Work-Based Learning for the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Three (or four) year fully-funded PhD scholarship within the Times Business School of the Year offered by Skills Development Scotland (SDS) in partnership with the Scottish Graduate School of Social Sciences (SGSSS).

  • Number of scholarships 1
  • Value Stipend: £14,553 pa. Fees: Home/EU/RUK
  • Opens 27 March 2017
  • Deadline 30 April 2017
  • Duration 3 (or 4 years)


This studentship can be awarded on either a 1+3 or +3 basis. 

 1+3 Year Studentship (48 Months)

This route will provide funding for a one year Masters degree (i.e. the Business School’s MSc in Research Methodology in Business and Management) in the first year - which will deliver the majority of core training requirements - and then for three year PhD study. Candidates who have only completed or are in the process of completing an undergraduate degree should apply for this route. Applicants must hold or are predicted to get a First class or good 2.1 degree.

 +3 Year Studentship (36 Months)

This route will suit applicants who have already completed a Masters degree in the social sciences which satisfies the ESRC methods training requirements, with the focus during the PhD being largely on more advanced training. Comprehensive information on eligibility requirements can be found here.

We are particularly keen to receive applications from candidates with a strong social science background in subjects including, but not limited to, employment studies, education, work sociology, work/organisational psychology, human resource management. Students should be able to demonstrate: excellent academic achievement; motivation and interest in this research area; and highly developed critical/analytical skills. These will be assessed with reference to the University’s PhD application form, a CV, a sample of written academic work, transcripts, academic references, and performance at interview.

Candidates should be available to take up study in the UK on 1st October 2017.

The scholarship covers a doctoral student stipend at the Research Councils UK recommended rate, which is £14,553 for 2017/18. It will also cover UK/EU tuition fees. In addition, the scholarship holder can obtain financial support for research training (£750 per year, subject to SGSSS-DTC approval).

Funding available for UK/EU applicants. Note: EU applicants who have not been resident in the UK for the last three years before the start of their studentship are only eligible for a fees-only award.

Project Details

Industry 4.0 is used as a synonym for Cyber-Physical Production Systems (CPPS). Sometimes referred to as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, CPPS bring together information and operation technologies - creating intelligent automated industrial networks (Gilchrist 2016; Kagermann et al. 2015). A key concern for academics and policymakers relates to Industry 4.0’s impact on the labour force. The machine-human substitution argument is well versed and not without foundation (Matties 2016). A less conventional position draws strong complementarities between automation and labour that have in past periods of increased automation raised productivity, increased earnings, and augmented demand for labour (Autor 2015; Gregory et al. 2016). From this position, as Industry 4.0 technologies expand across sectors there will be demand for skilled workers to design new manufacturing and service solutions and appropriate business models (Baxter et al. 2012).

Work-based Learning (WBL) is gaining traction across academic and policy circles as a key mechanism for addressing the future skills challenges Industry 4.0 presents (Arntz et al. 2016; Pfeiffer 2016). Many countries leading the way in Industry 4.0 also have effective WBL programmes embedded in their education systems (e.g. Germany and Finland). Such programmes are highly collaborative and involve a range of stakeholders (Jeretin-Kopf et al. 2016; Schuh et al. 2015). Facilitating the level of collaboration needed involves transforming workplaces into innovative environments of enquiry that support open dialogue between employees and experimentation with the technology (Toner and Woolly 2016).

 The overarching aim of this research is to explore the pedagogical practices at work in WBL programmes aimed at producing an Industry 4.0 ready workforce. It will consider the role of key stakeholders in developing and delivering WBL curricula, the learning process and student experience. It will assess how effective these WBL models are at mitigating the threat of machine-human substitution. With a particular focus on the Scottish economy, it will consider the wider policy conditions required to make WBL an attractive and realistic proposition. The following key questions will be addressed:

  • What pedagogical practices are being employed and how are they delivered?
  • What incentives are there to encourage individuals to develop new tastes and preferences for learning in the context of technological advances?
  • Who are the key stakeholders involved in developing WBL programmes and how do these partnerships work?
  • What are the levels of employee retention after periods of increased automation in those firms that adopt Industry 4.0 focused WBL models? 

A mixed methods approach will be used, with qualitative and quantitative elements. An online survey of UK Employers will be undertaken. This will inform and be followed by two organisational case studies (which will draw on a mixture of research tools including semi-structured interviews, observation and focus groups). Key stakeholder interviews will also be undertaken, and will include policymakers and HR managers in European organisations held up as exemplars of ‘best practice’.

How to apply

At this stage, we are inviting applicants to apply for the scholarship only. The successful candidate will then be asked to complete an application for PhD study at Strathclyde.

All applications should include:

  • a cover letter indicating the candidate's relevant skills/experience and how they can contribute to this research
  • a CV and relevant qualification transcripts
  • two references (please refer to guidance on references)

When sending the above documents please use the following file-naming convention: fullname_typeofdocument

For example,







Apply now by emailing your application. Please note that any incomplete applications or applications with files that do not follow the above format will not be considered.