Carrot or stick?

Lifelong learning is a good idea in principle, but how can it be realised
within the workplace? Simon Kent eavesdropped on the recent Employer Skills
Summit as it shared some candid views

Integrating training into the workforce is no mean feat, particularly for
those attempting to reach the holy grail of a learning organisation.

Training specialists are battling with a variety of perceptions of what
learning is, and this often includes extreme reluctance – half the UK workforce
believes that learning is nothing to do with them, according to a recent poll.

However, the big guns – in the shape of the NTO National Council – are out
to tackle this in force. In autumn 2000 they held the first of what will be an
annual Employer Skills Summit. The day brought together employers, trainers and
commentators from across employment sectors, together with the chief
politicians responsible for this area from each party. The summit provided the
opportunity for all concerned to debate a cross-sector approach to the
development of skills within the workforce.

One of the main talking points proved to be the issue of lifelong learning
and in particular, how this concept could be made a reality in today’s organisations.

Malcolm Wicks MP, Secretary of State for Lifelong Learning

When I hear myself speak I occasionally think, "I mustn’t make lifelong
learning sound like a life sentence".

I can think of one 14-year-old kid I saw who was having a wonderful time
finding out about car mechanics with a trained supervisor. Previously, when he
wasn’t being expelled from school, he was playing truant. He was now learning –
but we shouldn’t tell him he was learning in case he thought twice about it.

I think it is similar for some of the adult population, in terms of skills
and training – it is about how you present it. I take some of those Mori polls
about people who don’t want to do learning with a pinch of salt because they
probably think that we are going to send them back to school or college.

One of the great challenges is how to take learning out to the community.
Wonderful examples exist of people being taught in chapels and schools and pubs
and curry houses and stables and all sorts of places.

That’s the challenge for suppliers – how to deliver learning in the future.

Alec McPhedran, Corporate learning and development manager, Railtrack

Lifelong learning has become one of the new buzzwords, however, one of the
things that does concern me is what is the point of evangelising about
learning, particularly when according to a recent Mori publication, 50 per cent
of the workforce says that nothing would persuade them to take up learning.

As a jobbing trainer myself, I can only respond based on managers providing
me with the people and circumstances to train. I believe we have to educate
managers and employers and show that the onus sits with them. We in training
simply provide a service. We need to educate people what learning is about.

Also, we have to be careful where we associate learning with passing tests
or qualifications simply to either get a job or keep a job. Learning should be
fun, learning should be enjoyable, but all too often it is linked to stress and
pressure while doing your job, in order to achieve something that simply makes
you keep your job.

Stephen Tilsley, managing director, Metsec

The wording around lifelong learning is important. We failed our first
Investors in People assessment on a similar issue. We’d done three or four days
of training on the job and the assessor came in and asked the employees what
sort of learning and training they’d had. They said they hadn’t had any because
their view of training is to go to a country house and go on a course. In a
sense we’d been using the wrong words.

There is sometimes a problem with training taking time away from business
activity, but, in my view, if training is part of the business plan and a clear
requirement, then no matter what the pressures are, that training must take
place. We have to find a way to manage operational work around that training
time.

John Monks, general secretary TUC, vice-president of Learning at Scottish
Power

Most people would probably regard their educational experience as not being
successful or maybe as a bit of a flop. If you didn’t gain a clutch of A-levels
or good GCSEs, you may think learning is a pretty unpleasant experience.

As you get older, you are more careful about putting yourself in situations
where you might fail, in your own eyes and in the eyes of your peers.

Where we have cracked it with employers – and often employers have done it
with a union – is that we’ve got a group of enthusiasts who start and then the
sense of emulation takes over. At any one time at Scottish Power we’ve got 70
per cent of the staff doing some sort of flexible learning.

It can be done, but you need to get that momentum going so that someone sees
somebody else doing something or getting an opportunity and they think,
"Well, maybe I could do that".

Denise Hall, head of government, health and education services, BT

We have to address lifelong learning and it does seem that we have to
recognise and embrace basic skills. There are many examples in colleges,
particularly where they’re trying very hard to ensure they can entice people by
offering to train them on things they want to do and through that, gain skills
that are more necessary.

It seems that there are three dimensions to the problem. Some of it is about
location – it’s about making sure that people can get the training where they
want it. Secondly, it’s about the way people learn and addressing that in
imaginative ways. Finally, some of it is about making sure people who train
live in an environment in which young people are actually going to work and
live.

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