Nikola Benin, Ph.D
Work-related training as a tool to encourage adult learning
It is estimated that one in five adults in Europe have poor literacy skills – around 55 million people between the ages of 15 – 65. Not only does this make it hard for them to find or keep a job, it also increases their risk of poverty and social exclusion, and limits opportunities for cultural and political participation, lifelong learning and personal growth. And this is not simply a question of reading skills. Today, a whole range of personal, work and social activities are mediated through technology, placing digital and literacy skills at the heart of everything from finding work to keeping in touch with friends. Participation rates in the kinds of learning that help adults to develop these skills vary considerably between EU countries, but generally low rates of participation are a challenge. In England, for example, participation in adult literacy and numeracy provision has fallen by around 25% in the last five years.
Recently, there has been increased interest among EU and national policymakers in the role that learning in the workplace can play in helping to tackle European needs for improved basic skills. The evidence suggests that policies which support the provision of work-related training can motivate adults to participate in learning, as well as encourage employers to train and develop their employees. The workplace is a natural setting for learning to take place – indeed, in most workplaces, a great deal of informal learning already takes place. Opportunities to learn at work, particularly where there is the prospect of improved or more sustainable work, have the potential to encourage participation in more formal learning, training and opportunities for ‘upskilling’. This is particularly so for adults who might not consider returning to college, or ‘going back to school’.
The STRAIGHTEN Basic Skills project
However, poor basic skills can inhibit participation in learning and training in the workplace, and for many will limit their employment prospects altogether, along with the ability to participate in employment-related training. So in order to support adults to access the kinds of higher level technical skills and training which benefits employers, improves productivity and supports the wider economy, there is also a need to create effective progression pathways which address individuals’ basic skills needs, both for adults seeking work and for those already in employment. This would have the advantage of not only addressing basic skills needs and supporting progression to further learning and better work, but also unlocks the potential of the workplace as a natural location for learning to take place.
The STRAIGHTEN Basic Skills project(link is external) has been examining these issues for the last three years. Funded by Erasmus+, six project partners representing Austria, France, Germany, Norway, Romania and the UK, have come together to explore effective policy and practice in work-related basic skills. Earlier in the project, we shared our first output, a summary of ‘success indicators’ or pre-conditions for effective policy and practice in work-related basic skills(link is external). Over the past two years, we’ve examined the situation in partner countries, and held a transnational training event in Romania, bringing together over twenty practitioners and trainers to share their approaches to work-related basic skills teaching, learning and training.
The partners have now concluded their work with the final project output – a ‘European Roadmap’ for work-related basic skills. As well as summarising the main lessons of the project, it highlights ways in which policymakers, providers and practitioners can take forward and develop basic skills in the work place. Among these are:
- Developing national frameworks, sustained funding, and a clear definition of basic skills – these provide an enabling environment in which providers can develop a clear offer to employers.
- Professionalisation of the trainers – effective work-related basic skills teaching and learning is oriented towards the workplace and uses relevant approaches, e.g. integrating the learning into workplace tasks.
- Engagement of all relevant stakeholders – work-related basic skills requires close partnership working between training providers and employers, as well as between practitioners and employees / learners, to tailor the content to meet the needs of all involved.