Delivering Work Based Learning
6. INCREASING WORK BASED LEARNING
Purpose of Chapter
6.1 This chapter has the simple objective of collating a set of proposals, drawn from the research consultations, on how employers, employees, various agencies and stakeholders believe the effort in relation to work based learning can be enhanced. Key individuals in a large number of stakeholder organisations were interviewed and, in addition, a workshop was held towards the end of the study to deliver some of the main findings and debate their implications. As with earlier chapters, the results of the study process are prefaced by a short discussion of the findings of existing research and policy analyses.
Lessons for Policy and Implementation
6.2 The work produced by and around the Performance Innovation Unit (2001) has generated valuable policy analysis relevant to work based learning. Their broad conclusions are that:
- there is no one answer to tackling lack of investment in the skills of workforces
- government should take responsibility where there are social benefits from workforce development and barriers to the market achieving optimal outcomes
- employers should take responsibility in the workplace, but in partnership with their employees and Government
- individuals should accept personal responsibility for the development of higher level transferable skills, and should share responsibility with employers and government for developing other skills.
6.3 This is a traditional emphasis along cost-benefit lines; the difficulty is in how to make it happen. Hence they go on to raise issues about the need:
- to get the economic incentives right
- to intervene in a range of ways through:
- financial incentives
- status incentives (such as IiP)
- to ensure that provision should be responsive to the needs and demands of employers and individuals. The system should be demand-led but with:
- good access to information for all participants
- measures to assure appropriate quality of provision
- funding related to outcomes
- effective organisational arrangements operating within a clear strategic framework.
6.4 Coleman and Keep (2001) strike a number of cautionary notes in terms of government intervention to promote work based learning. The kinds of challenges to be faced include:
- the danger of substitution; for example, subsidies to employers may simply transfer the burden of funding training more towards government, with limited impacts on the volume delivered
- finding the appropriate balance between regulation of standards and employer control of design of work based learning
- setting high quality standards and giving more of a lead role to employers may make it harder to make learning for and at work a more inclusive process.
Encouraging THE DELIVERY OF Work based learning
Employer View on Factors Encouraging Work Based Learning and Accreditation
6.5 In the survey of Scottish employers carried out as part of this study during 2000, they were asked what would encourage them to provide additional work based learning to their employees and their responses are detailed in Table 6.1 below.
- the increased availability of and access to financial assistance is the single most important encouragement that could be given to employers and is cited by 54%
- greater flexibility of delivery was the next most important issue raised and is linked with employers' needs to fit work based learning around staff working hours with the minimum of disruption to production
- 13% of respondents felt that they need more support from within their organisations to expand their investment in work based learning.
Table 6.1: Factors Encouraging Employers to Provide Work Based Learning (%)
Increased availability of access to financial assistance
Greater flexibility of delivery
More support for training within the organisation
Evidence of benefits
Evidence of high quality training
More interest from staff
Training tailored to employer need
More local availability
Source: Survey of Employers
6.6 On the issue of accrediting the work based learning that does take place, employers again laid stress on access to funding support. However, a range of other factors were also deemed important, including:
- more support at a senior level within employing organisations for accreditation
- greater employee interest in accredited learning
- more vocational qualifications with a better fit to employers' job specifications
- more information on accredited work based learning opportunities
- a range of process issues such as the need for less bureaucracy, more local assessors and greater flexibility in the delivery of the accreditation.
Table 6.2: Factors Encouraging Employers to Accredit Work Based Learning (%)
Access to grants
More internal support
More staff interest
More job specific VQs
More local assessors
More flexible delivery
Evidence of benefits
Evidence of high quality
More positive perceptions
VQs to lessen staff turnover
More employer design input
Source: Survey of Employers
Views on the Role of Government
6.7 The views of both employers and employees were sought in relation to what they thought that government could do to increase the amount of work based learning delivered to employees in Scotland. There is a strong measure of agreement between the two groups surveyed.
6.8 The main contribution employers sought was an increase in financial support from government and its agencies, although some other activities were deemed to be important.
- 60% of employers felt that an increase in training grants and subsidies would result in an increase in training
- 14% wanted the government to provide additional information about what type of training is on offer
- 11% felt that the government should actively sell the benefits of training to employers to encourage them to participate
- 9% thought that a push for more firm specific, job relevant training would engage a larger number of employers.
6.9 Employees came up with three major responses on what government could do to increase the amount of work based learning undertaken.
- 29% of employees felt that employers should be provided with grants and incentives to support more training
- 16% of employees thought that there should be an improvement in the amount of information that is available about training opportunities. Training needs to have a higher profile
- 11% felt that there should be grants and incentives available for the employee to draw down directly.
COMPONENTS OF GOOD PRACTICE FROM THE CASE STUDIES
6.10 The 10 case studies described in Appendix 2 have been used to illustrate points of good practice at various places in the body of the report. Here we set out a number of good practice features, emerging from the case studies, that can help educate a process of promoting work based learning.
Create Awareness of Demonstrable Benefits
6.11 In terms of persuading businesses to take on board increased investment in work based learning, 'bottom line' benefits need to be demonstrated. The best way to make the message hit home is where businesses are talking to other businesses about the advantages of a larger and/or more appropriate investment in work based learning.
Embed Process of Measuring Benefits
6.12 It is only by introducing effective systems for measuring the benefits from human resource investment that employers can generate internal feedback on the commercial or other value of such investment. This is an essential ingredient in the creation of a self sustaining process of investment in the workforce.
Address Market Failure
6.13 Subsidies are crude instruments for changing behaviour. A number of the case studies show the value of 'demonstration effects'. A more dynamic and deeply embedded process of change can come through the development of work based learning champions, essentially senior managers in SMEs who can identify clearly and promote the business case for human resource development at the workplace.
Focus on Business Strategy, not Training 'Products'.
6.14 This is a lesson from many studies of the human resource development process. In working with SMEs the starting point needs to be - what are the barriers to raising their competitiveness and sustainability? Often these will manifest as high labour turnover, poor quality products and services, etc. The challenge is to demonstrate that investment in training can tackle these barriers to businesses effectiveness.
Streamline Procedures for SMEs
6.15 Intelligent initiatives understand the difficulties confronted by SMEs in interfacing with external organisations with a work based learning remit. Procedures need to be simplified so as not to add to the already significant costs of investing in the workforce. This can include measures such as easier access through the internet to information, reduction in bureaucracy and involving employers in the design of procedures, documentation, etc.
Deliver Mutual Benefits
6.16 Initiatives that can offer benefits to both employers and employees meet with lower resistance in the workplace and can be sustained successfully over the longer term.
Provide a Facilitation Role
6.17 The importance of facilitating networking, information dissemination and demonstrations of good practice should not be underestimated. This is a role that can be taken on effectively by the local enterprise companies, training organisations and, in some instances, the employing community itself.
Help Reduce Confusion in Marketplace for Training Services and Supports
6.18 The training industry has developed piecemeal over the last 20 to 30 years, with a significant expansion of commercial training providers. There is a large volume of accrediting bodies, NTOs and related organisations. Particularly for SMEs not carrying specialist human resource departments, the marketplace is confusing. Developments such as Learndirect Scotland have been introduced to help businesses and individuals cut through to the service they need, but there may be a requirement for a more proactive brokerage and facilitating role. The value of working proactively with the training infrastructure to produce a more coherent set of services is illustrated in the box below.
FOOD SKILLS GROUP
The food and drink industry is characterised by a large number of small businesses, with 75% of the businesses employing 50 people or less. This characteristic of the industry creates problems for investment in work based learning, and where there is investment in training it tends to be driven by legislative requirements, such as health and safety. There are also problems generating and communicating clear demand signals to the training supply side infrastructure.
The Food Skills Group was set up to try and address the implications of the fragmented nature of the industry. It draws together senior figures in the industry, NTOs, further and higher education institutions, SQA, the Enterprise Networks and the Scottish Executive. It operates at a strategic level and focuses on action to:
- create interest by raising the image of the industry to facilitate recruitment of quality staff
- develop strategic awareness in the industry, getting business leaders to realise that they need to develop themselves and at the same time raising awareness of the benefits of human resource development.
The effort on skills is nested within the broad strategic approach to the development of the food and drink cluster.
The Food Learning Network is the key operational arm of the Group. Its fundamental purpose is to:
- create more effective skills demand and supply
- facilitate the connections between the two.
- The emphasis throughout is on building relationships, not structures. A key element in all of this is facilitating more effective collaboration on the supply of skills side of the equation. In addition to the large number of training providers, there are five NTOs covering the food and drink industries.
PROMOTING AND SUPPORTING WORK BASED LEARNING
6.19 This section draws together the evidence and views from a range of sources on what might be done to promote work based learning. It includes the results of the surveys of employers and employees, the case studies of good practice, one to one discussions with stakeholders and the feedback from the stakeholder workshop held to discuss the results of the research. The suggestions are organised around a small number of headings based upon the barriers to work based learning and the principal suggestions for removing them.
Reduce Cost to Employers
6.20 The direct cost of work based learning and the production time lost were barriers stressed by employers and a number of stakeholders. A range of proposals were put forward to tackle these.
Direct Cost Reduction
- increase financial assistance for employers to train, through enhanced grant funding or improved tax breaks
- make more funding available specifically for training existing adult employees
- promote more on-line learning to overcome the barrier of lost production time, with employees having to spend less time away from the workplace, a benefit for SMEs in particular
- review levels of support for different sectors; for example, training in engineering and construction is more expensive, but this is not reflected fully in funding arrangements.
Simplified Funding Processes
- introduce greater consistency across local enterprise companies in the type of training they will support and to what level
- simplify and standardise procedures for accessing funding
- look more carefully at the design of documentation to simplify the process; those who design the forms are too far removed from the employers required to use them.
6.21 There were a number of caveats about intervening by providing increased funding support to employers.
- some consultees remained unconvinced that making additional government funding available to employers would increase the provision and uptake of work based learning if employers have not first bought into its value for their organisation
- there is the danger employers will tend to focus on work based learning delivery that will offer them money, therefore skewing the process of skills development.
Increase Awareness of the Benefits of Work Based Learning
6.22 There remains a strong feeling that employers are not sufficiently aware of the benefits of work based learning, and so there is a need to:
- continue to develop the IiP standard, bringing lagging areas up to the higher levels of recognition in the Highlands and Islands Enterprise and other leading areas
- place greater weight on encouraging high level 'buy-in' for work based learning within organisations. It is essential to reach above the human resource management professionals to chief executives and managing directors.
Encourage Employees to Demand Learning Opportunities
6.23 Employees can become a more powerful force for increasing the investment in work based learning. To realise this potential it will be important to:
- encourage individuals to take greater responsibility for their own training and learning, particularly individuals employed within SMEs who may have more limited access to opportunities provided by their employer
- raise the profile of IiP amongst employees to enable them to put pressure on employers to become involved in the initiative
- support the STUC and individual unions in their attempts to promote and develop lifelong learning in the workplace.
Create More Appropriate Support and Provision Around Work Based Learning
6.24 The range of supports provided around work based learning need to be assessed critically. A range of potential requirements were identified.
Improving Access to Advice and Guidance
- provide guidance to employers on whether the training on offer is appropriate to their needs. Learndirect Scotland is now trying to draw all of this information together in an easily accessible database format, but information on its own is not enough.
Generating Better Labour Market Intelligence
- get smarter at identifying the type and volume of training provision that is needed across Scotland. Learndirect Scotland and Future Skills Scotland should help greatly here
- co-ordinate and/or support the collation and effective use of labour market intelligence at the local level through local enterprise companies or local partnerships.
Tackling Quality Concerns
- improve quality control; there is no point in raising the volume of work based learning if there are no mechanisms in place to ensure quality
- set targets that build in quality as well as volume measures
- provide guidance for employers and employees on the quality of the work based learning delivered by external providers.
Designing More Appropriate Funding Mechanisms
- design funding mechanisms for colleges and other training providers which give more emphasis to the value to the end users and not the volumes in training
- ensure European funding does not distort the types of training supported in a particular region
- be careful about the sectoral distribution of financial support for training - e.g. need to balance up supporting training in the workplace for the electronics sector, with supporting more generic training that will just raise the competencies of individuals for accessing the labour market.
Intervening More Cleverly
- develop a more co-ordinated approach to the delivery of training services
- identify and prioritise the areas and sectors where intervention can make the most difference
- be more responsive to the smaller employers as they may experience specific problems and require different supports than their larger counterparts. The processes may need to be streamlined for micro businesses.
Developing More Effective Processes Around Accreditation
6.25 Extending the reach of accreditation raises additional challenges. Suggested mechanisms included the following.
- reduce the bureaucracy involved in the delivery and assessment of accredited training
- simplify the language in which SVQs are written
- improve the quality of assessment materials
- develop greater certification opportunities for existing employees.
Increasing the Speed of the Quality Assurance Process
- speed up the system to review SVQs as there is a danger that once an SVQ has been updated it is already out of date, particularly the case in high technology sectors. Possible measures are:
- a more continuous loop of evaluation and a greatly speeded up response time
- a fast track approach in high technology, fast moving industries
- reduce the number of accrediting agencies.
Guiding Employers on the Value of Accreditation
- give guidance and advice to employers that can enable them to make an informed judgement on whether accreditation is relevant
- address employer complaints about the appropriateness of SVQs; often individual elements appear irrelevant to employers
- raise awareness of the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework.
Working Together More Effectively
- work harder to help employers to identify their business and training needs. Training needs to be employer led, and this means more than employers choosing from a selection of training products
- raise awareness of the importance of work based learning by facilitating networking between disparate groups such as local enterprise companies, colleges, training providers and employers.
AN AGENDA OF ISSUES FOR POLICY AND PRACTICE
6.26 In the body of the report, we have assessed the views of various players and what might be done to encourage the availability and take-up of work based learning. In this final section we highlight and develop some of the bigger issues that need to be addressed in pursuing this agenda.
Simplifying the Institutional Map
6.27 There are a large number of players in the work based learning field, including funders, intermediaries and training providers. The establishment of organisations such as Learndirect Scotland and Careers Scotland is a recognition of the complexity of the marketplace. However, this is not just an issue about information overload; there is a question of the effectiveness of organisations there to promote and support work based learning.
- are the training and learning needs of employers effectively mediated through the NTOs? The new system of Sector Skills Councils will hopefully create a more demand-led process, but there will be a need to learn the lessons built up over around 40 years on how to play the role effectively
- is the training supply side efficient, innovative and sustainable? Or are there too many providers with too small share of the marketplace to provide a good quality, long term service?
Progress on these issues is critically important for SMEs simply because they do not have the business bureaucracies to deal with complexity on the training supply side, and with the plethora of publicly funded agencies whose jobs it is to support them.
Engaging More Effectively with Businesses
6.28 Much of our training infrastructure, particularly around intermediaries such as NTOs, is organised on an industry by industry basis. There is a key question as to the most appropriate fit between an NTO and the employers that it seeks to assist. In industries such as electronics some of the more interesting developments have included facilitated, bottom-up training developments, involving businesses with common product markets and processes coming together with a small number of providers with a view to establishing a longer term relationship for the supply of training services. This model is attractive because the commonality of interest between the businesses means their relationship is driven by economic as opposed to institutional forces, making it more effective and sustainable. There would be value in applying this type of process to other more traditional industries and training infrastructures, such as in the construction industry, as well as to sectors of the economy where work based learning is not well established.
Delivering Appropriate Work Based Learning
6.29 Much of the emphasis of research and policy analysis of work based learning in Scotland and the UK is placed upon increasing volume. There are also concerns about quality issues around the work based learning which is already delivered, and perhaps there needs to be more weight placed on understanding the limitations of the quality systems in place in order to develop an agenda for improving them. In addition, however, there is an issue about the appropriateness of the work based learning which is currently generated, measured both in terms of:
- its contribution to the needs of the employer in the current period and in the longer term
- its fit to the learning and career development needs of the employee.
Very little of the debate around the issue of work based learning seems to tackle this particular concern.
Developing a Brokerage Service
6.30 Building on the last issue, one specific type of development which might be needed to further assist SMEs is a service which focuses more on brokerage, i.e. helping to identify the appropriate type and quality of training for an SME, as opposed to simply listing what is available. Most of the institutional development has been around generating more systematic and easily accessed databases of information on learning opportunities. While this kind of development is extremely important for raising the overall effectiveness of the learning system, the smaller players in the marketplace in particular are in need of guidance in addition to information provision. Out of the 50 or so organisations that might be able to supply them with a learning service they want to know the 3 or 4 whose service is most appropriate to their organisation - and at that stage they are in a position to make an informed choice.
Facilitating Demand and Supply Links
6.31 There is a tendency to underestimate the complexity of the labour market and the difficulties of matching up demand needs and supply requirements in an effective way. Although we are now moving towards a more systematic approach to the development of labour market intelligence systems it is likely that these will tend to focus upon generating broad messages about demand and supply trends. When it comes down to the requirements for work based learning this needs to build from the key competencies of jobs and the extent to which they are shared across employers, and the role of work based and any other learning in developing these competencies. Quite often identifying and grouping these competencies across groups of employers requires skilled facilitation, particularly if this is a process which needs to be delivered with some sense of urgency. Clear signals of skill requirements are absolutely essential if the organisations providing or assisting in the delivery of work based learning are to be able to respond effectively.
Developing the Training Supply Chain
6.32 More effort needs to go into individual training suppliers as businesses, and groups of related training suppliers as industries and sectors. Effectively what this means is that we need to raise the capacity of these businesses, industries and sectors to supply an appropriate, high quality, cost effective service to employing organisations to maximise the effectiveness of investment in work based learning. One of the underpinnings of competitive clusters around the globe is a training infrastructure which closely matches the needs of the businesses in the specific cluster and which can meet their needs in a cost effective way. This is a support system much more difficult to create than the provision of property or major infrastructural developments, and yet it tends to enjoy much less attention and investment.
Prioritising Sectors for Support
6.33 The government has announced the establishment of a new network of Sector Skills Councils and these will be funded centrally to assist with their costs. While this is an important reform of our training structures, there is a major issue as to whether and to what extent government should discriminate between sectors of the economy and the extent to which it provides support for work based learning investments.
- we know from this research and a number of other studies that the extent of work based learning varies significantly by sector; should an extra effort go into the lagging sectors to bring them up to speed?
- alternatively should the emphasis be on supporting the work based learning efforts in industries which will be at the forefront of developing the competitiveness of Scotland's economy in a global marketplace?
The plea here is to take a strategic stance in terms of the industries that are supported or at least to have sound grounds for pursuing a policy of even handedness.
Prioritising Occupational Areas for Support
6.34 In part because of the compartmentalisation of education and training funding there is no clear perspective on the extent to which different levels of the occupational hierarchy are supported by government funds. Clearly in terms of the basic training for a range of professional jobs a significant government investment is made through the school, further and higher education sectors. Equally clearly, people entering unskilled and semi-skilled jobs in industry typically have received a much more limited public investment in their skilling. Unfortunately, the evidence seems to be that the more skilled enjoy greater access to work based learning opportunities once they enter the workforce and so these initial inequalities are reinforced and intensified.
6.35 Although the focus of the research in this report was not specifically on issues of exclusion, if employers can be persuaded to invest more in their lower skilled employees the consequences of this for promoting economic inclusion could be:
- a reduction in the debilitating effects of low wage employment insofar as this becomes more of a transitional state for employees
- creating more opportunities at the entry level for the unemployed and other groups on the margins of the labour market as employees are upgraded within the workforce.
To date our programmes for raising the employability of the unemployed have tended to focus on skilling them up in order to raise the likelihood that they will be recruited. However, there is widespread recognition that a strong work based element is a key characteristic of enhanced employability. For example, this is the underpinning of the successful intermediate labour market approach to re-employing the very long term unemployed. It might be a better use of public funds to incentivise the upskilling of the unskilled and semi-skilled employees, provided this were tied into a programme of bringing in, on an unsubsidised basis, new employees from the ranks of the longer term unemployed. There are models such as job rotation for doing this, but to date they have been deployed on a relatively modest basis.
Supporting Smaller Businesses More Effectively
6.36 This study again confirmed the close association between the likelihood that an employee will receive work based learning and the size of the organisation for which they work. From a public policy point of view, the potential benefit here is if interventions can be devised to raise the investment in work based learning in our smallest businesses, it is likely that the government will get a disproportionate amount of added value for its intervention compared to putting the same monies into larger businesses. A number of things need to be done, and perhaps we need a more focused approach which gives significant priority to the smaller businesses. These interventions would include:
- greatly simplifying the funding support regimes for these businesses
- devising less demanding application and monitoring procedures
- promoting more extensive use of e-learning
- brokering more effective externally provided training provision on behalf of groups of businesses.
In effect, there is a need for a more programmatic response to the more specific challenges raised by increasing the amount of work based learning carried out in the small business community.
6.37 We have tended to lump together SMEs in this report. However, there are specific groups of SMEs who suffer from particular disadvantages in relation to their capacity to invest in training their workforce. These include:
- micro businesses
- small business in rural settings with limited physical accessibility to training provision.
Many of the general lessons of the report apply with added emphasis to these sets of businesses. For them we need to develop training support systems which are:
- models of clarity
- good practice exponents in terms of simplicity of procedures
- innovative in terms of delivery modes
- joined up and integrated in terms of key players.
It is important to get our systems right here as it is for these types of businesses that we are in the strongest position to add value in terms of promoting workforce training.
Creating More Demanding Stakeholders.
6.38 Employers are unlikely to respond to government and its agencies promoting the value of work based learning and its importance for the regional and national economy. They are more likely to respond where key constituencies upon which they depend for their effectiveness become more demanding of them in terms of access to work based learning opportunities. There are two key groups of stakeholders involved here - customers and employees.
- one of the more depressing findings from the survey of employers was that only 1% felt that the main advantage of work based learning was improved image with their customer base
- only around 20% of work based learning is instigated by employees, and this probably means that some employees enjoy the opportunity at the expense of others with no net increase for the employer as a whole.
It is likely that the trade unions have an important role to play here in terms of raising and supporting the achievement of the aspirations of their members. Major public sector purchasers of services also have a potential role to play in terms of demanding that these services are provided by workforces appropriately trained and accredited. The challenge for the public sector is whether they would be prepared to pay more for the higher quality of service this is likely to generate.
Making the Best Use of Public Resources
6.39 Public money is now spent to support work based learning and training in a variety of ways. Typically, individual programmes and interventions have arisen in an ad hoc fashion. There comes a time when it essential to stand back from an area of public sector intervention and ask a series of fundamental questions.
- where are our interventions adding the greatest value?
- where are we failing to achieve significant added value?
- is the nature of our intervention appropriate; for example should we reduce subsidies to employers and invest in building capacity and awareness where the labour market is increasingly tight?
In order to carry out such a process effectively there needs to be clarity of objectives. What is it that we are trying to make happen? Even the answer to this simple question may help identify areas where our initial rationales for intervention no longer holds good to the same degree. Alternatively, we may find that in order to achieve our original rationales we need to intervene in different sorts of ways.
- Both employers and employees favour increased grants and subsidies to promote work based learning and its accreditation.
- The evidence of good practice case studies is that the promotion of work based learning depends upon:
- facilitating awareness of demonstrable benefits
- instilling a process of measuring benefits
- addressing information market failure rather than providing permanent subsidy
- streamlining procedures for SMEs
- focusing on business strategy, not training 'products'
- delivering benefits for employers and employees
- providing a facilitation role
- helping reduce confusion in the marketplace.
- The various elements of the research process suggested the following broad approaches to promoting and supporting work based learning:
- reducing costs to employers
- increasing awareness of the benefits of work based learning
- encouraging employees to demand learning opportunities
- creating more appropriate support and provision around work based learning
- developing more effective processes around accreditation.
- A range of issues still need to be resolved or clarified.
- simplifying the institutional map
- engaging more effectively with businesses
- delivering appropriate work based learning
- developing a brokerage service
- facilitating demand and supply links
- developing the training supply chain
- prioritising sectors for support
- prioritising occupational areas for support
- supporting smaller businesses more effectively
- creating more demanding stakeholders
- making the best use of public resources