There's been an ever so subtle shift recently in the dynamics of workplace learning. "Training and development" has become "learning and development", with the emphasis on "learning". But what does this really mean - and will it have any impact on the majority of the working population?
The short answer is "no". It's great that organisations appear to have begun to recognise the difference between training and learning, but the real proof of the pudding will be in actions rather than words - which is where the problems start.
Organisations have little, if any, intrinsic interest in providing learning for their employees. They can't measure or evaluate learning against their bottom line commitments. Learning doesn't necessarily make a worker any better at the task they are being paid to do - indeed, some would argue that the provision of learning actually inhibits productivity, providing as it does, choices which an individual may not currently be aware of.
No, there is absolutely no benefit at all to organisations providing learning in the workplace. After all, why would an organisation want to educate its workforce that there is life outside the workplace? A better educated workforce might just see their jobs for what they really are and consequently might leave to do something a bit more fulfilling and worthwhile.
So, why have organisations begun to present themselves as the vanguard advocates of learning and development? Simple. The new breed of corporate cannon-fodder just doesn't buy the same old arguments that worked so well on us and our forefathers.
They are smarter, wiser and altogether more astute. They demand more from their prospective employers and the workplace they inhabit. They realise that they are in a much more competitive environment where the average tenure in the average job is just 24-30 months.
Consequently, they're not going to buy the tired old arguments about working their way up through an organisation of snakes and ladders, where only the skilled and astute survive the annual cull.
Instead, they want to start building their work equity from day one - and who can blame them? Reliance on the virtuous generosity of an employer is no longer an option (not that it ever was - it just seemed that way). Instead of a pension based on financial investment, they are looking for an altogether more controllable investment in workplace equity - an equity based on their self-awareness and self-confidence in their skills and values.
Oh happy day ! If only we had reached this conclusion a little earlier in our own workplace learning, how different the workplace culture might be today.
So why is this the end of organisational culture as we know it ? Because you can't con a con. Workplace learning is not another name for on-the-job training. If it is to have any real value, it must be about making an investment in all workers to be the best they want to be, with no strings attached.
This is something that requires a contract of mutual trust and respect. It demands that organisations value their workforce not just for the jobs they do, but for the contributions they make. It fosters trust, honesty and integrity. It builds communities where opportunity is for all and the benefits of success are shared equally.
But isn't all this just the hypothetical mumbling of a Utopian dreamer? I don't think so. It could be the dawn of the new reality as espoused by the next generation – one from whom we have much to learn. But we will only see this reality if we can shake ourselves loose from the current shackles of convention and allow ourselves the same opportunities.