Employees discussing work in office

Apprenticeship Degrees blogWork Based Learning in Action

Fraser MacDonald, Teaching Fellow and Work Based Learning Advisor in our Department of Computer and Information Sciences explains how we ensure that our work based learning delivers lifelong value for our Learners.

A key aspect of the apprenticeship degree is the work based learning component. Working in their organisation of choice, our apprentices are able to directly apply the fundamental academic learning being undertaken, while simultaneously experiencing first-hand the reality of organisational life.

While this enables rapid and relevant learning, it can present some challenges. In particular, the dynamic nature of the work environment is a potential source of disruption. Commercial considerations, evolving organisational strategy and changing client requirements contribute to real world learning, but also have the capacity to negatively disrupt work based learning. This might manifest itself as changes in role, moving to a different part of the organisation, or major changes in project scope. This is amplified for our apprentices undertaking technology degrees, where rapid changes in technology further increase possible disruption.

Our approach for work based learning is therefore to empower the apprentice to not only be able to deal with this disruption, but to be able to actively take advantage of the opportunities it presents to widen their learning and develop a rounded set of competencies.

We use an apprentice-centric process with four stages:

  • Evaluate – understand where individual competencies lie and where focus is needed for development
  • Prepare – translate these competency gaps into specific objectives
  • Act – take action to make progress on these objectives
  • Reflect – document learning in the form of evidence that is collected in a portfolio

For technology work based learning, we utilise the Skills Framework for the Information Age as our competency framework. This is a global digital skills framework that allows a high degree of configuration, both in terms of skill levels and skill types, allowing us to tailor work-based learning competency assessment for each individual apprentice, no matter what their role or how their situation evolves. The framework does not purely focus on technology. Instead it embraces a wider set of competencies, such as business skills and autonomy, which are necessary for the apprentice to make a positive impact in the workplace and to progress their career.

The right competency framework is crucial, but is ineffective if apprentices don’t have the skills, techniques and support to manage competency development. Generally, this will be the first time that the apprentice has had to undertake this type of personal development, so there’s a huge opportunity to begin to instil a lifelong skill that will support their career development now and in the future.

Early in the apprenticeship, we focus on helping the apprentice understand personal strengths and weaknesses. We then introduce the skills in identifying clear objectives to progress development areas. We introduce reflection, allowing the apprentice to consider the positive and negative aspects of their experience and to consider how these experiences can provide evidence for their competencies. We help the apprentices understand how to write strong evidence that can be accumulated in their work-based learning portfolio. A number of exercises are also used to help the apprentices understand how the competencies may be applied in their context.

Each apprentice is supported by a designated Work Based Learning Advisor (WBLA), who plays a key role. As well as guiding the apprentice through the mechanics of the work based learning process, the WBLA assists the apprentice in mapping the competencies to their role. This tailoring is important to enable us to support the wide range of roles that apprentices are employed in, and to ensure the best work-based learning experience for the apprentice. The WBLA meets with the apprentice regularly to provide feedback on their progress in demonstrating competency and to help identify and negotiate appropriate development opportunities.

As well as achieving the aims of the work based learning element of the apprenticeships, the above framework has additional benefits. It aligns well with organisation performance and development review activities, allowing the apprentice to positively engage with these early on. It provides the apprentice with the general scaffolding for career related conversations, enabling them to articulate career aspirations within and beyond the workplace.

Work-based learning is perhaps one of the clearest demonstrations of Strathclyde’s commitment to be “a place of useful learning”. By blending academic learning with on-the-job experience, supported by a clear and framework for development, the apprentice is well-equipped to succeed in their career and achieve real success in their workplace.