right to ask for time off work for training or study. Time off is usually unpaid unless your employer agrees to pay it.

To ask for training or study:

  • you must be classed as an employee
  • you must have worked in your job for at least 26 weeks
  • at least 250 people must work in the organisation
  • you must be able to show that the training will help you do your job better

Reducing your work hours

Depending on what type of course you will be doing, and how much of your time will be taken up with your studies; you may decide to reduce your working hours. To find out more about your options for this, you can use our interactive advice tool or call our helpline.

It is important to be aware that reducing your hours voluntarily can create problems with your benefits, including receiving a sanction. We strongly recommend talking to both your work coach and our single parent helpline before reducing your hours.

Additional childcare

While not always an option, you might consider if you could increase the amount of childcare you use. The learner support and care to learn schemes referenced above include financial elements to help with childcare costs, which may open up options you didn’t have before. It is also worth checking Childcare Choices to check that you are making use of all of the free childcare you are entitled to.

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Further support

Our single parent helpline provides support and expert advice on anything from dealing with a break-up to going back to work or sorting out child maintenance, benefit or tax credit issues. Calls are both free and confidential, while our friendly advisers will talk through your options and send you useful information.

The National Careers Service can help you make decisions about your career and find training courses to improve your skills, many of which are free. Their helpline and webchat service are open 7 days a week.

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