STEPs: building a skilled and competent workforce (UK)

Contact data
Eve Cronin
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+44 1603 222211

Vince Muspratt
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+44 1603 223450

Key words embedded learning, coaching, numeracy and literacy, skilled workforce, youth 

Main problems to be solved (analysis)

In order to attract new businesses to Norfolk, and encourage growth in the businesses already operating there needs to be a skilled and competent workforce to meet demand. If issues including a lack of basic skills are not overcome then individuals can experience years of worklessness which has a negative impact on the economic success of an area; if businesses cannot access the skills they require they may move away. This project seeks to overcome the issue of individuals failing to find work with local SMEs due to low skills levels and a reluctance to participate in mainstream basic skills courses due to past experiences.

In Norfolk, 15% of all adults in the available workforce consider that they have no qualifications.

Policy frameworks to be dealt with/fitting in:

Norfolk Local Area Agreement Learning and Skills Council – Adult Learning Strategy Norfolk County Council 14-19 strategy Working Together, Shaping Norfolk’s Future Learning and Skills Council – Norfolk’s Skills for Life Strategy Investing in Communities Business Plan

Aim of the project

This aim of the project is to use community groups to engage with vulnerable individuals in a range of embedded learning which will provide basic skills through a programme of vocational activity e.g. embedding literacy and numeracy training within a construction course. By embedding basic skills within vocational courses individuals are able to be re-introduced to education, gain useful skills and work towards qualifications in a positive environment. In effect, they learn basic skills through activities which really interest them.

Additionally, the project has a capacity building aim to demonstrate to community organisations who already work closely with these individuals how they can use embedded learning in their future activity so the benefits can continue beyond the lifetime of the funding.

Using community groups was an important element of the programme

Outcomes within the Work Package

The benefits of this project are wide-ranging, and particularly relevant to SMEs. The majority of businesses in Norfolk are SME – over 90% of all businesses. New business start ups and businesses moving into the County are reliant on local people having sufficient skills and experience to meet any labour force demands. Programmes such as these present a dual opportunity. Firstly, local people have the opportunity to gain relevant transferable skills and secondly businesses can rely on a more adaptable, better trained workforce.

Additionally (a) Courses were delivered in 7 sectors where growth for SMEs is predicted and there is interest from individuals – these were construction, motor vehicle, tourism, engineering, sports & leisure, tourism and manufacturing (b) 171 individuals Assisting in Skills Development (c) 40 People Assisted to get a Job (d) 47 pre NEET (“Not in Education, Employment or Training”) and NEET young people supported through training (e) 32 external organisations assisted with capacity building to continue embedded learning.

Expected outcome for the region as a whole (impact of the project)

The concept of supporting vulnerable people to gain basic skills outside of mainstream learning environments is one which could have a positive impact across the region, and assist SMEs in securing employees who have the right levels of skills.

People: The impact of a negative experience in mainstream education can impact on a person for a considerable period of time and prevent them from accessing support. Without basic numeracy and literacy skills securing employment in the long term is a huge challenge. The positive impact of employment are enormous and this project allows people to move towards sustainable employment through a programme of activity which is appealing and non threatening, delivered in a secure environment.

Planet: This project doesn’t have an environmental impact, however given Norfolk’s focus on the energy sector one of the major focuses of all educational work moving forward will be preparing Norfolk’s indigenous population for the opportunities in SMEs which are likely to be available in the future.

Profit: The capacity building element of this activity has allowed sustainability to be a key feature. The programme trained other community organisations to deliver their activities in this way so that the impact would endure beyond the lifetime of the funding. There is a clear saving to the state in moving people into employment and giving them the resources to manage their own expenses.

Planning Programme planning and piloting since 2006 – however only applicable to InterReg since 2010.

Costs € 346.064 of which InterReg € 5.710

Financing: InterReg EEDA Investing in Communities Fund

Implementation of the project (cf. CAA)

which stakeholders were involved? The implementation of the project involved a range of partners including Norfolk County Council, City College Norwich, the Norfolk Learning Partnership, the East of England Development Agency and the Investing in Communities Board and local organisations embedded in the community.

what process did you run through to fit the project into local conditions? This project was responding to issues in Norfolk of low attainment and aspirations for people who fall out of mainstream education. This project allows them to gain necessary functional skills to be able to secure employment through embedding the learning in a programme of activity which appeals to their interests. As a county Norfolk has lower wages and lower GVA than its geographic and statistical neighbours and in order to encourage growth in SMEs the county needs to be able to offer skilled employees.

how did you sustainably implement the project (locally, regionally)? The project was implemented through an existing partnership which had been developing this work and approach over a number of years. The work was initially conceived as a solution to a gap in mainstream provision which was not addressing the needs of the most vulnerable, or taking into account the impact on the local economy of having a work force which could support growth in SMEs. The premise was that the system of learning would be piloted and made sustainable by demonstrating to community organisations how they can role out this way of learning into all the programmes they were planning in the future. It also allowed them to building their capacity for delivery.


1 Which successes were achieved so far in the pilot project? The project has been successful largely due to the partnership between functional skills and activities which are both useful and engaging to participants. The delivery of the activity in locations where participants feel secure and supportive has meant that there have been strong results consistently as well as positive feedback. As set out above 171 people were assisted to gain skills, 40 people were assisted to get a job and 47 young people were prevented from becoming NEET. This raised levels of skills and employability will also have had an impact on SMEs in the area and the quality of candidate they would be able to recruit to their organisations.

Another particular success has been the number of partner community organisations who have been trained to use this same approach in their new programmes. The original objective was to capacity build in this way with 4 organisations but delivery ultimately reached 32 organisations which is a significant success.

The main barrier to overcome in a project of this kind, which is not mainstream, is securing funding to ensure that it is still able to deliver while there continues to be a skills shortage in the economy. High staff turnover can mean loss of skills and expertise so it is important to ensure that all the knowledge does not lie with one member of staff in order to preserve the continuity of the business.

It is also important for a project which is so dependent on client interaction to ensure that project spend is very tightly monitored and can react swiftly is planned delivery doesn’t take place. This should ensure issues of underspend do not take place. This was the main difficulty for this project, and ultimately there was a small underspend to contend with.

The critical success of the project is reflected in the numbers of people assisted, the impact this will have had on businesses recruiting around them and the numbers of community organisations given the training to continue this work in the future.

2 What are the expected boundary conditions for the project to be implemented?

In order for the project to be implemented a large amount of evidence was gathered to justify why funding was required. This was mainly due to the fact that the type of support being offered was tailored to a particular vulnerable group of people who are very disadvantaged in the work place, and also due to the fact that support of this nature has not historically been available through mainstream provision.

There was a wide partnership of people involved in the implementation – this provided public sector support to community organisations who did not have large amounts of funding at their disposal to deliver the support widely to the participants.

The STEPs (Support Through Education Partnership) project was initially delivered in Norwich, however its innovative approach to capacity building meant that the approach was replicated around the County once organisations had been supported to capacity build and include embedded learning into their delivery methods.

The main limitation to delivering the project was finding a suitable method to engage with vulnerable people who have had negative experiences with mainstream provision of education in the past. It was important to find a flexible and responsive method of learning which could be easily replicated in other organisation. Using hobbies and interests as a method of engagement was effective in this instance because it married learning objectives with practical skills such as baking and sports that participants identified as being of interest to them.

3 Which related projects can be studied or consulted (other innovative best practice examples) before starting to think on implementation?

Before EU funding was included as part of the delivery in 2010/11 the project had already had an opportunity to be established and its methodology and value had been confirmed by a partnership board – the Investing in Communities Board. This board had a wide membership and was able to determine that the outputs of this project, together with its track record of delivery, represented strong value for money and would be a positive use of public funding.

Being overseen by this board meant that the project had been monitored quarterly for a long period of time, and the board members were able to bring their expertise and knowledge in assessing its performance over the lifetime of the funding.

Other similar projects operating in Europe include:

Tideswell Skills Enrichment Project (UK)

To provide advice, support and creative opportunities to people who live in the parish of Tideswell by delivering a series of workshops sessions linked to a Flower Festival taking place in the village. Six workshops will help develop creative/artistic skills in the areas of textile arts and floral arts and will build confidence and increase awareness of talent. Around forty people will attend these workshops. A further seven workshops will take place to assist people in dientifying possible employment opportunites. The sessions will be publicised by the committee through posters, flyers and advertisements in local papers.

Young People in Difficulty – The Circus to the Rescue (Germany)

This project assists young people with behavioural problems to develop new attitudes to learning and society with a workshop helping them to create a circus program. Parents and other voluntary helpers assist by providing equipment and their time. Ten children and adolescents, with past difficulties at school or socially, have had the opportunity to develop new and positive attitudes to learning. A six month workshop, relying on volunteers (including their parents) and community workers, has helped create a circus act that is set for a four week tour this summer. The programme, covering theoretical, creative, artistic, and hands on learning, has helped them regain responsibility for their lives.

4 What is the applicability / transferability of the project?

In general this activity is highly transferable, as the premise is raising skills levels of individuals who are unable to sustain employment. It would be a useful approach for other areas where SMEs are the main employer and economic driver but where the local work force is not sufficiently skilled to fill the demand.

The type of training required is not pre-determined and largely depends on the interests of participants. The concept of embedding the core numeracy and literacy skills that employers require can be applied to most activities – the important element being engaging with participants in an activity that is relevant, useful or interesting to them. Removing learning from mainstream classroom provision was a successful approach producing strong results.

The participation and organisations, together with the budget constraints, are a challenge as there is always an associated cost in running training courses.

5 Which tools does the project bring in to alleviate / help starting up implementation elsewhere? An advisory board to moderate the type of activity taking place, as well as its impact. The membership of this board included professional from a variety sectors who were able to comment on links between education and economic development process.

An in depth application process to access the funding also assisted in ensuring that the proper planning and processes were in place before the delivery began. It also allowed the board an opportunity to suggest any changes to delivery which might be helpful.

Engagement with the community sector in a positive fashion was also important so as to be able to offer services in the environments that vulnerable people felt comfortable in.

6 Sustainability

How is/can the project be sustainably implemented? What is needed to reach this?

The project has committed a significant amount of time to ensuring that the activity can be sustainable beyond the lifetime of this project. Funding will continue to be a barrier to delivery however, the capacity building element of the project has ensured that the method of delivery is still active after the funded activity has been concluded. STEPs provided training to 32 external organisations on the benefits of embedded learning so that these organisations would have the knowledge and capacity to incorporate these methods into their future training. It also gives them the ability to be responsive to employer needs. The key sustainability element of this project is that mainstream providers have adapted their traditional methods of delivery to this approach. If basic skills delivery can be embedded into services that individuals are receiving the success rates are far greater than through mainstream delivery.

Date of production of this project format: November 29, 2012