Place-based collaboration: an update from Aberdeen

Zarin Mahmud, Researcher, Learning and Work Institute


13 03 2024


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As part of the VocTech Challenge: Skills for an economy in transition, Ufi VocTech Trust (Ufi) and Learning and Work Institute (L&W) are working with stakeholders across the UK to identify local barriers to adult participation in learning and consider what actions we can take to address them. This blog sets out some of the themes arising from our work in Aberdeen so far, based on workshops with key stakeholders to identify challenges and opportunities for adult learning in the city.

To find out more about our place-based collaborations, and the Green and White Papers that set out the background and commitments of the VocTech Challenge programme, please visit

Barriers to participation in learning

Stakeholders identified a range of barriers to participation in learning for different groups that prevented them accessing work in skills-gap sectors. For young people, negative experiences in school were highlighted as a major barrier to learning, affecting confidence and willingness to engage in learning provision. These barriers had been worsened by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic which disrupted young people’s final years of formal education and contributed to worsening mental health.

For adults who want to upskill or retrain, the main barriers identified were a lack of time, particularly for full-time workers, and the affordability of provision. Online learning was not seen as a solution due to low digital skills and preferences for learning in-person.

Local stakeholders also noted that more adults are currently awaiting neurodiversity diagnoses. This could limit participation, as many adults feel unable to articulate what adjustments they might need to access and take part in learning. The need for holistic approaches that consider people’s backgrounds was emphasised.

A further barrier affecting all age groups was the lack of clarity around what employment opportunities were available and the skills or training needed to access these opportunities. Stakeholders all agreed on the need for clearer pathways from learning into work. The importance of relevant pathways for older adults, and not just school leavers, was highlighted.

Another group identified as having specific barriers to participation in learning were adults with English language needs. Stakeholders believe that many of these adults have the relevant skills and desire to work, but much of the city’s learning and training wasn’t accessible to them. In particular there is a lack of provision to support learners to develop the technical vocabulary needed in many skilled sectors.

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Barriers to participation in learning: Aberdeen

The effectiveness of current provision

The workshop also explored what was working well in Aberdeen and where there might be gaps in provision across the city. Short, introductory courses were mentioned as effective in re-engaging learners who had previous negative experiences of education, helping adults get back into learning and eventually into work.

Stakeholders also highlighted multiple examples where partnership working had led to successful programmes across the city, allowing organisations to expand their reach and offer tailored solutions to people with specific needs. This included partnerships between colleges and voluntary sector organisations.

However, it was noted that these types of programmes were often time consuming and expensive. Indeed, funding was a challenge raised by various stakeholders across the city, with the lack of available funding often limiting the reach of programmes and the ability to offer tailored support.

Opportunities to work together

Based on the challenges highlighted in the discussions, stakeholders suggested that a place-based collaboration in Aberdeen could focus on:

  • Finding ways to make learning more accessible to more people. This could be through building links with employers, partnerships between learning providers, or finding innovative ways to deliver learning
  • Creating and communicating clearer pathways from learning into work

Over the next few months, Ufi and L&W will continue to work closely with stakeholders in Aberdeen. We welcome involvement from local organisations working in education, employment and skills and any feedback on our findings so far.

Get involved

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