UCL News


Basic skills boost for workforce

28 October 2004

A groundbreaking initiative is equipping the UCL workforce with essential basic skills training.

Mr Andrew Taylor Mr Andrew Taylor, UCL Staff Development & Training Officer, has piloted a training programme to improve the maths, English, IT skills and the understanding of equal opportunities and customer service amongst staff at UCL. Funded by the London Basic Learning & Skills Council (LSC) and HESDA (Higher Education Staff Development Agency) the scheme is proving to be a great success, and the LSC is issuing a case study using UCL as a best-practice example for other organisations across London.

Basic skills may not be an obvious area of concern for a top university such as UCL, notes Mr Taylor: "However, studies show that across the UK, at least 20 per cent of employees have basic skills below level 2, which means that their maths and English language skills make it hard for them to function at work and in society in general. With an 8,000-strong workforce, this could mean that UCL has up to 900 staff in that category, particularly those working in manual or domestic jobs."

To tackle the problem effectively, Mr Taylor worked together with specialist agencies to survey UCL staff on their needs and to develop an effective programme: "There were many challenges to overcome. Domestic employees often start their shifts at five in the morning, and training had to fit in with their hours. Staff are often extremely sensitive about lack of basic skills, so we developed a programme that would tackle maths and language skills alongside IT and customer services - basic skills were not made into a big issue."

The programme is initially running with staff from the Estates & Facilities Division, and training is now in its second round. So far it has cost UCL nothing, with course costs entirely covered by external funding. What is more, research shows that basic skills training can save considerable sums of money; a study by the University of Lancaster estimated that an employer with 1,000 employees could save an annual sum of £500 per person by equipping all of their workforce with basic skills.

UCL's approach to the issue of basic skills has generated enthusiasm from all quarters, says Mr Taylor: "The UCL programme for basic skills training is unique. Many organisations pay for their employees to go on courses at a local further education college, but expecting the basic skills target group to negotiate a college environment is often unrealistic. By contrast, we've actually asked staff what they need and tried to ensure that it fits it with their working lives. I think this is why others are now so interested in our approach - I've already been asked to give talks about it at meetings arranged through the Cabinet Office and Buckingham Palace."

Mrs Helen Fullerton, Cleaning Operative, is a participant on the programme. She says: "The basic skills course is one of the best things that has happened to me while working at UCL. It has not only helped in my work life in terms of customer service skills, but also in my family life - the computer skills part of the course has allowed me to engage with my children in a way I could not before, as they all use computers at school."