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Lifelong learning through SMEs: exploring workplace learning in the UK

Linda Ahlgren (Centre for Research in Education Inclusion and Diversity, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK)
Laura C. Engel (International Education Program, The George Washington University, Washington, DC, USA)

Journal of Workplace Learning

ISSN: 1366-5626

Article publication date: 5 July 2011




The primary objective in this paper is to examine the role of small‐ to medium‐sized enterprises (SMEs) in promoting and/or hindering educational opportunities to adult employees in the UK.


The paper draws on 12 case studies of SMEs in England and Scotland, which form part of a larger European Sixth Framework Programme research project. Interviews were conducted with employers, line managers and employees participating in formal educational programmes, and were contextualized with policy documents and literature on lifelong learning and workplace education.


This paper highlights and explores findings related to human resource management (HRM) and the participation of employees in formal education, and the experiences of companies in providing educational opportunities to employees in England and Scotland. The paper argues that employers have a key role to play in driving and investing in employee training and development. However, the current focus of employers on formal educational opportunities appears narrowly focused on job‐specific, in‐house training.


The paper's value lies in its illustration of the restricted focus of the lifelong learning policy agenda on the development of human capital, which not only limits the development of portable skills and qualifications for employees, but also undermines the broader aims of lifelong learning.



Ahlgren, L. and Engel, L.C. (2011), "Lifelong learning through SMEs: exploring workplace learning in the UK", Journal of Workplace Learning, Vol. 23 No. 5, pp. 331-348.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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