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Key Skills Framework
Enhancing employability within a lifelong learning paradigm

A working paper by the Skills Research Initiative
A prior version of this paper was accepted for presentation at the International Technology Education and Development (INTED) annual conference 2007.

Author - Aidan Kenny, Ray English, Dave Kilmartin

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A more striking example of the lack of coherent apprentice pathways for progression is provided from the UK by the Cornwall region Aimhigher Peninsula Partnership:

Currently from a cohort of FMA [Foundation Modern Apprenticeship] and AMA [Advanced Modern Apprenticeship] apprentices of almost 21,000 only 60 progressed to higher study; a progress rate of 0.4%…. It is estimated that there are a further 20,000 former apprentices with an L3 qualification who have not progressed to university level study.
(2003: 2)

The NQAI (2003) policy documents details Access, Transfer and Progression procedures, stating:

It is considered that the concept of ‘access’ should apply to all learners, but particularly to the participation of under-represented learner cohorts such as … learners in the workplace and adult learners. A more appropriate definition of access for these groups needs to include programme adaptation, or the provision of in-process supports, or even the provision of new variants or formats.
(2003: 6)

The Framework of Qualifications (2003: 24) develops the basis of these new variants or formats by outlining that they should: facilitate continual and lifelong learning through enhancing the range of learning opportunities and by facilitating change in curricula and delivery methods; and enable the recognition of learning in many non-formal and informal contexts and in new formats. Within DIT the Academic Quality Assurance Committees subgroup report into Access, Transfer and Progression (2004: 2) outlines in the executive summary that access for workplace and adult learners may require programme adaptation, in-house supports and new programme designs. This need to address format changes in apprenticeship and post-apprenticeship learning and employability is a feature of the Key Skills Framework: Enhancing employment within a lifelong learning paradigm. The Academic Quality Assurance Report (DIT 2004: 7) congratulates itself on the ladders of access that allow non-traditional students to enter degree programmes. Many of the pathways suggested as routes for progression lie in a tightly bounded third-level system that is both didactic and prescriptive, Johnson (2003) describing it as the ‘traditional teaching of a pre-determined academic curriculum’. The draft appendix to its report, the Proposed Model for the Educational Progression for Craftsperson, found post-apprenticeship learners in employment may not be able to avail themselves of full or part-time learning provision due to geographic mobility, self-employment or overtime constraints. Meanwhile, for apprenticeship learners the pathways to enhanced employment/learning options, on a full or part-time basis, bear little resemblance to their previous academic experience within the Institute. As Wagner and Childs have previously found ‘often universities pride themselves on their access programmes allowing non-traditional students to enter degree programmes, however in very few cases does this translate into the restructure of the course to cater for non-traditional students’ (2001: 4).

Johnson agrees, suggesting that employers and prospective students often view the curriculum in HE as ‘too prescriptive, dated, ungrounded, delivered by inaccessible modes and at inaccessible times, and assessed against irrelevant criteria through inappropriate methods’ (2000: 1).

The use of strategies such as WBL can be used to overcome the paradigm shift from vocational to HE and to improve avenues of access and progression. Gray (2001) outlines such learning as learning in HE derived from work and includes learning at, for and through work, that is formally linked to the HE curriculum, thus ensuring validity, reliability and authenticity. A learner may undertak ‘a taught education programme, the focus of which is the direct application of learning to real work issues and problems, using projects as the primary assessment tool (Gray 2001: 4).

Childs (1997) focuses on the recognition of work as the curriculum that allows for active engagement in workplace enquiry and the production of knowledge that is both ‘grounded, shared and developmental’. Reeve and Gallacher (2000: 8) argue that WBL curricula are bounded and regulated in differing ways to traditional curriculum by the nature of the negotiation that establishes the working boundaries. The negotiation involves a tripartite agreement between the learner, the employer and the provider, referred to as the ‘educational collective’by Makarenko (1951). Seufert affirms that WBL expressly merges practice, knowledge and theory with experience and that it recognises:

that the workplace offers as many opportunities for learning as the classroom … work based learning differs from conventional learning in that it involves deep and conscious reflection on actual experiences at the work place. Fundamental to the process is the concept of metacognition.

Learning has been divided by Seufert into single and double loop learning. Single loop learning applies new knowledge to increase the effectiveness of existing operations. Double loop learning leads to new practices and innovation. The need to move from the single loop, competence-based apprenticeship to a meta-competence, learning-to-learn mode needs to be supported by a Key Skills Framework that will provide the supports necessary for the apprentice learner to achieve lifelong learning and employability. In order to create a foundation that will assist apprentice students to progress and create a stimulus for lifelong learning the SRI is carrying out research into developing accessible and flexible programmes for apprentice students while they are at DIT. These programmes would be accredited by DIT in either of the following categories, Special-purpose Awards or Supplemental Awards. These programmes could be offered under the remit of Continuous Professional Development (CPD), each programme would be accredited and the apprentice student could build up ECTS. Also within the modularisation philosophy, broader cross-faculty programmes could be offered in the fields of applied arts, science and technology. These programmes would consist of both taught and self-directed learning; taught components would consist of between six and seven two-hour sessions, while self-directed learning work would occur during project work. Assessment could be based on portfolio development. These programmes would be considered as introductory or foundation level, therefore the workload would be light. The primary emphasis would be to deposit the seed for lifelong learning and opportunities for progression pathways. The main drive of these programmes would be developmental and capacity building, in essence preparing the apprentice student to engage in FE within the Lifelong Learning paradigm.


This brief conceptual paper, which is a work in progress, outlines our research subject area and the framework, methodology and processes developed by the multi-disciplinary research team. We show that employability is a complex construct which has different inherent meanings to diverse interested parties. Our intent is to refocus attention and the potential of employability back onto the student/worker. Within the DIT context we are endeavouring to construct learning from our analysis of macro, meso and micro discourses and turn this learning into a real-world programme. The programme will be underpinned by pedagogy which is informed by research. Our intention is to make provision accessible and enable the up-skilling of workers and students in key skills areas relating to the conceptual construct of employability. The project team is open to receiving critical commentary on this project and development collaboration with other researcher carrying out similar research projects. The research team claim that this project represents an opportunity to holistically address the development of employability and career management skills within vocational programmes in DIT.

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