This paper discusses the ways in which employers view the contribution of work-based learning, how participating learners' experience the provision offered to them and how far work-based programmes can contribute to changing the discourse about learning from one of deficit to one of strengths. It draws on two complementary studies of work based learning undertaken by those regarded as having limited skills in order to discuss how the relationship between organisational culture, learner identity and learning opportunities impact in the workplace. It argues that encouraging learning that builds on employees' tacit knowledge and is shared vertically and horizontally across the workplace is likely to lead to increasing competence as it regards people as knowledge-rich rather than suffering from a skills-deficit. It suggests that learner identity is not static but is shaped by the interaction between the individual, the workplace culture and the activities in which people engage. It concludes that employers can influence the workplace culture positively as well as negatively and that it is in their own longer term interests to see the value of developing their employees capacities so that all can benefit from the new knowledge that is created.