Hot off the press

4th March 2005 at 00:00
Leeds College of Technology has used e-learning to open up education opportunities across West Yorshire, Sally McKeown reports

Janet left school at 15 with no qualifications. She worked for the same printing company in Leeds for over 20 years in various roles, including hand-feed machine operator, forklift truck driver and technical assistant responsible for running a stacker unit. She was turned down for in-house training on the grounds that, "women are not mechanically minded".

Despite entrenched attitudes by some employers, several recessions and competition from overseas, the printing industry in Britain is doing well.

It is one of the largest manufacturing industries in West Yorkshire, with some 22,000 employees in 1,600 businesses. Many of these businesses are small. Modern printing processes require complex and expensive machinery so employees work in complicated shift patterns. Not only are the hours unsocial, but they are often irregular too so it is hard to implement training.

This was the challenge facing the Print Out Your Future (POYF) project that won a Becta ICT in Practice Inclusion Award. The project was run by Leeds College of Technology working with the local Graphical, Paper and Media Union (GPMU). Training was free but had to be undertaken in workers' own time. Anyone could take part, regardless of age or previous educational background. There was no employer selection and learners could receive support for childcare, materials and travel expenses.

Because of the shift patterns, the project had to use ICT to provide training which could be accessed at all times of the day and night, so one of the first objectives was to develop ICT skills. Then staff set about developing and producing online learning for Machine Print, Print Finishing, DigitalMac Skills and Workflow courses.

They offered one three-hour lesson at five different times each week. A learner could come to a morning, afternoon or evening session or sometimes could come to the same session twice if they had a problem and there was a spare place. Attendance was planned like a shift roster with learners often swapping sessions to accommodate last-minute changes to their working day.

"We had to go for a blended learning approach because face-to-face contact was as important as the technology and the materials," said Brenda Barnett, business manager for workforce development at the college. "People aren't just workers and students; they also have life commitments, families, hobbies and problems, too. Once people have missed a couple of sessions, it is all too easy to drop out. It was important to keep in touch. We started with mobile phones and visits from the Outreach Worker but as the project went on, email became more important. The learners also started to email one another during the week."

The tutors had to build confidence. Some, like Janet, were used to learning "at Nellie's elbow" rather than from books and text. Some needed to brush up their basic skills, while others had more entrenched problems. Valerie had suffered bullying and verbal abuse at work for years. People picked on her and told her she was "thick" and she came to believe them. She was screened for dyslexia and came to see that she was not a failure; she just needed different forms of teaching and support. Val became much more confident and assertive and, with union backing, brought a case against the bullies.

ICT training in the workplace was a central plank of the project and by the time it finished in March 2004, the team had established eight learning centres in their workplaces to complement college and trade union provision. Now, Leeds College of Technology is teaching basic skills in six companies. Three workplace IT learning centres are still up and running and there are negotiations for two more.

Several employers are paying for higher level qualifications but the real beneficiaries have been the learners themselves. Many are now convinced of the benefits of learning and have enrolled on new courses, while several have moved on to better jobs. As for Janet, she successfully completed her City Guilds 5260 Print Finishing Course, was promoted to training co-ordinator at work and is now a union learning representative, helping other employees to achieve their goals.


* Establish relationships with partners - employers, employees, college staff and union learning reps who will provide day to day support.

* You have to accommodate shift patterns and aim for the ultimate in "any place, any time, anywhere". delivery.

* You need to make the best use of all available resources and find computers in the learners' own communities. The tutors tracked down resources in UK Online centres, libraries and Internet cafes or through community groups.

* Make sure no learner is overlooked. Keep in touch, by mobile phone and email.

* Use blended learning. Mix face-to-face tutorials with online support such as bulletin boards, peer support, email.



Leeds College of Technology website.


LCT's Print College site.


Print union with details of training available.


Voluntary provider of adult learning opportunities.


Promoting adult learning.


* Learning how to learn is essential. Tutors spent a lot of time on study help, preparing quizzes, mock tests and materials to develop that all important exam technique.

* Learners need to feel confident in their use of ICT or the technology will be seen as a barrier to learning. POYF developed an ICT pre-assessment and appointed an outreach tutor to teach basic ICT skills in college and in the workplace.

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