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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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Initial conceptual framework for the research project

The mode of enquiry utilised for this research will be interpretative, the methodology itself will be firmly located in qualitative research discourse and informed by Guba and Lincoln (1989) Fourth Generation Evaluation. Our enquiry applies evaluation techniques that are more formative than summative. Three layers of analysis are used: claims (positive aspect, agreement, item can be progressed, negotiations finalised); issues (reasonable disagreement, item can progress, negotiations continue); and concerns (negative aspect, strong disagreement, item stopped, contested negotiations). The triangulation process utilised will be confined to data collected from the three discourses – macro, meso, micro (official, non-aligned, insular) – rather than methodological triangulation. The multi-disciplinary nature of the research team adds to the rigour of the triangulation process in terms of ontology and epistemological positioning of the different members. The philosophy underpinning the SRI is based on collegiality and acceptance of difference; it is the difference that creates a healthy tension in the research process. We also utilise Vygotsky’s Zones of Proximate Development (ZPD) as a meta-framework to explore the dynamic interaction between ‘agency and structure’ and to try to identify both social and cultural capital (see note 23) links (see Figure 1). We will utilise mixed-method research processes such as document analysis, online surveys, interviews and observational studies. Using the collected data, rather than presenting our findings in the orthodox sense instead we will construct ‘Learning’ based on our interpretation and understanding of the material gathered. This Learning will be used to inform the next round of research, of which there will be four main rounds:

  1. The first round of research will consist of a systematic literature review, mapping out the concerns, issues and claims expressed by different sectors and actors from macro, meso and micro levels (see Appendix 1, Table 1).
  2. The second round of research will involve field research in Ireland comprising a mixed methods approach utilising both qualitative and quantitative research processes; the sampling population will be government agencies, the tertiary education sector, training providers, employer’s organisations, trade unions, students and other interested parties (see Appendix 1, Table 2).
  3. The third round involves pedagogical considerations and learning and teaching practice plus the development of the Generic Key Skills programme at Level 6 of the NFQ in line with learning outcomes and grid descriptors (see Appendix 1, Table 3).
  4. The fourth round will consist of an evaluation of the programme by learners, lecturers and other interested parties. The programmes will be adjusted in accordance with recommendations made as a result of this evaluation. If the evaluation is positive the programme will be mainstreamed and the research team will develop a programme at Level 7 of the NFQ (see Appendix 1, Table 4).

The aim of this project is to produce a programme that will enable the up-skilling of the emergent resident workforce in Ireland in key generic skills, thereby making a direct contribution to worker (student) employability and promoting a lifelong learning approach to continuous skills updating. The project objective is to construct and provide a framework of Key Skills Learning modules that offer progression routes from Levels 6 to 10 of the NFQ. These modules will incorporate state-of-the-art pedagogical strategies with an emphasis on blended learning. Delivery will be flexible, utilising both online and distance learning technologies and practice, while tutorial support will be provided face to face in either the workplace or an appropriate learning setting. The main premise is to enhance workers’ transferable skills capacity thereby enabling increased employability potential.

The project will be co-ordinated by a ‘multi-disciplinary’ research team, utilising research from several disciplines within the broader episteme of social science. The methodology utilised will be underpinned by a participatory consultation process model. This is somewhat similar to a partnership approach, the main difference being it incorporates more rigour and focus into the research design element of the process. This reduces the risk of distraction or even ambivalence creeping into the emerging research, usually the result of a lack of clarity regarding the research objective or political power play. The initial research into identifying the key skills will be exploratory and utilise a ‘mixed method’ approach (qualitative data from workshops and focus groups will be used to formulate a online survey; quantitative data from the survey will then be tested in a further serious of workshops and expert peer groups). A ‘utilisation-focused evaluation’ (see note 24) process will be applied from the start of the project as this enables interventions and modifications to be made in line with emerging evidence. An appropriate code of social science ethical guidelines will be utilised by the project team from the onset of the project.

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