Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Case study: SkillsForge

Warwick SkillsForge was developed to be a single online platform for University stakeholders (training providers, postgraduate research students [PGRs], academic and departmental support staff) to communicate, promote and support professional development across the institution.

Active communications with stakeholders from December 2016, with the externally secured platform build, culminated in a successful launch of Warwick Skillsforge to the required specifications (and with institutional feedback) to the project timeline for the academic year 2017-18. Warwick SkillsForge developments continue based on engagement with the Academy into 2018-19.

Department(s) / colleagues involved

Academic Departments, Graduate School, IT Services, Student Careers and Skills (SCS), Doctoral Training Centres (CADRE, PGCTSS, ESRC DTC/P), Research and Impact Services, Governance, International Student Office, Learning and Development Centre, Library, Public Engagement Team, Research Software Engineering Team, Wellbeing Support Services.

Our aim was to …

Provide a single online platform to support PGRs in their professional development. UKRI (RCUK) recommend that doctoral students undertake approx. 10 days of professional development. The results of the Postgraduate Research Experience Survey (PRES) in 2013 showed that support for professional development was the single largest area of dissatisfaction for PGRs. In response, the University developed the Framework introduced in 2015 to set out expectations for all PGR students. The need for a technical solution to support this was seen as imperative to engagement with the Framework and professional development as a whole and as an institution (from the Board of Graduate Studies) allows review of offerings both centrally and within academic departments.

What we did …

  • Communicated with academic departments on the Framework from December 2016 by academic staff meetings and attending staff student liaison committees (SSLC’s)
  • Worked with central training providers to build the event management system
  • Worked with Student Careers and Skills to form the Warwick Development Needs Analysis (DNA)
  • Worked with SkillsForge to build the external system to Warwick’s requirements
  • Developed Warwick SkillsForge based on University stakeholder feedback; this continues to date

Warwick SkillsForge was launched in September 2017:

  • It allows PGRs to have a single source of evidence of all professional development undertaken by: completing a Development Needs Analysis; finding and booking onto training courses or events for skills development; recording their own skills activities; recording a 300 word reflective report on professional development and complete feedback on booked training courses
  • It allows supervisors, Director of Graduate Studies and departmental support staff to view professional development activities across the department and also produce reports on engagement with the Framework
  • It allows central training providers to advertise, event manage, and report on training courses offered
  • This results in an institutional overview of training provision to inform future planning, and will enable a common high-level quality benchmark for all training provision booked through SkillsForge


  • IT Services business analysis and legal/procurement support (before tender and contract signed)/ information security and data compliance support before launch
  • Financial resourcing for internal project management (2 days per week – Graduate School) for 12 months
  • A dedicated PGR Professional Development officer 0.95 FTE on the project [Graduate School) for 18 months (now permanent)
  • Stakeholder support for monthly Project Boards for 18 months including representation from ITS, SkillsForge, SITS, Graduate School, providers (CADRE/SCS/LDC) and PGR representation
  • Financial resourcing for external system - SkillsForge per year (ITS)
  • Four faculty departments voluntarily supporting user testing inc. PGRs, academic staff, support staff, (Classics and Ancient History [Arts] / Politics and International Studies [Social Sciences] / Warwick Medical School [WMS] / School of Life Sciences [Sciences])
  • System development financial support from Graduate School and SPI. ITS continued support for system developments, updates and Moodle integration


The outcome has been …

SkillsForge has been received positively by departments and central services who are actively engaged in realising the aim of creating a single portal.

Since the launch, Warwick SkillsForge has had 1,822 users log in, with 1,768 of these being PGRs; 588 bookable events are held in SkillsForge by 18 providers and departments, and 8,388 activities have been self-recorded by PGRs in 28 departments.

Seven academic departments are able to host departmental activities within SkillForge, and more departments are communicating that they would like this functionality.

The benefit/impact has been …

PGRs have a single platform that signposts and allows activities on professional development to be booked and recorded in one place. This means a single place for PGRs and supervisors (who wish to guide PGRs) to go to, streamlining where information is held, and going a long way to establishing a one-stop shop for all professional development activities.

The next test of impact will be the PRES in 2019 when we will be able to see how we score on professional development compared to previous survey results.

This supports the Education Strategy by …

  • Supporting the commitment to the provision of a consistent high-quality education experience for PGRs equitably across the institution
  • Supporting PGRs to have an excellent understanding of their field and produce a well-written, well-argued thesis which makes a substantial, original contribution to knowledge
  • Supporting PGRs to be able to articulate persuasively, and deploy effectively, the (transferable) knowledge, skills and experiences they gain during their postgraduate research; considering the range of post-doctoral career options open to them and feel supported in planning their career
  • Supporting staff and PGRs in developing a strong sense of research integrity: ethical and respectful of diversity
  • Allowing PGRs to engage in a range of opportunities within and outside of the curriculum
  • Allowing training provision to be reviewed for relevance and development of graduate attributes both centrally and within departments
  • Building upon student-facing systems within the Student Personalised Information (SPI) programme to enhance the PGR experience, streamline and integrate existing systems to allow for seamless user experiences

The response of students / staff has been …

Very positive. We have gathered feedback, both positive and constructive by a variety of means: four Faculty user testing groups; PGR focus groups and forums; central training provider forums; PGR, supervisor and central training provider annual surveys; attending staff meetings, attending Staff Student Liaison Committees (SSLCs); one-to-one meetings with departmental representatives (both PGR and academic); drop-in sessions, presenting at SPI Administrator lunches, and presenting at inductions and PG conferences.
This active engagement with both university stakeholders both before the system launch and after has not only allowed the system to be designed based on feedback from providers and therefore encouraged two way communication between central service and departments which has been seen favourably, but also allowed an agile build to the platform to response to needs in a timely manner.

Our next steps will be …

  • Setting up a PGR focus group to review the PGR survey results that they would like to see an Award or Certificate at Warwick across the institution for professional development (avg. 95 out of 107 responded - Yes)
  • Develop the two SPI funded projects of 1) including Sciences Doctoral Skills Programmes (DSP) forms in SkillsForge and 2) include SkillsForge booked events into the MyWarwick app timetable – both of these developments came from PGR and departmental request
  • Reviewing SkillsForge and its potential use for including other students or early career researchers (e.g. PDRAs)
  • Reviewing SkillsForge in terms of its added functionality e.g. supervisory meeting recording or progression monitoring
  • Pausing further system development, following user feedback, to allow time for Warwick SkillsForge to embed further
  • The system is in contract for three years from December 2016, so a review will be required in 2019 to establish whether this continues to be our preferred solution

To find out more, you can contact …

Tracy Horton – PGR Professional Development Officer (Graduate School – Academic Office)

T dot Horton at warwick dot ac dot uk