Staff at small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) get the most benefit from on-the-job learning rather than taught courses or structured training programmes, according to the Learning and Skills Development Agency (LSDA).
The LSDA is the government body set up to improve the quality of post-16 education and training in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Its research found that much valuable learning takes place at work, but is often not recognised as ‘learning’ in the usual sense because it happens informally.
This informal learning took the form of talking to colleagues and staff from other companies, watching demonstrations, reading books and trade magazines, or attending conferences and seminars.
The report said learning providers – colleges and training organisations – needed to fine tune what they offer to focus on providing bespoke services for SMEs that support individual business needs.
Increased market specialisation meant that SMEs have a narrowing band of generic needs and a broadening band of specific needs that are not easily catered for by colleges or training organisations, the research found.
Developing supervisors and other employees as mentors, coaches and advisers, rather than providing standard courses, was one way of achieving this as it helped staff to become better at supporting learning in their organisations.
Maria Hughes, Research manager at LDSA, said: “This suggests that there is a need to target resources to support a wide range of employees who have some responsibility for learning in their companies to become better trainers or learning facilitators.
“Colleges and training organisations need to take these messages on board and focus on providing support for businesses rather than a set menu of courses.”