STEPs: building a skilled and competent workforce


  • Lack of education
  • lack of ambitions
  • Lack of power 


  • Move community groups closer to sustainable education
  • Courses with impact on people’s day to day living


  • History, culture and habits (encourage participation)
  • Money and landscape (e.g. transport)


  • Concrete project plan including analysis
  • Regular reports on outputs and assessment of activities

Problems and challenges

Although Norfolk is a relatively affluent county there are some deepset pockets of deprivation with severe levels of unemployment linked to slow economic activity. In these areas two key market failures are frequently reported by local partners:

1. A failure of individuals to achieve commonly recognised standards of educational attainment (level 2); and

2. A failure to enter or remain in the labour market.

The identified key market failures pointed to a clear need to develop interventions focused on engaging (and raising aspiration to engage) with and enabling people to get on a progression pathway to improve their potential and move them into work. Norfolk’s economy is largely supported by SMEs who rarely have the time or budget to support staff to attain basic skills.

The STEPS project meets local strategic objectives by engaging the hard to reach into accredited, embedded skills for life activities, in the form of short-term vocational/soft and basic skills training with progression on to mainstream programmes offered through adult education or FE colleges.

For many participants accessing support, mainstream provision is no longer a feasible option and they would be unwilling to engage with learning being provided by the majority of traditional training providers.


The STEPS project aimed to develop the capacity of a range of community groups in priority areas to engage with identified learners who need intensive support to move them closer to sustainable education. The main purpose is to engage communities in first level learning and promote progression to mainstream programmes offered through Adult Education or the colleges of FE. It is recognised that the STEPs model is providing an effective way of moving those furthest from engaging into meaningful activity.

By designing activities that align closely with people’s interests, and offering courses which will clearly have a positive impact on their day to day living community groups are able to encourage vulnerable adults to take their first steps towards engaging with learning and reintegrating with society. Examples of these activities include:

• Numeracy and literacy improvements through cooking recipes; or • Budgeting through “Feed your familiy for £5”

The objective of the project is to see an more economically competitive Norfolk by raising the skills, aspirations and achievements of young people and adults from disadvantaged communities. This will be achieved by: • Supporting families to over barriers to learning and achievement • Increasing the supply side (staff and facilities) to deliver contextualised vocational and skills for life training in key sectors • Commissioning alternative forms of embedded learning opportunities for individuals to begin and continue through pathways to further education and employment • Creating sustainable opportunities for people living in rural communities to access skills training. • Raising the employment prospects of adults and young people from disadvantaged communities • Supporting people to overcome barriers into employment and in retaining a job.


One of the main barriers to this project was learning to engage well with targeted groups of individuals. The core objective was to encourage participation for individuals who have had negative experiences with mainstream training in the past. These negative experiences can be difficult to overcome, especially when coupled with a both a lack of basic skills and a lack of confidence.

The availability of capacity in organisations providing the support could also have been a barrier; not only was training required but it was necessary to embed it into the way the organisation worked in the longer term to make the approach more sustainable, in particular after the end of the funding period.

As with many of the projects we deliver in Norfolk overcoming barriers to work which will often also translate into working eg budgeting, transport in rural areas, childcare is a constant challenge, and continues to be.


The following tools proved helpful when initiating the project:

• Project Plan including analysis of alternative options • Regular reporting on outputs • Regular assessment of activities and their popularity • Use of existing boards of experts with good knowledge of the local area to take decisions on the best use of funding.