About the grant fund

VocTech Challenge Impact Network + Grant Fund

Background

Ufi and Learning and Work Institute (L&W) came together in 2022 to explore how, at a time of rapid change in the UK economy and labour market, we could work in partnership to deliver a step-change in the numbers of adults taking part in learning and address the growing skills shortages holding back people, industry and regions across the UK.

Following extensive research we published our VocTech Challenge: Skills for an Economy in Transition Green and White Papers in 2023.

The White paper concluded:

"at this time of skills shortage and rapid economic transition, it is essential that everyone in the UK has the opportunity to develop the skills they need. By getting adults learning, including those currently not well served by mainstream provision, we will create the foundation for secure and equitable economic growth that gives everyone in the UK the capacity to thrive".

Our placed based collaborations in Aberdeen, Belfast, Hull and Newport helped us to identify three hard to solve problems in those places which are likely to be replicated nationally. We believe that technology can help solve these problems and have used them as the focus of this grant call.

We will use what we learn from this grant call, alongside the other ‘challenge’ workstreams to advocate for change in order to speed up the adoption and deployment of the kind of solutions the UK needs to get the skills it requires for a transitioning economy.

Our three Challenge questions

We are looking for bold, tech-led approaches to tackle one of three specific challenges:

  1. Employer integration:
    How can technology be used to integrate and reflect employers’ changing needs so that the skills of the available workforce better reflect the needs of local employers?
  2. Pathways into and within work:
    How can technology be used to increase the visibility, accessibility and uptake of pathways from learning into work, or from one type of work into another, particularly in regional growth sectors?
  3. Vocational language barriers:
    How can technology be used to support adults with in-demand vocational skills, but who don’t speak English as their first language, gain the industry-specific English required by employers?

We understand that these challenges do not exist in isolation - that is partly why they are so complex. Successful applicants will be expected to explore and consider connected issues as part of our work together; however they must concentrate on one challenge question for the application.

Purpose of the grant fund

The overall purpose is to grant fund a cohort of projects that use technology to tackle the three challenges we have identified. We want to be able to demonstrate how technology can catalyse larger scale sustainable change in adult skills provision so that the UK has the skills it needs.

This fund is not about the potential for impact. It is about changing how things are done to have a direct and tangible impact on learners during the period of funding, in a way that sustains when the funding has ended.

We know that solving these challenges will not be easy. That is why successful applicants will join our VocTech Challenge Impact Network, bringing together a network of stakeholders already actively tackling barriers to adult learning as part of the ongoing VocTech Challenge programme.

What we are looking for?

We are looking for bold ideas supported by imaginative and practical plans with the potential to radically increase adult participation in learning and training during the funding period, and to continue long after it ends.

Successful applications will focus on ideas which unlock potential in the communities, sectors, skill levels and places currently underserved by mainstream provision.

We understand that these challenges do not exist in isolation - that is partly why they are so complex. Successful applicants will be expected to explore and consider connected issues as part of our work together; however they must concentrate on one challenge question for the application.

This grant call is not about tech solutions and products in isolation. We are looking for ideas that are flexible, dynamic, adaptable and linked - not one solution for one problem for one employer. We are interested in ideas that look beyond a single product, supplier, organisation or service, and which create connections between different organisations and processes to demonstrate how people and structures could work together to address the challenges we have identified.

We are looking for ideas that can demonstrate a better way of tackling the challenges we have set out. Showing how, alongside people and processes, tech can improve how things are done and deliver better outcomes.

Ideas could be about how tech could improve and formalise ‘hacks’ or work arounds to an existing system or business process, or the development of completely new ways of working.

We are looking for ideas that support learners into real work and job opportunities, strengthening the link between skills training, local employment needs and actual jobs. Applications that talk about ‘pathways’ into work therefore must have real employers engaged locally. We won’t support projects that develop skills without a local need.

We are looking for applications with match funding to ensure the risk and commitment is shared between Ufi and the project. There is no set percentage of match funding and it can be cash or in kind. Tell us on your application what resources you will bring and what you need from us.

Whatever the idea, it must not add complexity or duplication into the existing skills system. As found in our Green and White papers, complexity, fragmentation and too many ‘systems inside a system’ are major barriers to change.

Who can apply?

This is an open grant call, so we are open to applications from all types of organisations, in line with our normal guidance.

We are looking for applications from organisations who want to be part of our VocTech Challenge Impact Network, and active movement for change that brings together a network of stakeholders already actively tackling barriers to adult learning as part of our ongoing VocTech Challenge programme.

Given the aims of this grant call we think it will be best suited to:

  • Collaborative groups of organisations and employers (with a lead applicant) where at least one partner has a strong track-record in working with the target community of learners, at least one has a strong development and learning design background, and an employer or employer group partner is involved.
  • Organisations/groups who are in touch with or delivering in the part of the skills system which they wish to change.
  • Organisations with a strong track-record in working with a community of learners, and a route to engaging employers/employer groups.
  • Organisations with a shared passion for Ufi’s mission.

Sound like the grant is for you

Find out more about the Impact Network, or return to the grant fund main page.