Importance of Workplace Learning for Skill Development

Workplace learning is defined as a learning or training undertaken in the workplace. Image source: depositphotos
Workplace learning is defined as a learning or training undertaken in the workplace. Image source: depositphotos
Gazi Mahbubul Alam
Written by Gazi Mahbubul Alam

Workplace learning is defined as a learning or training undertaken in the workplace, usually on the job, including on-the-job training under normal operational conditions, and on-site training, which is conducted away from the work process (e.g. in a training room).

As can be seen from the key findings, workplace learning should provide the skills leading to the capacity to innovate. Innovation has become a key concept in the ability of firms to be competitive. In the ‘ideal’ workplace learning situation, a systemic approach involving networks and partnerships is critical.

Effective workplace learning should provide enterprises with the capacity to innovate. It is evidenced that the advent of globalisation of economy has changed the nature of products and services demanded, as well as the technologies and forms of communication required. This has required changes in enterprises and “demands more skilled, dynamic and innovative work” in order for them to be competitive and to stimulate productivity improvements. Workplace change is to be a major driver of training in organisations. In addition, they found that other environmental and moderating factors affect levels of training. Further, the way the drivers and moderating factors interact determines what sort of training would take place in the organisation.

Training for innovation

The Commonwealth has acknowledged the importance of innovation and has released an innovation strategy document called Backing Australia’s ability: An innovation action plan for the future. It argues that ‘success in the 21st century will depend mostly on the innovative capacity of nations, their industries and their research and educational structures’, and acknowledges the importance of skills development in this process. The document also stresses the importance of research, science and technology.

There are opportunities for the vocational education and training (VET) system to develop closer links with the innovation system by forming stronger networks with co-operative research centres. These centres are committed to achieving research outcomes which can be used commercially. Vocational education and training can benefit from closer links to this system by gaining increased awareness of the skill needs of emerging industries. In turn, the centres can benefit from VET’s links with industry, and the expertise of VET in designing and delivering courses, to enable the widespread application of innovations.

Workplace learning

Supporting and valuing a culture of learning in the workplace is important because ongoing learning is needed to survive in a time of increasing competition. The workplace is the key site for the development of generic skills such as communication, problem-solving, teamwork, information technology and customer service skills. These skills are critical in today’s workplace, particularly those concerned with employability, and the culture of the workplace needs to assist individuals to effectively develop or use these skills.

Informal workplace learning

Another major issue arising from the research relates to the importance of informal learning. Informal learning has been under recognised both in terms of reporting in statistics and its importance as a valid form of workplace learning. The term ‘informal learning’, however, is somewhat misleading. It is argued that both formal and informal learning are valuable to skill formation, and it is important to find the right balance between them. In a study of workplace trainers, it was found informal workplace learning to be of central importance and, furthermore, that there was an inter-relationship between learning and work.

That is to say, informal workplace learning is not merely an ad hoc process, but part of a deliberate strategy which takes into account the work which needs to be done and the skills needed to do the work. This may, for example, involve giving employees a variety of tasks, or arranging the work in a manner which maximises learning opportunities. Informal workplace learning is of particular importance to small businesses. Various studies have found that, contrary to available statistics, there is a considerable amount of training taking place in small businesses, although it tends to be informal.

For example it is pointed out that small businesses are committed to training but lack the internal resources to undertake more formal approaches. It is further noted to the fact that small businesses rely to a large extent on informal learning as a way of achieving immediate business needs. He also argues that in the future more attention should be paid to developing formal approaches. It is argued that formal and informal learning should be used together, with informal learning amplifying the value of formal learning. Networks, partnerships and supply chains are used to facilitate training.

Systemic approach

Learning in the workplace is not just something that happens, but is part of a wider system. This system consists of the enterprise and its managers, the individual, the external training provider, and other organisations such as government and community bodies.

Changes in the nature of work have seen businesses shift from stand-alone enterprises to production networks and supply chains. These supply chains can be seen as a network involving the suppliers for an enterprise, the enterprise and its employees, and its customers. Effective management and integration of these supply chains is an important ingredient to business success as it can, for example, reduce costs. However, supply chains can also be used to facilitate learning in enterprises. Indeed, for 2001-2002, 24 per cent of businesses that offered structured training used equipment manufacturers as providers. Conversely, businesses can also benefit from training their suppliers. As small businesses are a major supplier of goods and services to other businesses, they would also benefit from this training. Alternatively, some enterprises are requiring suppliers to demonstrate that staff have undertaken accredited training in relation to the goods and services produced.

E-learning in general can be seen as a valuable tool in networking. Apart from the important role it has to play in integrating supply chains, it can also assist in the sharing of information. The internet can be used as a forum for people to exchange ideas, discuss work and share what they have learnt. E-learning has become a major tool for training and learning in Australia and internationally.

Engagement by enterprises with the community can bring potential benefits to the enterprise, individuals and the community.

Workplace learning arrangements are important for employers in developing innovative capacity in enterprises. The main issues are: Developing a culture of learning-The ability to develop innovative capacity depends not only on the skills of the workforce, but on the internal environment of the enterprise and hence the culture of the workplace. While there is a diversity of ways these cultures can be implemented, an open communication style is an important feature of learning cultures.

Training linked to business strategy-There is much to be gained in aligning training and strategic planning in organisations wishing to improve performance.This alignment is a major driver of training in organisations. The training is aimed at improving the skills of employees and their ability to contribute to enterprise performance. E-learning is an important way of integrating learning with strategy.

Valuing all forms of training-There is a variety of training arrangements in enterprises and these should all be valued, taking into account the circumstances surrounding the enterprise. This includes informal learning, which plays an important role in learning in enterprises, particularly in small enterprises.

Customising training to increase skill levels-Training should be customised to the level of individual employees and to increase the skill levels of managers. Amongst other things noted the importance of creating managerial climates valuing innovation and diversity. The Frontline Management Initiative was developed to provide managers with the requisite skills to enable them to develop a culture of innovation.

  Importance of networks and partnerships-Networks and partnerships are seen as being particularly important in the innovation process. An example of this is networking and learning from suppliers and customers on issues which can result in improvements to processes and products and services. E-learning is valuable in developing these networks. Engagement by enterprises with the community has also been shown to bring benefits to enterprises, communities and individuals.

About the author

Gazi Mahbubul Alam

Gazi Mahbubul Alam

Dr. Gazi mahbubul Alam is a faculty member of the Department of Educational Management, Planning & Policy, Faculty of Education, University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

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