The Adapting Role of Work-Based Learning in the GCC

Posted by Annamarie Lawrence

The social changes brought about by digitalisation and the Covid-19 pandemic are impacting jobs on a scale never seen before in history within the GCC.

Sometimes called the ‘double disruption’ of digitalisation and covid, it is generally agreed that the pandemic accelerated digitalisation in a way that would have otherwise taken many years. At the heart of this impact is the way we learn and adapt to the need for upskilling, reskilling and new skilling. Professionals have highlighted the need to rethink education for a focus on skills over credentials to ensure we are preparing citizens for the future of work.

Governments of the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) have made significant progress towards moving higher education systems towards ensuring employability skills are embedded within curricula. In the past 10 years there has been increased collaboration with the private sector for joint research, student consulting, and curriculum and assessment design. However, most tertiary learning in the GCC is academic and classroom based, with limited integration with the workplace.

What is Work-based Learning?

Work-based learning can be defined as a structured system of learning that occurs through employment and where real work outputs are used as part of the learning process. Work-based learning has evolved from various concepts and ideas of ‘learning organisations’ in the 1990s (Senge, P. (1990). The Fifth Discipline: The art and practice of a learning organization.)  to ideas of professional learning and productivity. As the information age developed into the 2000s, it was recognised that the knowledge and skills of employees in the organisation were a contributor to an organisation’s market value and competitiveness (Appelbaum, S. H., & Gallagher, J. (2000). The competitive advantage of organizational learning).

In response, government established formal systems for structuring vocational learning, such as the UK’s National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs), allowing qualifications and curricula to be built around what employers specify they need. During a similar time-period, concepts around life-long learning and the recognition that education continues outside into the workplace were evolving into policies to formalise the effective delivery and measurement of learning in the workplace through credits, assessment, and formal frameworks for work-based learning qualifications, such as apprenticeships.

The UK Government 2008 ‘Leitch Report’ outlined a national review of the TVET system in the UK by taking a whole government perspective and looking at the impact of skills on UK’s global competitiveness. The policy response to the Leitch Report was to shift the focus from a supply lead system (education to labour market) to that of a demand lead system where skilling was directly aligned to the needs of employers. Similar policy responses were also seen in the USA, Australia, New Zealand, and many parts of Asia, including Singapore.

Work-based Learning Supporting Digitalisation Aspirations

International data shows a strong relationship between the prevalence of formal work based learning systems and labour market productivity (GIZ. (2015). Technical and Vocational Education and Training and the Labour Market in Development Cooperation). Education and training systems are inherently linked to labour and employment system as drivers of the knowledge and skill production necessary for economic development (Greve, B. (2018). Social and Labour Market Policy). This relationship between learning and economic development is particularly relevant to the countries of the GCC with their national strategies to move towards a digital based economy and their investment in the development of new tech business and high tech Foreign Direct Investment (FDI).

With a shortage of technology professionals in the region, especially in Cybersecurity, Machine Learning, AI and Data Analytics, work-based learning programmes such as apprenticeships could be a viable alternative to waiting for graduates from the traditional 4-year bachelor’s degree. Apprenticeships for technology-related jobs have been proven internationally to be a key part of the skill gap solution.

In our next article, Tribal will explore the ways in which work-based learning have adapted and changed to become as they are today in the GCC.

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