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Learning at Work

Key Documents , Embedded, Vocational, Workplace
Skills for Life Network

A research report on strategies for widening adult participation in learning below Level 2 via the workplace

Learning at work: strategies for widening adult participation in learning below Level 2 via the workplace was researched and written by Peter Bates, Will Hunt and Jim Hillage at the Institute for Employment Studies on behalf of LSDA.

The research aims to set out to identify the "drivers" and "facilitators" that motivate both employers and employees to get involved in education and training in the workplace.

There is no single factor that acts as an obstacle to workplace learning, the research concludes. But there are a number of barriers that, when combined, are significant. Key barriers are:

  • Most employers consider their main purpose is providing goods and services, not education or training.
  • Many employers, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), do not see the need for formal workplace training and prefer a more informal approach.
  • When training is encouraged, it is usually offered to those in higher level occupations. Those in the lowest skilled occupations are more likely to be expected to learn from each other, rather than through formal training.
  • The lack of any progression routes or job promotion prospects for some employees restricts employers’ willingness to provide training.
  • It is often difficult to organise staff release or fit training around shift patterns. Nor is the workplace a suitable location to deliver off-the-job training or education, in most cases.
  • Negative views of education, lack of confidence, the fear of being stigmatised and lack of awareness of opportunities are all barriers to learning experienced by employees with poor educational attainments.

Researchers found many examples of facilitators – specific actions that make it easier for employers and employees to get involved in learning activities at work. These include the following:

  • Marketing and promotion. Common techniques include personal contact with employers and employees, newsletters, flyers and posters. The use of ICT as a hook into learning is particularly effective. Example: When Southern Rail updated its customer IT infrastructure, its Passport to Learning scheme (a joint employer/union learning initiative) supported IT training courses in the workplace.
  • Brokerage and ‘learning champions’. Intermediaries, such as learning reps and guidance professionals, are seen as key to engaging the ‘hard to reach’ in learning. Example: An NVQ accredited qualification was established in the NHS to support the training of employees to act as tutors and champions of learning in the workplace.
  • Flexibility. The introduction of roll-on/roll-off education programmes, "bite-sized" courses, experiential learning, and online, electronic and blended learning are important facilitators. Example: Basic skills tutors working for the First Bus Learning Centre provide workshops and drop-in sessions to fit around employees’ work patterns.
  • Financial incentives. Fee remission and grants are available for some individual learners. Subsidies and funding for employers include the National Employer Training Programme. Many courses supported by the Learning and Skills Council (LSC), particularly those targeted at people with qualifications below Level 2 (five GCSEs) are free to individuals.
  • The removal of barriers alone, however, will not necessarily persuade employers or employees to get involved in learning activities. The research identified the need for a greater focus on drivers – those policies or other interventions that either influence the desire for learning among employers and employees, or stimulate education and training providers to supply it.

 

Drivers that stimulate learning in the workplace include:

  • quality standards such as Investors in People
  • corporate policies, such as the development of the skills escalator in the NHS
  • licenses to practice and legislation. The rules about minimum standards in the construction and care sectors, for instance, have had a positive effect on the demand for literacy and numeracy courses.

The research document is available from: Information Services, LSDA, Regent Arcade House, 19-25 Argyll Street, London W1F 7LS. Tel: 0207 297 9123. Email: enquiries@LSDA.org.uk. Alternatively, it can be downloaded from the LSDA website.

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