The Real Cost of Studying for Adult Learners

Aug 9, 2023

Having the opportunity to continue learning throughout our professional lives is a gift; one that, with every hour spent, brings deep satisfaction…. okay, albeit after that special torment of getting your head around how to write an essay again dies down and you feel you actually know what you are doing.

We all know that a qualified person is likely to be more believable, more skilled, more confident, and ultimately more powerful than one who is not; so, learning must be done; must be continued. But it is not without cost – in terms of money, time or indeed emotions.

The benefit of adult learning is pretty well charted – when we study, we become in-touch with people in the forefront of our sectors and in pushing ourselves to learn and know more, we become part of a select community of skilled professionals who end up taking the lead in changing the shape of their respective professional spheres, and as a result, the world at large.

Sounds fantastic, and so it can be, sometimes. It can also be pretty hard.

Take the example of a friend of who recently passed their L5 CIPD Associate Diploma in Strategic People Management.

Overcoming nerves and trying to figure out how to carve out time to study in an already cram-packed life was nothing in comparison to finding ways to manage her employer’s expectations and prove how the gift of learning would be of benefit to everyone involved.

As an HR manager in a small business in the South of England selling organic ‘free-from’ products to a multinational supermarket chain, with concessions across the UK, in Hong Kong and South Africa, company growth had been strong in 2022/23 and a quick stakeholder inventory check indicated there would be a further rise in demand for new products from the existing client base in 2023/24.

All very exciting, however, our friend could also see that, at the current levels of team productivity, the organisation was beginning to look like it might fail to deliver on existing orders and certainly wouldn’t be able to cope with any more new business.

On top of this, while revenue growth was good, the company historically suffered from high levels of energy waste that this year, due to an escalation in the price of oil had resulted in a below-average profit margin, further pressurised by the rising cost of commodities, resulting in an ever-tightening cash flow. There was no obvious magic money tree to fund a CIPD qualification.

While the finance director of the organisation believed the organisation could not expand operations without additional investment or borrowing, family board members objected outright to both of these options. The atmosphere was one of ‘save don’t spend’.

Our friend had made a series of recommendations to improve performance without the need for additional capital expenditure, including an equity-driven recruitment selection process to overcome tight labour market conditions and an inclusive employee voice programme to reduce energy waste through the development of an enhanced employee engagement strategy. Both suggestions were rejected as being “crochet and kittens” and not an immediate solution to the problem; with the board going so far as to question our friends’ sense of priority in knowing what to suggest in times of difficulty.

Understanding that people can achieve agency through learning, our friend decided that student membership of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) would be good a way to achieve the advanced knowledge and presentation skills required to deliver her proposed solutions with impact, to powerfully persuade the board.

10 months on and our friend is now a fully qualified Associate member of the CIPD – with a new job, greater responsibilities, and 4 kids who thought it was hilarious to find their parent back at school and having to write essays.

Perhaps the real cost of adult learning is not how much we spend now, but how much we stand to loose when we choose not to.