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Work-based learning opens a world of opportunity

It’s a Catch-22 situation that faces many thousands of workers throughout their careers. The employee wants to boost his or her prospects by gaining new skills and qualifications – but due to the constant demands of the job they already have, there is little time left outside working hours to pursue their goals.

The University of Kent at Medway’s newly-launched Centre for Work and Learning (CWAL) is now able to help workers trapped in this familiar cycle. The Centre will give employees the chance to enrol on work-based learning programmes, on which they can acquire graduate-level skills and ultimately gain new qualifications.

The programmes – designed to help staff improve their professional development, competence and career prospects – use the workplace itself as the main place of study and learning.

Cathy Hull, Head of CWAL, said that work-based learning was an increasingly popular study option due to its flexibility and tailor-made approach. ‘It is a modern way of creating university-level learning for working people. It will offer our local workforce the chance to study at a time and a pace to suit themselves,’ she said. ‘Most of the learning is focussed on the workplace itself and designed to fit the specific career development plans of employer and employee alike.’

Various learning programmes are on offer, from joint honours degrees – where work-based learning can be combined with academic courses already on offer at the University – to a graduate diploma or a certificate in work-based learning. Modules can also be studied as free-standing courses, which will be useful for people wishing to concentrate on a particular work-related issue or problem.

Teaching methods include case studies, projects, study visits, seminars and lectures. Assessment is solely by coursework.

Potential ‘students’ – who in the main will be those already in work, or have some experience on which to draw – will be offered advice and guidance from a work-based learning tutor before they register. This will include a discussion of their interests and long-term career goals. Students will also be offered plenty of individual tutorial support as they progress through their work-based learning programmes.

Those signing up will also be able to claim academic credits for learning they have already done through work, training courses or other forms of study.

‘People do not want to re-learn what they already know they can do. They want to be stimulated by what they learn, and to focus their studies on topics that are relevant to their learning needs,’ Mrs Hull said.

‘Getting credit for existing knowledge and skills that you have gained at work means you can cut down on study time, and concentrate on new learning.’

CWAL hopes that many of Kent’s businesses will encourage their staff to sign up to flexible learning. ‘It’s a win-win situation for employers,’ Mrs Hull said. ‘Firstly, firms are likely to appear more attractive in the marketplace if they offer their staff good chances for career development. Secondly, companies that are committed to flexible learning are likely to have many motivated workers on board, who are keen to gain new skills and put them into practice.’

Mrs Hull added that the new programmes will provide a vital link between the employers and the University of Kent, and will help keep businesses competitive by developing people’s skills. ‘If you look, for example, at the Thames Gateway development, it is clear that there is a massive challenge ahead, where the workforce will need to perform at a highly-skilled level,’ she said. ‘Both the University and the region’s businesses need to respond to that, and work-based learning is a crucial part of that response.’

Nick Ellwood | alfa
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