11. InterLearn - Working Communities in the Erewash Valley, Amber Valley SRB Partnership
The project provides an Information and Communications Technology information, awareness and entry-level training service to small companies in the Amber Valley in Derbyshire. It is part of a wider set of initiatives by South Derbyshire College to develop participation in learning by local companies and their workforce. Through all of these, ICT is seen both as a hook to interest companies in learning and development, and as a tool for cost effective learning.
The project has completed its second year of activity, advising around 15 companies each year. It is about to begin the investment in a Learning Centre in Belper, its third year priority. There are five years of activity in total under the SRB programme of funding.
Background - Problems to be Tackled
- In SMEs it tends to be individuals, rather than companies, who take up learning opportunities, at least as far as FE provision is concerned. The employer focus of this project has been costly and difficult.
- To try and combat the tendency for small companies to reject training offers, a sectoral approach has been tried, which follows through on statutory pressures on the businesses. It remains to be seen whether that will work. But South Derbyshire College certainly seems to feel that it must keep on trying to get close to employers using this type of outreach provision.
- The one thing that seems to stimulate new participation is a local access centre. This may be specific to their type of geography/community structure. But certainly the learning centre approach is seen to be a success. Capital investment is therefore very significant in supporting life long learning. IT does act as a gateway for learners and businesses.
- A modularised approach to assessment is seen to be the key to progression. To quote the College, 'no one wants to do NVQs'. They use the Open College Network approach to dynamic assessment, which means that assessment is driven by a problem solving focus at the learners' own pace. They have found a strong progression from entry level to other levels based on this model.
- The SRB involvement has led to the College learning as a system. They see more clearly how to respond to the problems of life long learning in their area. Prompted by the UfI bid and the related ADAPT activity, they are active in the development of a United Learning Network for their area. The experience of this SRB project has been instrumental in the development of this other initiatives.
There are two distinct issues - the use of ICT by companies, and levels of commitment to learning by members of the workforce in local, small companies. Problems related to levels of use of ICT by local companies included:
There were also weaknesses in local SMEs' commitment to learning.
- awareness of ICT and their potential benefits were at very low levels;
- managers' skill levels, and related confidence in making investment decisions, local companies perform poorly;
- perceived opportunities to provide young people with work experience in ICT related functions in local companies, as one way of bridging local skill gaps and proving the benefits of ICT.
There are further environmental factors, which the project seeks to address:
- Collaboration on the TEC's employer survey revealed to the management of South East Derbyshire College educational attainment below National Targets' Foundation level among a high proportion of the local workforce.
- The same survey also suggested very little commitment to training or learning among most local companies, especially the smaller of them.
- Transnational experience in ESF projects, meanwhile, had demonstrated that developing use of ICT was a very effective way of beginning to engage SMEs in learning.
How the Project was Developed
- College managers perceive a need for their mainstream FE provision to be more responsive to the needs of SMEs, and for participation levels to be higher. This project is part of an attempt to learn how this might be done more widely within the College and its networks.
- In Amber Valley, College research and enrolment experience has tended to demonstrate that there is a very low propensity to travel to learn among local communities. ICT represents a way to take resources cost effectively to the companies (through the learning centre aspect of this project), and encourage companies to take up learning on a 'just in time' basis (through distance learning).
South East Derbyshire College's connection with SMEs stems from Youth Training and Modern Apprenticeships, but there were limited links in any other form. They have created an integrated programme for SME learning, through this and two related projects (funded by ADAPT) that provide resources for course content development distance and learning.
This project had a local precursor, a Competitiveness Challenge project, which encouraged workplace learning by providing computers in the workplace as a learning resource for employees.
The Competitiveness Challenge project was based on capital resources, assuming that a primary barrier to the uptake of ICT was the cost and availability of equipment. The experience of involvement in that project demonstrated to South East Derbyshire College, however, that the critical factor in take up of ICT was awareness and diagnostic action planning which could demonstrate to a small business how ICT investment could help them.
The InterLearn SRB project was therefore developed as the first stage in a series of related projects. The College is active in two large-scale related projects that have a distance learning and ICT focus to them: Microlink 2000, and the Alpha Network. Both receive ADAPT funding, one under ADAPT 2, and the other under UfI. The two projects have only just begun, but their funding is on a larger scale than the SRB, at an estimated £1.3m over three years.
These will provide resources for:
The project is continuing to develop as it progresses.
- content development and
- distance learning infrastructure development.
The project has two main strands of activity - the ICT awareness and diagnostic activity, and the Belper Learning Centre.
- ICT Awareness and Diagnostics
There are four mains stages to this strand.
- Direct mail or telesales outreach to SMEs offers them a visit during which the benefits of ICT can be discussed, and the ways in which ICT can benefit them identified.
- Free training needs analysis, and Action Plan for the implementation of ICT-related investments and learning. The TNA and Action Plan can lead to two further stages:
- Further training and development support from FE providers, principally the South East Derbyshire College.
- Training and project work by young people, members of the client company workforce, supported by the College. The expectation is that the work is on an ICT-related project.
- Learning Centre in Belper
This is in the process of being developed this year (the third year of the SRB), with the aim that it will be commissioned by September 1999. The College hopes to repeat in Belper the success of the local access centre in Ripley. As an indication of the likely impact of this, the experience of the latter is outlined below.
In Ripley, the College converted shop front premises, providing drop in facilities, short courses, access provision etc. They presented the learning centre as a business centre, and responded to the needs of the local population - both residential and business - as established through postal research. They are open from 9am until 9pm (or later) during the working week. There is on site supervision and learning support available for use on a drop in basis, as well as formal programmes of learning, and access courses. ICT features highly in the resources provided.
The achievements in Ripley in the first 12 months have been:
They anticipate similar experience in Belper when that gets underway.
- 450 new learners, aged 19+;
- 30% unemployed;
- 30% generally interested in learning;
- 30% needing to upskill;
- No employers - all self-selecting individuals.
£120,000 over five years. In the third year (1999), £40k of the resources are capital, and they will use these to help prime the learning centre at Belper. In all other years, the resources are revenue, and support the training needs analysis (TNA) and marketing activity.
Outcomes and Achievements
Given that the activity likely to have the greatest impact - the learning centre - was not in operation at the date of this case study, the outcomes and achievements are small scale. These figures give an indication of the likely scale of outputs per year:
- People trained obtaining qualifications - 48 per year
- Training weeks delivered - 150 per year
- Young people benefiting from training - 70 per year
- Businesses advised - 17 per year
In the case of individual companies, the following types of investment have been made as a result of the TNA and action planning services:
The Ripley learning centre experience suggests that the following types of outcome will be achieved by the similar investment in Belper.
- a small engineering company has developed its own web site, and begun to trade electronically;
- a printing firm has developed networked ICT facilities to support the competitiveness of its services;
- training for administration personnel in IT skills to improve order processing.
- Local employees bring in project assignments from work, in order to get access to IT resources in the evenings, leading to an interest in accreditation and possibly further learning.
- Local employers use the facilities to run mail shots, design marketing literature and gain an overview of industry standard administration software.
- Local employees and unemployed people use the facilities as a way of getting a 'hassle free' introduction to what developing ICT skills might involve and how the learning centre might help to support that.
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