Conference Workshop 5 aimed to explore how providers and other stakeholders can improve capacity to implement and deliver upskilling and in-work progression in local areas. It included three presentations. The first, from Alex Stevenson, Hazel Klenk and Connor Stevens of the Learning and Work Institute, considered the Citizens’ Curriculum as an entry pathway. Richard Thickpenny, from the Bristol-based social enterprise ACH, then described his organisation’s innovative approach to support for refugees and people with English language needs, #rethinkingrefugee. In the third and final presentation, Alex Stevenson, Hazel Klenk and Connor Stevens of the Learning and Work Institute, reported on research to support in-work progression and pathways out of low pay.
Citizens’ Curriculum as an Entry Pathway: examples from the UK
Defining a citizens’ curriculum as ‘learning which is locally-led, developed with the active participation of learners, and interlinks the life skills of language, literacy and numeracy with health, financial, digital and civic capabilities’, the Learning and Work Institute, in the first of its two presentations, reviewed the development of the Citizens’ Curriculum approach over the past four years, in the context of OECD estimates of basic skills need in England the European Commission’s ‘Upskilling Pathways’ model (Assessing skills, Tailored learning offer, Validation and recognition).
Piloting of the Citizens’ Curriculum, together with research in other European countries, confirmed the efficacy of approaches that are developed in partnership with local stakeholders and highly personalised to individual learners, including in location and affordability.
The presentation concluded with a report on a recent series of impact forums hosted by the Learning and Work Institute to review entry pathways, including entry level vocational pathways for adults. The forums identified a number of other examples of relevant practice including an initiative by West Midlands Adult Community Learning providers’ initiative to engage adult learners with STEM (linked to the region’s skills plan); Stirling Council’s Learning Employment and Progression (LEAP) project; Belfast Metropolitan College’s Manufacturing Skills for Industry project; and ESOL + programmes at Cardiff and Vale College.
#rethinkingrefugee – system change and integration
ACH’s presentation focused on work in Bristol, Birmingham and Somalia related to its ten-year plan, launched in 2017, to support 25,000 refugees and migrant workers progress into median-income jobs – that is, income that currently equates to £10,000 a year more than the national minimum wage.
Based on a ‘Life Course Agency’ model, ACH programmes combine skills development with highly personalised support for individuals’ development of self-efficacy over time, from initial transitioning into a new language-and-culture, through self-integration and becoming independent in the new setting, to career development and progression.
Despite achieving outstanding results from this approach, ACH noted how difficult it was to secure funding for its provision, and the onerousness of the administrative burden typically associated with such funding. In ACH’s view, the effective integration (labour market as well as social) of refugees and migrants generally would be much better supported by outcomes-focused funding with more proportionate administrative requirements.
Creating pathways out of low pay and designing in-work progression support
Learning and Work Institute’s second presentation looked at the issue of in-work support to enable income progression, reporting on research focused on Northern Ireland, where a significant proportion of the workforce is in low-paid employment and low pay is a major contributor to in-work poverty.
The research found that while there was good practice in engaging workers and employers, it did not specifically focus on helping low paid workers to progress – leaving a need for employment and skills provision purposely designed to help workers in low-paid work to progress. As to what that might look like, the research identified three main models of support: individual-focused, employer-focused, and skills provider-focused.
Examples of each include Timewise pilot, Skills Escalator, and Step-Up (individual-focused); Glasgow In-Work Progression in the care sector, and GLA In Work Progression Programme (employer-focused); and Ambition London and Career Learning Pilots (skills provider-focused).
The presentation concluded with a report of research on supporting in-work progression for ESOL learners, and its recommendations it had developed for effective practice: shorter course structures, flexible provision, informal provision, provision outside working hours, blended provision, vocational ESOL courses, and underpinned by a personalised approach, one-to-one support, coaching and mentoring, and wraparound support.
In the brief discussion that followed these presentations, participants reflected on the great potential of adult learning to address the needs of disadvantaged groups, when given the flexibility to address learners’ real needs and priorities.
Alex has extensive experience in workplace learning in social care, with special expertise in literacy and numeracy. He has authored learning resources for Skills for Care (including the highly regarded Learning through Work series), SCIE and the Learning and Work Institute, among others.
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