/nb/file/workplace-learning-summaryWorkplace learning: summary
While most of Europe devoted August to holidays, at EPALE we discussed how the work place is an important learning environment. Maybe not for starting a course on Medieval philosophy, or for learning how to order a coffee in a foreign country but still workplace learning is associated with a broad range of learning opportunities, not solely confined to work-related technical skills. On the EPALE platform our content focused on a number of key themes.
Organisation of work
One of our publications was about what constitutes a successful workplace learning environment.
Ulrik Brandi and Rosa Lisa Iannone argued that it is not just a matter of providing courses or learning opportunities: success relies heavily on the organisation of work. This encompasses the setups, channels and strategies adopted to internally support production, communication and general performance of the enterprise. When analysing these features, we can identify the coordinated efforts of work that lay the foundation of providing employees with opportunities to develop coherent and informal competences.
It is very important whether the organisation of work is stimulating for learning. For instance, if the work solely concerns routine tasks, employees are not really encouraged to learn. Another aspect is that the learning should have some form of benefit for the employee in terms of career progression. Finally, learning is stimulated by employees taking autonomy over their work.
Based on their work Brandi and Iannone’s most important recommendation is to promote policies that strengthen HR leadership and hence can change how companies situate learning within the organisation of work.
Basic skills and workplace learning
Alex Stevenson dedicated his article to how the work place can help to tackle Europe’s need for improved basic skills. The issue of basic skills learning through the workplace has become a much debated topic.
Alex showcased the results of a three-year Erasmus+ project on the topic. The key result is a ‘European Roadmap’ for work-related basic skills. As well as summarising the main lessons of the project, it highlights ways in which policymakers, providers and practitioners can take forward and develop basic skills in the work place. Among these are:
- Developing national frameworks, sustained funding, and a clear definition of basic skills – these provide an enabling environment in which providers can develop a clear offer to employers.
- Professionalisation of the trainers – effective work-related basic skills teaching and learning is oriented towards the workplace and uses relevant approaches, e.g. integrating the learning into workplace tasks.
- Engagement of all relevant stakeholders – work-related basic skills requires close partnership working between training providers and employers, as well as between practitioners and employees/learners, to tailor the content to meet the needs of all involved.
Being non-formal, we know little about work-based learning
Thematic coordinator Andrew McCoshan critically assessed what type of learning is taking place in workplace learning and what we actually know about it. He argues that workplace learning is usually non-formal and that for this reason there is little knowledge about what is actually learned, how much learning is taking place, and how quality is assured. Of course, there are national and European statistics (such as the Labour Force Survey), but these shed little light on some important caveats. For instance, in these statistics there are major gender gaps and major differences concerning educational attainment levels. People with a high level of educational attainment are more likely to have their non-formal instruction sponsored by employers.
Concerning the quality, there is also little insight. A recent Cedefop report pointed out, employers often lack knowledge “on the areas in which they should invest with respect to their personnel and a lack of strategies for investing in workplace learning". In addition, little is known about how the private training markets operate and what their strengths and weaknesses are. Furthermore, many employers, especially SMEs, would probably value support in identifying their training needs and in sourcing high-quality training providers.
This could also be seen as an opportunity for adult educators and public sector providers to share their skills and expertise. In some countries, like the UK, the design and provision of short courses for employers is already an important part of the work of adult education providers.
Simon Broek has been involved in several European research projects on education, labour market issues and insurance business. He advised the European Commission, the European Parliament and European Agencies on issues related to education policies, lifelong learning, and labour market issues, and is Managing Partner at Ockham Institute of Policy Support.