Research Paper 24: The Spatial Dimensions of Skills for Life Workplace Provision

Authors: Natasha Kersh, Edmund Waite and Karen Evans


This paper draws on the Adult Basic Skills and Workplace Learning project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) as well as ongoing research carried out under the auspices of the ESRC Research Centre: Learning and Life Chances in Knowledge Economies and Societies (LLAKES). The Centre’s Strand 3 is concerned with the social, economic and cultural factors that influence and impede individuals’ attempts to control their lives, and their ability to respond to and manage opportunities.

The strand’s projects focus on degrees of ‘riskiness’ for individual life chances across the life course and the ways in which individuals react to these risks. The study discussed in this paper aims to assess the effects on individuals and on organisations of engagement in workplace literacy, numeracy and English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) programmes. Since the launch of the national Skills for Life strategy in 2001, the UK government has invested heavily in a drive to improve literacy, numeracy and ESOL provision, in particular, through a range of basic skills courses conducted within workplace premises.

This paper explores the semiotic significance of the spatial dimensions of workplace Skills for Life provision by (1) assessing employee motivations for learning as well as related outcomes, and (2) analysing the associations that are attached to different learning environments by employees. The research has indicated that learners’ spatial associations with their workplaces are often perceived as positive, as they may contrast with their previous negative experiences associated with formal education and training (e.g. schools or colleges). This paper explores the extent to which work-based ‘Skills for Life provision’ facilitates employees’ learning outcomes and achievements and enables them to use their newly acquired skills in other settings and life situations.