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Higher education is currently undergoing rapid, unprecedented, and accelerating change. Employers and individuals are demanding an increase in the diversity of curricular choice and mix, reflecting increasingly rapid changes in the workplace and in society generally. Much of the rate of change has been driven by exponential advances in information and communications technology over recent decades. Until recent years, the emphasis in state-funded third-level education was almost entirely towards “foremployment” rather than “in-employment” education and training. In-employment training has, for the most part, been largely disconnected from the formal education qualifications system. The newer emphasis on upskilling of persons already in the labour force poses new and significant challenges. This is particularly true for those at the lower skills level who find it difficult to access education and training opportunities. Learning for Life (2000), Ireland’s first White Paper on Adult Education, confirmed that skill shortages continue to threaten Ireland’s economic prospects, a view endorsed by all stakeholders, who also agreed on the priority status of the skill shortage issue. The White Paper, however, reported that “there is less agreement as to how workplace education should be organised and financed” (Department of Education and Science, 2000: 76). Since the publication of the White Paper, educators, employers, and politicians have given increased attention to the concept of learning as a lifelong activity. Within the context of lifelong learning, learning required by the workplace and which takes place at work and through work has a predominant role in determining the content and direction of learning. As work environments increasingly move to knowledge-based environments, with their increasingly dynamic and changing contexts, ongoing upskilling of employees is required. Work-based training and education is ideally suited to serve this need. Rapidly changing contexts now require training and education curricula that are fluid, dynamic, and continually responsive to volatile workplace environments and to societal change. Third-level institutions need to continually engage with the crucible of changing work environments, where newly created contexts continually demand educators to respond quickly to new and everchanging circumstances.
Linehan, M. Work based learning - Graduating Through The Workplace. Published by CIT Press, Bishopstown, Cork, Ireland. 2008.