What is workplace learning to me?

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So it’s time to start preparing for my progress review, in more detail it is called an RD4. This is the determination of thesis topic review so I will need to know what I am going to do and why… and then write this in a nice 5 page document to present to the ‘panel’.

As part of my RD4 proposal, the most obvious thing that I will need to do is present my literature review. This is not an easy task for me as I have not written academically for a few years, and when I have, it has always had input from someone else so it has been a collaboration. Well anyway, from October (when I started) until now, I have written something. That something is going to help me shape my literature review and they have acted as tasks to help me learn about my own writing style.

More importantly, writing literature documents this early means I can get feedback on my writing, no matter how bad it is. I don’t think my writing is horrific but my supervisor has given me some really helpful feedback in order to help adapt my writing style to make it more academic as well as give me some more practical support in terms of structure and so on. This is really important early on in research. Get as much feedback as possible so that you know where you are going wrong and can make efforts to improve it. For this, I am forever grateful to my supervisor as it is the first time that someone has sat down and mentored me on my own writing style without just correcting me.

So what does this have to do with workplace learning I hear you ask? Well, everything. I downloaded an article a few days ago that explains that doctoral courses are workplace learning, specifically in the science and research areas. Well hurrah! I have not read the article yet, but I can see it point. As a ‘trainee researcher’ I am learning about the practice of researching and also what needs to be done in order to make a piece of research your own. I need to know how it is done in an academic sense, not only to enable me to produce my 80,000 word thesis, but also allow me to strive for perfection once I am finished and are on the hunt for my first post-doctoral job. I am using the Research Degrees Framework to understand what skills and competencies are necessary and hopefully by the end of my journey I will have developed these skills through my own process of evaluation and reflection.

Anyway, my task for now is to put all of my research into the literature review plan that was written in my last supervision meeting. To me (at that time), that was a very daunting task. I did not know if I could do all that was asked and I certainly did not have any confidence in my abilities to write an actual literature review. I can honestly say, that was officially the scariest supervision meeting so far as I now have a piece of research!! However, I took my supervisor’s marking of my previous work and put this in a word document for future reference, I planned out all of my tasks, giving priority to the ones that were most immediate and set the foundations for future work. I actually scheduled time in my calendar to sit down and do certain asks and made myself a little to-do list so that I knew what I was doing. This was me accepting my supervisor’s challenge. This was me getting my crap together! Normally a task like this would have freaked me out but for some reason this one has not. Maybe it could be because I know how big the task is or maybe because I know I am working towards a goal (a 3 year goal technically), either way I found a way of coping with a lot of work and for me it is so far working *fingers crossed*.

So from my research writing today, I do have a few points to note about what workplace learning is and how this related to my own current experience:

Many researchers have different ideas and different opinions on what workplace learning is, but it does have some important themes to consider:

  • It takes place in the workplace, not in an education setting. However, this could mean that it could be in the form of an employee in their own workplace, a student on placement within an organisation or even something like an apprenticeship whereby it is a combination of work and study. For my research, I am in a workplace setting. Although I am a student, I am learning about research development and practice and simultaneously developing my own research skills for that all important end-date.
  • There are different forms of workplace learning, both formal and informal. I feel that I have both.
  • Formal workplace learning are things like training where someone demonstrates a skills or explains about a topic, then teaches this to the employees. The employees them attempt to take this on board and are sometimes examined on their learning. Aspects of formal learning could be training, formal mentoring and reviews that help employees lean the skills necessary for their role. My formal workplace learning comes in the form of scheduled training and activities that are set. The rest I feel is not so formal.
  • Informal learning is the complete opposite and involves interaction and knowledge sharing. Employees may wish to learn new things through other employees and interact in order to do this. Things like networking, coaching, mentoring and peer discussions are all forms of informal leaning and sometimes it can be unintended and not initiated by the employer. My supervisors act as mentors in that they are coaching me on what to do and what is best. I can turn to them for support, regardless of what that support could be. For me, it is that interaction that is most important. If my supervisors were not approachable, if I could not go to them with issues, if they were blank, then this would hinder my own ability to interact with them and from that all important supervisor—student relationship that many PhD students fall with.
  • The type of workplace learning depends on a) what the employee needs to learn – in my case, it is what part of the research I am addressing next, b) what the organisation does about it – the organisation means me and c) whether learning takes place at all – for me learning is currently taking place and is doing so constantly. Whether it is formal or informal, the process of reflection is key. How else are you going to know if you have learned something without going back and evaluating what the process was?

So all in all, I am on a workplace learning journey myself and this is a continuous journey involving so much more than I could have thought. I am working towards making myself a competent researcher, who has developed all of the skills needed. Each domain in the Research Development Framework is an area for progression and the only way I can progress is if I learn from my experiences and make improvements.

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Staying Safe as a Researcher – a developmental perspective.

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So this week, I attended some more training, and this time it focused on how researchers can stay safe. When I first saw this advertised, it thought ‘Oh great, someone is going to tell me how to do things properly!!’ I clearly got the wrong idea of what the training was about. I was also the ONLY research student there, all other trainees were either lectures, senior research staff or some kind of faculty that are important. How inferior I felt… well research student’s rock anyway so that was me staying there.

Anyway, it was the turn of Edinburgh Napier’s Health and Safety team this time round as this is their speciality. They spend each day ensuring the environment is safe and equip faculties with resources and the necessary tools in order to make their surroundings safe too.

The session focused a lot more on the practical aspects of research, such as sorting chemical safely and what to do if you are working with machinery you have not used before. This was not so relevant to my research in workplace learning. However, it did give some insight into what I need to consider regarding my own safety and the safety of other in my research setting. I wonder if my supervisor would allow me to create some form of chemical compound and call that workplace learning?!?!

We firstly discussed aspects of risk assessment that are relevant for all types of research in any area. You need to assess the likelihood of a risk happening and also what can be done to prevent these risks. Then this must be assessed annually in each department to ensure that all procedures are kept updated. We also explored what risks could occur to staff, students, external bodies and the public (all of which are relevant to my research). This lead to a discussion on who is responsible for what: Basically, everyone has some kind of responsibility to keep safe.

Some important points arose from our conversations. We need to think of our own safety first, so we must make sure we have the correct desk and seating arrangement to support our needs as well as the computer we are working on being up to standard. If you are sitting at a computer all day, you need to ensure you are sitting appropriately and your posture is straight. For me, this is imperative. I tore my hip muscle a few years back which was one of the worst pains of my life. As it was the muscle that stabilised the hip with the pelvis, any form of movement for long lengths of time or even non-movement (at that time) were out of the question. The hospital also found out that I have what is known as coxa profunda (a good description here) meaning my hips are too far in the sockets and this can cause immense amounts of pain. This is not good when sitting down doing research I can tell you that!! The pain used to be excruciating and I often found I could not sit or stand comfortably… and bearing in mind that this happened during the final year of my bachelors degree and throughout the whole of my masters degree, I know how much it can hurt. It means that now, I have to ensure I take regular breaks, stand up and move, sit up straight and don’t slouch… it’s great if the environment allows for that but not so great if it doesn’t (mine does by the way). If anyone has any questions about their research environment then they could always contact the health and safety team as realistically, it is the responsibility of both employer/education provider and employee to ensure students are safe.

We also discussed the lone working policy, something that I am extremely familiar with. I used to work in a company where I would visit those with mental health problems on a regular basis (on my own) so we had to have protocols in place in case anything untoward happened – you know, like me getting killed or something like that. You don’t really think of this in my area of research but it is true (well, I hope no one will kill me). Seriously though, I will be attending meetings on my own and allowing others into my office so I will need to have some form of procedure in place so that my supervisors or colleagues know where I am and how I can be contacted in an emergency. I mean technically I could have an accident whilst being out and about and no one would know, or I could be stuck somewhere when out of the office and have no way of getting back – these things can never be planned for.

So for me, this training was partly useful and partly not so useful. I don’t think that anytime soon I will be playing with chemicals and incorporating that into my research (bang!) but I still need to be safe as a researcher. Being safe is not just about your own safety but about safety of others and ALL research needs to consider that.

We all need to:

  • Know who our Health and Safety Officers are, or know who go to seek advice.
  • We all need to ensure we have ways of being contacted by our colleagues and supervisors as well as supervisors being able to contact us.
  • We all need to know what risks our research involves and put protocols in place to deal with this (or document how we would overcome the risk). We should probably discus these at some point with our supervisors, especially when it comes to practical research and external visits.

So even though I did not think this training was relevant at first, it has been a good learning process. It has highlighted the importance of all aspects of training in the researcher development process even if you feel they are not relevant. They will be at some point. And now, as a researcher-in-training, I know how to stay safe and more importantly how to stay safe as a researcher.

So my advice to you: attend as much training as possible, even the ones that you don’t think are too relevant right now. The more you attend during your research degree, the more you will develop as a researcher and enable your processes of learning to thrive.

‘How to Survive a PhD: Stress control’ workshop.

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So today, I was given the opportunity to attend some training on how stress can affect a student throughout their PhD, delivered by Edinburgh Napier’s Mental Health Wellbeing team. The aim of the workshop was to bring students together to talk about this topic, and enable us to explore what stress was, how it can affect the progress of a PhD and more importantly what we can do about it.

The session started off with a quick ice breaker so that we could get to know each other. Surprisingly enough we had attended other trying events together so everyone were familiar faces. More importantly, we were then asked to discuss what parts of our PhD journeys were making us stressed, or what were we anticipating being stressful. Here are some of our suggestions:

  • Expectations – if you are progressing well now, having the expectation that you will do well later on might impact on your stress. If you feel you might not keep up to standard, this may trigger feelings of worry or anxiety which cannot be good in that sense.
  • Relationships with supervisors – we chatted about having a good supervisory relationship and what happens if you don’t. Supervisors may criticise us even if they are trying to make us do better and be better, but this could lead us to doubt our own abilities if we feel we are being constantly criticised.
  • Deadlines – deadlines cropped up as one of the most likely things to cause stress. This is because deadlines fast approach and we often feel pressured to get the work done for this deadline. Opposite to this, a lack of deadline might be just as stressful as a deadline itself. Not knowing what we have to do by when might encourage us to feel as though we have no goals or direction which is not what a PhD is about at all.
  • External factors – things that affect the PhD and we cannot control for these. Examples could be family commitments, illness or even equipment breaking that can all slow down PhD progress. For this, the lack of control means we have not planned ahead and this can cause stress if we do not know what we are going to do about the problem, if we are able to do anything at all.

There were some other conversations and points, but this is something that you could chat to your supervisors about or even your peers to see what has stressed them out and compare notes on where you all are on your journeys to success.

We then got down to the hard work – the PowerPoint! Our group leaders discussed several topics and we had input on what our thoughts are. For the purpose of this blog, I will keep them in separate sections so that if any stand out, there is no need to go through everything again.

So what is stress?

Stress happens when we feel that we cannot cope with some form of pressure or challenge, and it manifests itself into emotional, cognitive and physical changes that often are not pleasant. The body is a magical being in that stress has a reason. Have you ever heard of the fight or flight response? No? Well, when the body encounters something that it feels is a threat, it prepares to fight or run. This means, the body releases hormones upon threat detection to prepare for safety and help the person react in a way that can spare them from hurt. Take this as an example: you are walking through a local country park with your friends and you suddenly spot a bear running towards you. What do you do? Do you just stare and do nothing? No! You run. Your heart beats fast, you might become breathless, you may feel anxious or scared but you run. The body has this reaction to ensure we are safe in that it wants us to avoid or reduce the threat around us. So for example, in a PhD, a student may perceive a meeting with their supervisory team as a threat (if they have not prepared work or do not have a good relationship with the supervisor). Before the meeting the student may begin to feel anxious, feel breathless or worried, all of the responses that are initiated under threat. There might not be an actual threat to life for example, but it is about how the person perceives the stimulus or challenge and how they interpret it to what reaction they will have. You can find an interesting article on this cognitive phenomenon here just in case you are curious about the technical stuff around it. I will not go into all of the biological explanations of the fight flight response as I have had to sit in class after class learning about it and then testing the phenomena on participants. You can just do a quick google search. It might explain different regions of the brain that release the hormones and also the different nervous systems, but in reality it is the impacts of stress that affect PhD students and this is what I will focus on.

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http://lifestylescience.eu/are-leaders-more-stressed/

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stress becomes a cause for concern when it does not disappear despite efforts to reduce or eliminate it, it just does not budge. There is also not a good or sensible reasons for it, such as an upcoming deadline where the student is under pressure to work and there just does not seem to be a good reason for feeling stressed. That’s when it becomes a problem. Common signs of stress can fit into three main categories: physical / physiological, emotional and cognitive.

Cognitive (these are about our thinking processes, and how we think affects our behaviours):

  • Poor concentration.
  • Cannot think straight or coherently.
  • Thinking we are unable to cope.
  • Waiting / thinking the worst will happen.

Emotional (these are about how we feel):

  • Feeling irritable.
  • Feeling worthless.
  • Feeling hopeless.
  • Feeling on edge.
  • Worry.
  • Anger.
  • Fear.

Physical /physiological (this is the way our body physically reacts):

  • Poor sleep.
  • Feeling tired or fatigued, generally not alert.
  • Panic attacks which can result in fast heart rate and rapid breathing, tingling in the extremities (like hands and feel), feeling faint, temporal raised temperature.
  • In extreme cases, the immune system will reduce its efficiency causing things like coughs or colds to be more common as the body cannot defend against these.
  • The person will have a faster heart rate and blood pressure (adrenaline is released to help these beat faster when the body is under intense emotional or physical pressure).
  • Eating and digestive habits changing, such as feeling like your stomach is churning or needing the toilet more often.
  • Even things like increased drinking of alcohol to cope might be a cause for concern if not managed appropriately.

We finally got onto the purpose of the workshop, how can relate to your PhD? Well, in fact, it relates quite a bit! Those who are successful at getting a PhD are not always the ones who were least stressed, no. It could actually be the opposite. Those who are most successful in getting a PhD might be the most stressed (I have no evidence to prove this claim so do not take my word for it!), but they ARE the ones who were able to address the stress and create effective ways of reducing it before it impacted immensely on the PhD itself. You might be sitting there thinking that you are not currently feeling stressed, which is great, but just wait until you do. Will you know how you will feel and will you be able to recognise what this is? Commonly PhD students may feel as though they cannot work for some reason, either they have too much to do or they are not being productive. This is a common sign of stress. The student might feel overwhelmed by their own workload and this could also make a contribution to feeling overwhelmed and stressed. The student could also have the inability to focus which is too a common sign. However, there are some other signs which you might not think could be related. You might feel like your research has no impact and you have no control. You might feel like fraud or like you don’t belong (imposter syndrome discussed in a previous blog post). You may begin to fear failure and this could lead to failure itself if not addressed and even the easiest things can become difficult. So yes, these are all things that could be indicators that you are stressed. The most important part is being able to recognise what is normal and what is not, and doing something about it…

So I am feeling stressed, what can I do about it?

There is a lot you can do, form a small change to something big. The main thing is to IDENTIFY YOUR FEARS. Your fears will cause a lot of stress and avoiding things that you worry about will only make the stress worse. You need to challenge these fears, not avoid them. Plan out the steps you are going to take to overcome your fear and help reduce the stress. For example, if a student fear public speaking, this could be a cause of stress if they need to present to an audience. However, by taking steps to address this, such as practicing in front of friends / family, talking to supervisors and attending training on the topic, taking steps just like this will help reduce the stress if not eventually eliminate it. Dealing with the issues causing the stress will act as a barrier for the stress to begin in the first place and help to break the cycle of feeling anxious or stressed. If the thing causing stress is not there then you are already on the way for stress prevention (from whatever is making you stressed). These are good for emotional health but what about physical health? We discussed these too:

  • Exercise – exercise can help relieve stress either by calming you down to focus on one activity or by helping release any built up energy that you have left.
  • Relaxation – figure out what relaxes you and schedule in times to take a break and relax. For example, if listening to music does this, then schedule a break every now and then, or better still, have the evening off! I tend to keep my weekends free at the moment to take time off, knowing there will be weekends in the future that I will need to work.
  • Good sleep hygiene is key. Getting a good night’s sleep is just what we need, however, some of us have difficulties. Try relaxing before bed so your brain is ready to switch off and also taking away off of those technological gadgets just before bed. This might help you to calm down.
  • Nutrition – getting the right food at the right time helps. You will often find that stressed people might have an altered eating pattern, either eating too much too often or not at all. Take regular breaks to eat and make sure that the food is healthy. So have a god breakfast, lunch and dinner and snack in-between. If the nutrition is right then we will have more energy to get the work done and this could ultimately help reduce stress.
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I started taking good breakfast (if needed), lunch and snacks to my office. It means I eat healthier and have the energy to work. I also do not crash at 2pm!

Applying different coping mechanisms can be useful for students to try and identify what is best for them. Some suggestions that we discussed are:

  • Forward planning – planning ahead for issues, problems and even things like scheduling goals and breaks.
  • Lists and prioritisation – now this is sometimes counterproductive if you have a long long long list. But if you do, don’t worry! Taking the top three or four items on that list and scheduling them in for a day will help reduce your work load. Doing this over a week will get your to-do list cut down considerably and planning to work on these at scheduled times is even better.
  • Keep focused on your goal, why are you wanting to do the PhD in the first place? For me, it was partly become someone told me I could not do it and said that I would fail. I wonder if the person had ever heard the phrase ‘First Attempt In Learning’ before? Clearly not.
  • Keep a diary of thoughts or a journal for your research. Noting down all of the little things you think of means they no longer have to stay in your head. Once they are on paper, that part of your brain is free to keep thinking.
  • You could also talk to family, friends and colleagues. Chances are, your colleagues have encountered similar issues so may be able to offer more personalised advice. Universities have counselling and wellbeing services that can help talk through possible problems you are having and help you reflect on what you think you should do.

MOST IMPORTANTLY, ASK FOR HELP! IF YOU DO NOT ASK FOR HELP THEN HELP WILL NOT COME TO YOU AND YOU WILL BE STUCK IN A STRESS-PHD CYCLE UNTIL THE CYCLE IS BROKEN.

One final thing that did come out of the training was positive strategies. One of our group members mentioned thinking positively will help you cope and progress. I argued against this slightly. It might not necessarily mean that you have to be positive about everything. Be aware that bad things will happen, anticipate problems and plan ahead. Combine this with the pointers discussed about coping with stress and this might help you towards becoming a happy, healthy, stress-free (or reduced!) PhD student.

 

A new beginning to welcome in 2016!

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A couple of blog posts ago, I explained that I had been looking at Workplace Learning in the UK and Europe, in the hope that I would be making some kind of comparison within my research. I also mentioned that I would dedicate a blog post to the information I had found about Europe – well this is that blog post!!

It has taken a little while to get this part of my research done for several reasons as I did not have a brilliant end to 2015. As December brought season festivities and joy, for me it brought homesickness then illness. These were not fun and meant that my research slowed down considerable, not only in what I was producing but what I wanted to produce. I stated to wonder what it would be like to leave the PhD and return home and wondered if I would ever love the research as much as I did when I applied. This week I have proved myself wrong. This week my love returned…

I am really not entirely sure what made my love for the research return, whether it was the fact that I was no longer ill or homesick (I visited home for Christmas and then my family came to Edinburgh for Hogmanay – maybe we are sick of seeing each other haha!), or whether it was because I could see progress in another project that I had been working on for a year with my internship supervisor. Either way, 2016 brought new beginnings and new feelings. Feelings which are good. I can now see how a piece of research like a PhD takes time and you might not see the ‘progress’ immediately, but the progress is there. In the first three months I have achieved a considerable amount in my eyes and it has been the support of my supervisory team that helped me see that. I might not feel like I have progressed, but I have. By the simple fact that I have just written another 5000 word document on research that I had read around European and UK Workplace Learning I know that I have made progress. Progress in a PhD can be slow, and it is rarely linear. I am sure that as I move along, progress will probably be horizontal from time to time. I will get annoyed that something has not gone the way I had planned or I will not take into account something that can affect my journey. But guess what? That’s life! It’s about how you overcome the challenges when they arise and what you learn from these rather than dwelling on what cannot be changed. If I had dwelled on the homesickness and my illness then chances are I would not have come back to Edinburgh after Christmas and I would not be here.

Anyway, my return to Edinburgh has sparked my productivity and ability to work like the clappers. And as I have said, I have been working on my European comparison. I have searched and searched with the help of my supervisors and managed to compile some kind of sense-making document that I hope will be useful. The document is far too long for a blog post so I will not discuss everything but I did find the initiatives and funding aspects intriguing and think we could learn a lot from what has happened. I blog an extract form my notes:

Both Europe and the UK have begun to understand the importance of workplace learning and have developed initiatives and Acts that reflect this importance. The UK has made some recent improvements to support learning in the workplace, specifically for younger individuals. In 2010, the Specification of Apprenticeship Standards for England (SASE) was created with the newest version being updated in 2015 (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, 2015). This focuses on the quality of apprenticeships and was set out to ensure that apprentices learn desired new skills so that they meet the minimum requirements set out by an apprenticeships framework. All organisations must now comply with SACE and is a statutory requirements of the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning (ASCL) Act set out in the framework document.

In 2015, the UK government also pledged to have an additional three million apprenticeship vacancies available so that the gap between apprenticeship applicant numbers and actual apprenticeship vacancy availability will hopefully decrease. This is aimed to be achieved by 2020 in England only but other parts of the UK do have similar initiatives and goals set. As of April 2016, employers will not be required to pay national insurance contributions for any apprentice hired under the age of 25 until they begin earring the Upper Earning Limit and is proposed to act as an incentive for employers to hire apprentices to support the government in their 2020 target.

Employers will also have the option to pay a levy in order to access more funding for apprenticeships, but regardless of whether this levy is paid, all employers will be able to access some form of financial support to be able to create apprenticeships within their organisations as well as helping with training and development costs (Delebarre, 2015).

In Scotland, Skills Development Scotland distributed £75 million worth of funding for Modern Apprenticeships in 2012/13 and nearly 26,000 individuals began an apprenticeship within the same year. The Scottish Government considers that ‘developing the skills and employability of Scotland’s workforce is essential for achieving economic growth’ (Audit Scotland 2014; 5) and its National Performance Framework ‘Scotland Performs’ sets out regulations and guidelines to what outcomes are measured. The Scottish Government has also pledged to support workplace learning by aiming to provide 25,000 new modern apprenticeships between the academic year of 2011/12 and 2015/16 as it invests funding and time into workplace learning quality (Audit Scotland, 2014).

‘In summer 2010, the (then) Welsh Assembly Government issued an invitation to tender to deliver its Work-based Learning programmes between August 2011 and July 2014, later extended to March 2015’ (Turner & Wilson, 2014; 12). This covers three main areas: apprenticeships, traineeships and steps to employment programmes. A number of programmes have been previously developed to focus on workplace learning in Wales, including Pathways to Apprenticeships, Shared Apprenticeships and Young Recruits where the Welsh Government invests money in order to improve its work-based learning services (Turner & Wilson, 2014). Reports are often planned out to assess the success of these programmes but due to the longitudinal nature of them and variability in adherence, the success of all programmes combines is often hard to determine.

Countries within Europe have also made progress towards improving workplace learning services, encouraging learning within the workplace to provide a better match between demand and supply for labour. Europe’s workforce consists of approximately 235 million workers and over 80 million are classified as being unskilled or have only basic skills, and by 2020 approximately 16 million jobs will require a competence level that is higher than the current day (Arbetsplatslärande och omställning, 2011). Europe 2020 place emphasis on lifelong learning and are aiming for 75% of 20-64 year olds to be employed so investing in workplace learning will not only support employability but also have benefits for both employer and the economy overall (European Commission, 2014).

I also found out that in 1996, Sweden had difficulties in attempting to provide vocational education and training through ‘one single integrate national education system’ as their supply could not meet industry demand (Lindell & Strenström, 2004). They decided that improvements needed to be made as the approach was most certainly not working. Instead, the Swedish Government launched a reform of the Advanced Vocational Education (AVE) and focused primarily on this to start creating workplace learning that was a suitable length, encouraging students to apply theoretical knowledge in the workplace by allowing them to link with local and regional businesses and to be trained in the skills that needed to be filled. As AVE comprises of several aspects taken form changing labour markets, universities and training providers, there is no set curriculum of study and it is not provided by certain establishments only. It is highly influenced by changing labour markets making it relevant, of interest to the learners and very on point. Sweden introduced the AVE reform in 2002 as part of their education system for continuing vocational training to help improve the standard of workplace learning (Lindell & Strenström, 2004).

Simultaneously, Finland introduced a reform of polytechnics, who are one of the main providers of higher education. This was first carried out on a temporary basis with the hope that the results could be permanent as temporary polytechnics were given the opportunity to earn permanent polytechnic status upon successful completion. The reform developed polytechnic education in Finland and 31 polytechnic institutions were formed out of 215 older institutes, making the education system more succinct. The goal of the reform was to promote regional develop to meet the needs for higher education and focused on re-designing workplace learning within higher education settings. From this, developments have included increased cooperation between vocation and education working lives, fostering relationships between employers and dedication providers. Each polytechnic now has its own strategy where objectives are aimed towards regional support of Small and Medium Enterprises (SME’s) and service production. From the reform, it has been discovered that learning at work gave graduates a range of skills and good practice knowledge that can be transferred to employment settings (Lindell & Strenström, 2004).

Finally, I discovered some amazing funding. The European Social Fund (ESF) invested £2.5 billion of European funding to workplace learning in 2013 and focused particularly on research looking into in-work training (Dickson & Lloyd, 2010). The ESF is the European Union’s main finance provider for supporting employment within the member states of the European Union. Counties include the United Kingdom, Sweden, Denmark, France and Germany amongst various others who all seek to invest in employment outcomes and workplace learning. The aims of the ESF are to increase employment by providing training and support to unemployed and disadvantaged groups as well as provide targeted support to build a better and more competitive workforce. Research is carried out to explore if funding towards such projects has beneficial outcomes and how effective funding has been at addressing aims of developing a skilled adaptable workforce and improving skills in the local workforce (Dickinson & Lloyd, 2010).

I think for now, that is enough, but it is not it all. I understand now that workplace learning within the UK and Europe changes constantly, and when one initiative fails to meet the grade, or costs too much financially, something else is can be created. Governments do understand the importance of workplace learning but its about making the right decisions for the people and the country, and ensuring that the right guidelines, practices and support are in place before making a move. The main thing I am taking away form this is that I will need to keep searching, searching for information and data. By the time I come to my final write up, who knows – one county might be the Workplace Learning capital of the world and everyone else might follow…

 

References:

Audit Scotland (2014). Modern Apprenticeships. Available from: http://www.audit-scotland.gov.uk/docs/central/2014/nr_140313_modern_apprenticeships.pdf

Arbetsplatslärande och omställning, A&O (2011). The Learning Workplace – The Swedish Way. Available from: http://www.esf.se/Documents/Press/Publikationer/the%20learning%20workplace%5B1%5D.pdf

Dickson and Lloyd (2010): European Social Fund: Support for In-work Training research. A report of research carried out by GHK Consulting Ltd on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions. Available from: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/214437/rrep666.pdf

Delebarre, J. (2015) House of Commons Briefing Paper: Apprenticeships Policy document. England, House of Commons. Available from: http://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/SN03052/SN03052.pdf

European Commission (2013). Work-Based Learning in Europe, Practices and Policy Pointers. Available from: http://ec.europa.eu/education/policy/vocational-policy/doc/alliance/work-based-learning-in-europe_en.pdf

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