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BOWL - Building Opportunities through Workplace Learning

Partnership information



The aim of the Building Opportunities through Workplace Learning (BOWL) DP, led by the TUC, was to improve staff training in a variety of employment areas. This was achieved by developing and supporting networks which then looked at improving staff training in three aspects: progression, participation and effectiveness.


The DP developed a programme of support for Union Learning Representatives (Union Learning Representatives), to ensure that union members have access to the right training. The focus was on those in the workforce who were least engaged in workplace learning, including where poor basic skills present an immediate barrier to engagement and where other factors compound this disadvantage. These other factors included employment patterns, direct or indirect discrimination plus work/family issues.

The rationale behind the project was the need to address two, interlocking issues:
  • That significant numbers in the workforce have low levels of skills including basic skills, and that these groups are the least likely to receive an offer of/take part in learning. A number of equal opportunity priority groups including people with disabilities and from ethnic minorities are especially disadvantaged through lack of access to learning. Changes in the labour market increasingly bring insecurity, risk of job loss and low earnings.

  • That low skills including poor basic skills, directly damage productivity and competitiveness.
There were 6 pilot projects, 5 of which were sectoral, the other focusing on a rural area. These were:
  • Hospitality and Leisure (London and south east)
  • Local government employees (north east)
  • Print sector (Yorkshire and Humberside)
  • Retail (north west)
  • Passenger travel (London and the south east)
  • Rural areas (Cornwall)

The main objectives of the project were to:
  • Identify barriers to participation , progression and effectiveness in the workplace

  • Develop new approaches, networks, tools and learner support materials

  • Develop and pilot new approaches

  • develop improved models for information, advice and guidance services in the workplace

  • to develop a toolkit to support dissemination
Main Outcomes

The BOWL project through Ufi developed two innovative tools (the learner toolkit and the course finder) to ensure that online learning is as effective as possible for skills for life learners. The learner toolkit was developed to help learners to plan and manage their learning, helping them to be more confident and automous. The BOWL project developed a range of learning tools, training modules and resources to improve the capacity, skills and confidence of union learning representatives so that they could effectively engage those least engaged in workplace learning, including those with poor basic skills. The role of union learning representatives in providing IAG services is highlighted in the Governments Skills Strategy and the NLSCs ‘ Action Plan’ for coherent IAG services. Trade Unions are now represented on all LSC IAG Strategic Boards and input into NLSC strategy development. NLSC publication ‘Working together: TUC and nextstep, highlighting the union role in providing IAG. This work will be taken forward through the development of the Union Academy



Transnational partnerships


Liz Smith, TUC Educational Trust,


Action 2: 31 July 2005
Action 3: 14 November 2005

Equal theme

Lifelong learning and inclusive working practices


The TUC had been working since 1997 to develop a Union Learning Fund and Union Learning Representatives. ULRs had been previously piloted with ESF funding through the Adapt initiative. However, the support mechanisms were inadequate, so BOWL was created to develop better support for ULRs.


Employed in large firms, Employed in SMEs


  • The BOWL project worked with the NLSC to develop information and advice and guidance services in the workplace, giving the project a direct input into government policy

  • The BOWL project brought together a range of strategic partners to work in a new way to engage with learning in the workplace.

  • Lessons learnt from the pilots have informed TUC and trade union policy on Sector Skills Council development including the development of a Sector Skills Toolkit for Trade Union representatives on SSCs

Final report

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