The I-WORK (Improving Work Opportunities – Relaying Knowledge) project has now finished. Its aim was to enhance technical and vocational education and training to give people across the Commonwealth better opportunities to gain meaningful employment. The work was funded by UK Government, in support of the commitments made during Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting 2018 and supported three strands of activity.
- Partnership strand
This strand connected training providers in five Commonwealth countries – the UK, Ghana, South Africa, India and Malaysia – in partnership clusters to develop innovative, inclusive and employer-led education approaches that equip students to take their place in the future job market.
- Apprenticeship strand
The apprentice strand supported national authorities in Ghana, South Africa, India and Malaysia to strengthen key areas of their apprenticeship systems through assessment against a global apprenticeship benchmarking tool designed specifically for the programme.
Benchmarking has now undertaken in each I-WORK country through collaboration between the locally appointed National Apprenticeship Experts and advisory boards after which tailored support was put in place through technical assistance projects which addressed the specific challenges identified through trialling new approaches, which are supported by TVET colleges and employers.
- Dissemination Strand
Tying the first two strands together were a series of National and International workshops which took place in the five I-WORK countries in the Spring of 2020 at which practitioners, college leaders and policy-makers will see the results of pilot projects from partnership and apprenticeship strands in order to increase the reach and impact of the projects, expand the use of good practice and inspire others to take new approaches to TVET provision.
I-WORK was delivered using a “cultural relations approach” which is built upon high levels of stakeholder engagement and collaboration in both the design and delivery of projects, schemes and pilot activities. This requires significant investment in time and resources when compared to conventional “drag-and-drop” approaches where an attempt is made to replicate successful systems in one county in another.
By contrast, the cultural relations approach invests greater time in investigating the educational eco-system with relevant stakeholders in the country of delivery - for example through working collaboratively to complete the apprenticeship system benchmarking tool - to ensure the actions undertaken are more relevant and have the buy-in and support from the relevant actors and authorities both during and after their implementation.
British Council was therefore interested to see what external evaluation of I-WORK would uncover both in terms of emerging impact of the programme and of the value of cultural relations approach.
As I-WORK drew to a close, British Council appointed an external evaluation partner, Ecorys UK, to provide independent insight on the emerging impact of programme but to comment on the effectiveness of the approach taken to the design and delivery of projects.
Ecorys UK conducted desk and field research – as well as interviews with British Council, external stakeholder – across all participating countries over the closing and post-implement stages of the programme.
The external evaluation report did indeed recognise and impact of the programme and validated the cultural relations approach, as highlighted by the extracts below.
“Given the time and resource constraints, the I-WORK programme has led to impressive achievements across all three strands of the programme. The programme piloted an innovative approach to system strengthening in the TVET sector and has yielded several examples of good practice which could be used to inform future programming both by the British Council and wider stakeholders in the TVET sector.” (p.53)
“[The cultural relations] approach was found to be useful and facilitated collaborative and partnership working between countries and building trusted relationships between social partners. In addition, the approach enabled the development of projects tailored to their socio-political, cultural and economic context.” (p.7)
“At the apprenticeship level, stakeholders very much appreciated the level of freedom and flexibility they were afforded, which enabled them to design projects tailored to their country contexts and the strategic priorities of the individual colleges… The buy-in and commitment of stakeholders is key, and involving multiple stakeholders in the development and testing of new approaches, tools and policies supports buy-in.“ (p.50)
This provides British Council with enormous confidence in continuing to apply and develop the cultural relations approach as we build up the experience of I-WORK both in the participating countries and in our global support for Skills systems.