A new beginning to welcome in 2016!



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…



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

European Commission (2014). Overview of 2020 Targets. Available from: http://ec.europa.eu/europe2020/pdf/targets_en.pdf

Lindell, M., & Stenström, M-L. (2004). Structuring workplace learning in higher vocational education in Sweden and Finland. Journal of Workplace Learning, 17(3), 194-211.

Turner, R., & Wilson, P. (2014). Evaluation of Work-Based Learning Programme 2011-15: First report on contracting arrangements and Traineeship delivery. The Welsh Government. Available from: http://gov.wales/statistics-and-research/evaluation-work-based-learning/?lang=en




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