Dr Alison Felce

Centre for Lifelong Learning (CLL),Dr Alison Felce
Office of the Dean of Students

Alison is the University’s Head of Work-based Learning. Her role is to develop Work-based Learning at the University and to co-ordinate the University’s engagement with the HM Armed Forces to develop new opportunities for Armed Forces personnel and their families. Alison works with Faculties and Central Services in their collaboration with employers and the MoD to develop work-based learning programme models and delivery skills and to ensure that systems and processes meet the needs of work-based learners, Service personnel and their families. She is also involved in the accreditation of employer and Forces’ based training and developing on-line support for the recognition of prior learning.

Alison's research interests are in curricula models for work-based learning and the analysis of the associated learner experience. She writes on cross-university collaboration and communication around work-based learning and the development of networks to share knowledge and experiences.

Alison has been awarded a University Learning and Teaching Fellowship to run for three years from 2014.

Context-engaged models for Work-based Learning: developing models for lifelong learning in Manufacturing Engineering Organisations


The University is working with a Black Country manufacturer to introduce work-based learning for the company’s staff. This project evaluated the staff development that has been introduced and it uses this company as a case study to create a model that could be used in other organisations.

The University introduced learning to retrain key staff involved in component manufacture and leadership and management training for supervisors and managers. The employees are now more aware of potential learning opportunities and impact on their career progression. The company has seen an improvement in its organisational performance.

Findings from the evaluation are being used to identify what works in work-based learning so that improvements can be made to the work carried out with the company as well as develop an approach that can be with a wider range of business organisations.

This report provides an overview of the work undertaken to introduce work-based learning with the company and the evaluation of that learning. Implications for the design of a model that can be used more widely are identified.  


The University of Wolverhampton (UoW) is committed to: “be The Opportunity University”[1]; it is implementing a range of initiatives to extend existing curricular models to reach a wider potential audience and to increase opportunities for access to Higher Education. This project is centred on a new approach to a model for work-based learning that has been developed in partnership with an employer.

In Spring 2011 UoW set up a three-way partnership with Walsall College of Further Education (WColl) and a local manufacturing company ZF Lemforder (UK) Ltd (ZFL).  The aim of the collaboration was to develop a structured, progressive education framework to allow progression from school into Apprenticeships and National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) through to Higher/Degree Level Apprenticeships at Levels 4 – 7 and other work-based learning qualifications including part-time degrees at undergraduate, masters’ and doctoral levels (Figure 1).

Training Centre Concept Model 

Figure 1. Training Centre Concept Model

A key part of the model has been the development of an in-company training facility which has acted as a catalyst for the up skilling of the workforce with the potential to accredit the training undertaken.

The partnership initially ran for 24 months and the targets set were achieved. As a result of the successes identified the partnership was extended for a further 24 months and is due to be completed in December 2015.

In-company training facility and other staff development

In common with many organisations, ZFL have been involved with a number of training and staff development initiatives over a number of years but a multi-million pound (sterling) investment in new plant in 2012 initiated a strategic review of their current approach to staff development. A graduate with an engineering background was recruited by the University and was located within ZFL to research the training development needs of the organisation; the work of the graduate was supported by academics from the UoW.

Initial work comprised an audit of current practice and procedures around Human Resources, organisational structures, job descriptions, a site audit to establish potential location(s) for a training centre and a review of existing practice regarding employee development within other organisations. This work informed the development and subsequent introduction and evaluation of the in-company training facility and other associated staff development. A summary of the staff development activities is shown in Figure 2.

Training Timeline

Figure 2. Training Timeline


Key outcomes from the partnership include:

  • The introduction of a Functional Skills Lab at the ZFL Darlaston plant
  • The introduction of an Applied Skills lab at the ZFL Solihull plant
  • Completion of diagnostic testing with staff identified to operate new equipment
  • Identification and delivery of NVQ in Performing Engineering Operations
  • Introduction of new Apprenticeships for Darlaston and Solihull plants
  • Delivery of a level 5 CMI Leadership and Management course to nine early career managers
  • Three Change Management projects designed; two of which were implement during 2014 / 2015
  • Senior management team development course designed and delivered
  • The introduction of employee awards events to recognise achievements 

Aims & objectives

The aim of this research project was to undertake a detailed analysis of the work completed through the partnership activity and to establish how the model introduced could be extended within the organisation and how it could be introduced to other organisations.

The project objectives were to:

  1. interrogate factors impacting on the project’s success
  2. identify areas for further development
  3. investigate how the model can be extended within the current partner organisation and into other businesses. 


My initial research question was: How can a model for a ladder of lifelong learning opportunities be successfully designed and implemented within a for-profit organisation?

My research was based on a selective case study methodology using the existing automotive partner as the central focus. An evaluation of Phase 1 of the partnership had reviewed the project management processes; this research looked in depth at the staff development initiatives and included interviews with key individuals and focus groups of staff who have undertaken the training and development to establish what works in work-based learning and to consider how this can inform future development within ZFL and other organisations.

Research design

The staff development introduced at ZFL encompassed a wide range of personnel from new apprentices starting a career in the engineering industry through to senior executives who have worked in the engineering industry, some with the same company, for over 30 years. The development has included skills training to meet the demands of new equipment and processes through to leadership and management development to effect cultural and organisational change.

The research involved a series of focus group interviews with a self-selected sample for each of the different interventions; each focus group was led by the same facilitator who used the same semi-structured questions to draw out the interviewees’ evaluations and perceptions of their experiences of their development intervention. Interviews were recorded and a transcript of the interview was provided to the Principal Investigator for analysis and interpretation. Each participant was provided with a sheet that explained the purpose of the interviews, that their comments would be anonymous and that they could withdraw from the group at any point.

In addition to the focus groups two case studies were prepared through detailed interviews with two members of staff both of whom have been promoted as a consequence of the staff development that they have each undertaken; one is in a management role the other works on the ‘shop floor’ as a production operator.

The interviewer was the graduate placed within the company and who had been closely involved in the research and design of the in-company training facility. She was chosen to conduct the interviews because of her access to employees and because of her established working relationships with the different target groups within the organisation.

Over a period of ten weeks five focus group interviews were held with a total of 17 participants; two in-depth interviews were held within this timeframe from which two individuals’ case studies were prepared.   Two of the focus groups involved staff who undertook the CMI leadership and management training; one focus group was for the apprentices; one for those undertaking the applied skills training at the Solihull plant, one group who studied for an NVQ in Performing Engineering Operations and three who undertook the fundamental skills training at Darlaston.

Further evaluative data was collated from the academic responsible for delivery of the management development programmes and from a desk study of the project management records including partnership documentation, presentations, reports and minutes of meetings.

Summary findings

The training centre concept intervention at ZF Lemforder has had a significant impact on the engineering company. Whilst it is difficult to prove a causal link, analysis of the company’s results since the start of the partnership has shown:

  • A significant increase in return on capital employed
  • Increased profit which was better than planned
  • Continue to deliver world class levels of quality with reduced levels of waste
  • The company has maintained reliable delivery to all customers
  • The company has been successful in bidding for additional investment for new model launches

Analysis of the focus group interviews shows that the participants found that the fundamental / applied skills training  was more interesting than they thought it would be, that it could be applied directly to their job and that it made them more engaged in their work and more empowered as an employee. Many had not undertaken training previously and most were keen to do more training.

Apprentices who took part in the interviews found the fundamental skills training was essential as initial training before starting work on the ‘shop floor’ and that it gave them the opportunity to learn good practice before they were able to pick up bad habits.

For the two staff who achieved promotions, both identified that their individual training / learning experiences had transformed their understanding of their job role and enable them to recognise their ability to contribute to the future of their employer. Both are enjoying recognised success in their new roles and, in different ways, are enabling their colleagues to learn and to develop themselves in their individual careers.

Additional staff and organisational development needs were also established. These include the introduction of training areas within the shop floor adjacent to the work areas, more specialised training and applied knowledge delivered by key personnel working within and leading the teams. It was recognised that the use of standard operating procedures would enhance performance and lead to more continuity of best practice across teams and between shifts. Further staff development is also needed within the leadership and management teams to move further towards the organisational and cultural change needed to develop the company into a learning organisation.


The research has shown that the interventions have provided significant success indicators for the company at both individual and organisation levels. The key principles of the model that underpin these successes are: the structured approach to the management of the partnership, the placement of a graduate with suitable experience and subject understanding within the organisation to undertake detailed research to inform the development of bespoke training and the introduction, monitoring and review of staff development to meet the identified needs of the organisation. Throughout the training and staff development programmes success is underpinned by learning and assessment that is focused on work-based activities allowing learners to apply their learning to their practice and to initiate improvements projects and activities.

These principles will be used to prepare guidelines for future interventions with other organisations. It is too early to say that the model is transferable to other engineering organisations or other business sectors but the successes identified at all levels within this case study organisation provide a positive notion that a similar context-engaged approach is likely to be success.

[1] University of Wolverhampton Mission: http://www.wlv.ac.uk/about-us/corporate-information/strategic-plan/vision-mission-and-values/  [Accessed 19th September 2015]