Understanding engineering education partnerships in practice

Macintyre, Ronald and Heil, Bruce (2013). Understanding engineering education partnerships in practice. In: RWL8 - 8th International Conference on Researching Work and Learning 2013: "The Visible and Invisible in Work and Learning", 19-21 Jun 2013, Stirling, UK.

URL: http://www.stir.ac.uk/education/researching-work-a...


The project presented here is part of a long term collaboration between the Open University in Scotland and Unite the Union. The aim of the project is to provide routes into a BEng for those company employees who would not normally be able to access HE through mainstream company development. This paper explores the learning experience of a group of “shop floor” workers in a large engineering company and the benefits of that learning to the workplace. These are workers with vocational qualifications who are skilled or semi-skilled, they are used to “learning through doing”, and demonstrating competence through practices situated in the workplace. These are workers (now students) who have generally been regarded as not having “the potential” to gain HE qualifications. The paper draws on a series of interviews conducted over the last 3 years with staff from the engineering company, the Open University in Scotland, the Union and the workers/students. For a part time degree, distance learners at the OU will study for at least 6 years. The research tracks the long term experience of the different stakeholders. Through these ongoing conversations we hope to develop a rich sense of these learning journeys, at an individual, collective and organisational level.

All the learners are men, they describe themselves as coming from traditional working class backgrounds, as being practical rather than academic – work and the “shop floor” is where learning normally takes place. Economic uncertainty and the steady contraction of the engineering sector means the “shop floor” is no longer a “safe place”. Learners engage in HE study to differentiate themselves from their peers - job security away from the “shop floor”. At the same time the “shop floor” is key to their sense of identity, and something they are reluctant to leave behind.

As well as issues relating to identity, the learners also have to negotiate a number of organisational factors. For example, the organisation of the workforce tends towards autonomous teams, workers are rotated between different areas and shifts regularly which allows them to develop and demonstrate their competence – this is highly valued. However, changing work patterns interferes with their studies in a number of ways. It adds new work practices to new study experiences, breaks up informal learning communities, and means learners often have to renegotiate their studies with a new line manager.

The paper concludes with some reflections on what partnership means in practice.

Viewing alternatives

Download history

Item Actions