Learning at Work Day: Who did what?

On
Thursday 20 May, thousands of organisations across the country took part in
Learning at Work Day to promote the benefits of learning, as Linda Pettit
reports

Learning
at Work Day, which many companies opted to run as a promotional week, was spearheaded
by the Campaign for Learning to encourage companies to demonstrate their
commitment to staff development by giving them a break from the work routine
and the chance to learn a new skill.

Activities
laid on by various organisations varied from work-related taster courses in IT,
creative thinking or numeracy and literacy skills, to the more
out-of-the-ordinary, such as flamenco dancing, singing, painting and Indian
head massage.

The
feedback from participating companies was very positive. Some found the day had
broken down organisational barriers, with staff starting to mix with a new
group of people. Others said it had been a valuable bonding experience, with
employees appreciating their company’s efforts to provide something different.

For
further details log on to:

www.learndirect.co.uk
www.dfes.gov.uk/readwriteplus/workplace
www.campaignforlearning.org.uk

Association
of University Teachers (AUT)

Around
50 staff from AUT’s headquarters, regional offices and local associations
enjoyed taster sessions during Learning at Work day, including yoga, salsa,
sign language, Italian and vocal techniques.

“We
work for an organisation that promotes the rights of workers in higher
education and that encourages lifelong learning through our union learning fund
project, so why not bring it into our workplace too?” says Susie Crawley, AUT
training and development officer.

“Nearly
50 people left the day having learned a new skill, which is brilliant. The
demand for more sessions as well as requests to continue the yoga and sign
language was also outstanding.”

The
AUT operates an employee development scheme (EDS) which enables staff to
undertake non-vocational learning and to focus on their personal development,
health and wellbeing and stress management.

“Most
of the tutors involved in the taster sessions came from organisations where
staff have benefited from EDS,” says Crawley. “The taster sessions were
designed to encourage a greater take up of EDS while providing an opportunity
for staff to work with each other in a non-traditional and fun environment.”

As
a result of Learning at Work day, the take-up of EDS has increased by a third.

Highlight
of the day? “Being able to do something with people you don’t normally work
with and seeing them all progress and develop and learn something new. New and
ongoing relationships have built up as a result,” says Crawley.

Boots

This
was the first time high-street pharmacist Boots participated in Learning at
Work day, but Janine Goodwin, client manager, logistics HR, says the company is
already planning to run the day again next year.

Through
the company’s Lifelong Learning centre at head office in Nottingham, a number
of events were organised including salsa lessons. “There was loud music and
lots of swivelling hips. Around 50 head office employees joined in with Carlos
in two 20-minute sessions on the basics of salsa dancing,” says Goodwin. “The
classes proved so popular that we are now in the process of making it a weekly
session.”

There
were also job swaps and quizzes. “Our warehousing and distribution network
employees took part in a variety of events organised locally by union learning
representatives,” says Goodwin. The quizzes were very popular in canteens with
some warehouses organising a fiercely fought out competition for locally
donated prizes.”

The
people’s college in Nottingham staged a pavilion at Boots’ head office to talk
to employees about the range of courses being offered locally. “All in all, it
was a very worthwhile event.”

As
a result, the lifelong learning provision will be made available to employees
in distribution centres in Rochdale and Heywood, and an intranet site is also
being planned to keep staff at Nottingham up-to-date with the courses and
activities available.

“We
are also recruiting and developing new union learning representatives to work
out in units and keep learning alive,” says Goodwin.

Highlight
of the day? “Definitely the salsa class with Carlos – one participant completed
the class, and looking hot and red, said it was the best lunchtime treat she
had had in a long time.”  

Chesterfield
Borough Council

Taking
part in the Learning at Work event represented more than just an opportunity
for the council’s employees to learn something. “It illustrated a cultural
change in the council, and generated more change,” explains Jenny Caitlin,
learning and development, HR.

Under
a new chief executive and head of HR, the council is undergoing a process of
change, becoming much more open and supportive, and examining how it does
things, rather than just what those things achieve.

Six
months of planning culminated in a packed week-long programme for the 1,200
employees, including a mix of recreational activities, such as belly dancing
and yoga, and more work-related taster courses in using the internet,
Powerpoint, and a series of talks about local initiatives.

“It’s
been great fun and lots of work, and we too are trying to encourage and promote
the value and enjoyment of learning and development as key to managing change
in a changing world,” says Caitlin. As a follow up, the council plans to
introduce regular yoga and relaxation classes due to popular demand.  

Highlight
of the day? “The question and answer session. We had our chief executive, the
leader of the council, our local MP, and a representative from the Chamber of
Commerce and it was chaired by our new mayor. They were all really accessible
and interesting and we had a lot of questions from the audience,” says Caitlin.

East
Midlands Housing Association (EMHA)

EMHA
employs around 230 staff with a head office in Leicestershire and four area offices.
This was the first year the organisation got involved in Learning at Work day
and according to training manager Paul Timmins, the association was keen to do
something fun and different that got people interested in developing their
skills.

“We
hit on the idea of using a drama-based training organisation that uses comedy
and interactive drama to reinforce learning. We chose time management as the
topic as this is a generic need regardless of who you are and what you do.

“We
offered two three-hour taster sessions at our head office to which everyone
across the association was invited. One in six people took up the offer of the
half-day training and it went down a storm!

“The
day was a success on both an individual level and also on an organisational
level in terms of trying out a new technique of training provision and
motivating a sixth of the entire workforce in six hours.”

Highlight
of the day? Some of the comments that Timmins received about the day include:
“A very different approach, it was refreshing”; “A different and very effective
way of delivering training”; and “Should really help to progress my time
management skills”.

National
Blood Service

This
is the third year the National Blood Service has supported Adult Learning Week,
with its efforts growing each year. This year several hundred people across the
organisation took part.

The
resourcing, learning and development department, with the support of services
to donors trainers Lee Emmerson and Mike Lees, put together a full programme at
various UK sites.

This
included a lunch and presentation by The Royal Society for the Protection of
Birds; an internet/intranet drop-in session for improving skills;
Careconnect/Learndirect courses taster sessions for employees to view with
potential sign-up for courses in IT and management; seminars on local history;
accounts of personal travel; and discussions on scuba diving.

There
were also talks on vegetable gardening, playing wind instruments, line dancing
and reiki healing, as well as seminars on voluntary work with children and
choir singing.

The
day was quite informal, says national induction co-ordinator Abina Bastin.
People were encouraged to talk to others in the corridor and ask them what they
did, others visited departments they hadn’t had any experience of and learned
about different people’s jobs.

“It
was a bit more about the organisation and not just the people, and how they fit
in with others. We want to develop it and go out to teams and encourage people
to give presentations and get to know each other more.”

Highlight
of the day? “The girl who did a presentation on her travels to Nepal. She’d
never done a presentation before, and didn’t think she could. But she was so
enthusiastic about the country that she wanted to tell people about it. At the
end she said she’d do it again next year,” says Bastin.

Skipton
Building Society

The
building society has run Adult Learner Days for several years, and this year it
offered a full programme of events over the course of a week for its 650 staff
at the Skipton headquarters.

Training
consultant Angela Scarisbrick says that staff with particular talents or
hobbies were encouraged to take sessions, demonstrating and teaching their
colleagues. Other sessions were hosted by people from local colleges or companies.
For example, two employees took a rhythm and swing class, another held a guitar
lesson, while another gave talks on taking holiday snaps, and another on French
culture.

There
were also hypnosis demonstrations, a jewellery-making class, creative thinking
sessions and an image consultant discussing presenting yourself in a business
environment. Creative writing sessions, first aid, Italian lessons and African
drumming completed the varied line-up that attracted up to 25 people for each
session.

“We
weren’t disappointed with the attendance, because it was more than we’ve had in
the past. It was a busy time for the business and the feedback we had was very
positive,” says Scarisbrick.

The
training department issued feedback forms asking which regular classes
employees would like provided by the company. “In the past, we’ve run salsa
classes and tai-chi. We’re currently offering yoga, French, Spanish and Chinese
and we’re looking at offering another exercise class.”

Highlight
of the day? “The African drumming – it was the most noisy and attracted the
most interest. It was held near our coffee area and was well attended. You
couldn’t miss it!”

Stroud
and Swindon Building Society

The
Gloucester-based building society was another that opted for a Learning at Work
week, rather than a day.

Activities
kicked off with the learning development and HR departments sending out a
learning pack to all branches and head office departments. The pack, which can
be used beyond the Learning at Work week, contained learning information and
handouts including the schedule of the week’s activities taking place at head
office, balloons and learning stickers.

It
also had some workplace activities, including the learning chain and bingo for
everyone to take part in. One activity included having to draw a pig, followed
by a psychological assessment of the drawing. “That went down well,” says
Jackie Kenny, HR assistant, learning and development.

A
Learning 4 Business room was set up at head office, which was open all week for
employees to visit. It had resource materials as well as bite-size pieces of
learning information and handouts. This room was also equipped with a giant
4-in-a-row game and giant Jenga. The room has now become a permanent resource
in the company.

Employees
were encouraged to get involved in the organisation of events for the week. For
example, Helen Price from the company’s filing department took organised daily
‘Scanning Showrounds’, with demonstrations of a new, high-tech scanning system.
Stroud Book Shop and Stroud Children’s Bookshop also lent various educational
and learning materials for employees to browse through during the week.

As
well as several in-house training sessions and workshops, other sessions
included ‘How to care for your nails’, Japanese embroidery, ghost hunting and
reiki and Indian head massage.

Highlight
of the week? “It had to be the giant Jenga, which really got the team spirit
going, although the pressure was on the individuals taking out the pieces,”
says Kenny.

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