What's all this about learning?

Jul 12 2007 by Charles Helliwell Print This Article

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.

A better educated workforce might just see their jobs for what they really are

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.


About The Author

Charles Helliwell
Charles Helliwell

For almost 20 years, Charles Helliwell has been enjoying a lifestyle and making a living as a behavioural and relationship mentor specialising in the personal and professional development of individuals and teams in the workplace.

Older Comments

I've always thought this is a ridiculous movement by management. If you went to a doctor who hadn't learned anything new since exiting medical school, you'd horribly upset. What makes companies think they are better served by employees who stop learning the minute they're hired?

Liz Fraley San Jose, CA

A business becomes profitable when it becomes a trusted and easily recognised 'brand'. Sucessful interaction between people - Administration and all levels of staff; staff and clientele; the business and the community - are the means by which a business increases its share of a particular market, and becomes attractive to investors. Investors are not just wanting a share in the profits of a business, but to also be part of the cachet that a successful business creates around itself. Success 'rubs off'. Success attracts more success. If a business really wants to grow, it has to anticipate change and accomodate the ways in which it can be implemented and still manage to keep and attract the kind of staff which best promote successful transactions with the clientele. It still is called 'Public Relations', I believe. Professional Development, or Professional Learning has to be more than just another function on the 'must be done' list each member of each department has in order to progress to positions where they can be involved in the future directions planning and decision making process of the business. Unfortunately these are usually learnt by trial and error, in a progression of workplaces. Very few businesses have seen the need to keep loyal, committed and productive staff, with profits always considered as the bottom line, and these enterprising individuals (performance-oriented and consistently productive individuals especially) are nearly always 'head-hunted' by more enterprising businesses who are prepared to reward them financially and materially to change their allegiance. When an employee feels valued and important to the future directions of the business which employs them; when they enjoy coming to work each day and fulfilling their duty statement, then productivity is assured. Individual work contracts, if properly managed, are one way in which staff are able to feel involved in what they are required to do each day, and the rewards which they can expect, and they will also need assistance to have their career paths identified and advanced. they must have access to qualified skills training, especially interpersonal skills. New technologies have to be implemented and the skills to manipulate them acquired. Conflict resolution and assertivness training are other skills which are necessary in a productive workplace. Any business which enables its employees to gain these valuable workplace skills, and which recognises initiative and individual needs, will usually be able to keep the loyalties of valued staff, especially if attention is also focussed on providing a comfortable and stimulating working environment. These are areas where Professional Learning must not only made available, but also implemented in a meaningful way. Most organisations talk about these processes but are not prepared to invest in them, expecting employees to acquire them almost by osmosis, from other staff who supposedly will pass them on in the course of normal contact during the course of the working day, or, even worse, when a crisis makes them essential in order for problems to be successfully resolved. It was isnpiring to read Sir Richard Branson's view of the workplace - the staff come first, who will in turn look after the clientele who appreciates the extra mile treatment and whose loyalty and recommendation by word of mouth will see the stock-holders are consistently satisfied with t heir annual dividends. No wonder he is so successful and people of all ages would practically kill to work for one of his companies! He and others like him (the new C.E.O of Marks and Sparks comes to mind) have seen the workplace and business of the future and the valued employee is an integral part of it. Futire Professional Learning will need to be more than just a nice idea, it must be considered a priority!

Kenya Lowther Perth, Australia

I think that monster job search is a great site for looking for a job, but it could do with having jobs that are nearer home. I live in Godalming Surrey and don't drive and have to rely on public transport which is not always reliable.

Anne Aitken Godalming