Modern Learning and UK Productivity

This post is me thinking out loud. I’ve not formulated clarity on where this is heading, and intend to use this piece to explore as I write.

Last week, I read this piece from Steve Toft about the national living wage and the productivity challenge. I’ve been thinking some insights that Steve draws on:

 the severely affected firms are already less likely to train people.

The low stock of skills amongst those affected by the new National Living Wage, and the relative lack of access to in-work training, means that businesses and the Government will have to act to make sure that workplace productivity rises alongside the new regulated wage.

despite inflation and a larger workforce, training investment is more of less the same as it was two years ago.

Allow me to take a side step from this opening for a moment.

A lot of us in the social space and conference space have been banging a drum for some time now where we have been promoting and advocating for modern ways of supporting learning at work. Pretty much every week there are several pieces being written about this very topic.

One of the perennial challenges we have had with ‘selling’ learning in organisations is that we can’t ever really prove ROI. That direct causal link is fraught with variables that you just can’t control for and therefore make it unproveable. In maths, a simple equation of 2+2=4 is direct and causal. There’s no arguing with the logic, the assumption, and the outcome. Workplace learning just isn’t causal in that way. Most of what we do, at best, has a supportive capacity. Most workplace learning can support individual development, but to claim it supports business performance is quite a stretch.

It seems to me that there’s an opportunity for UK business (arguably any business in any part of the world) to start taking more notice of how modern learning takes place in order to support productivity.

You see, a fundamental part of productivity is not just having the requisite skills and knowledge to do stuff that support economic growth, but also the ability to learn new skills and develop new thinking to continue to do more and better. That’s where the developing skill set of L&D lies – and the opportunity to provide better relevance of what we do in supporting productivity.

Is it important for people to be better managers, to be better negotiators or to be better data analysts? Yes, of course it is. But when it comes to workplace learning, most of what people want to know is how to do their job better. Writing reports, conducting meetings, designing things, building things, managing things, these are what tend to keep people occupied at work. Modern workplace learning helps us to understand that there are multitude of ways in which people can access and share knowledge which helps them to be more productive, we just don’t readily know about them, nor do we have the right organisational cultures that support these.

This is not an argument to suggest that businesses don’t pay for or provide formal training. Of course that’s important. But that’s not the only way to provide workplace learning. With some care, thought, and strategy, you can provide very smart ways of providing workplace learning which mean that people can continue to be productive without it being a prohibitive cost.

I understand the cynicism of introducing the national living wage amongst a discreet group. However, I also see that there are better ways of providing workplace learning which are modern, creative and can effectively meet the need that is so seemingly needed in the UK today.


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Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

7 thoughts on “Modern Learning and UK Productivity”

  1. I wonder if the same forces that make “things that don’t have ‘provable’ ROI” are the same forces that stop there being slack in the system to allow for people to learn in the workplace?

    For example, work I’m doing at the moment with collaboration within organizations has found on the one hand a reticence to allow people to play around and experiment (that’s not “proper” productive work), but that playing around and experimenting is often what allows people to find new ways of working…

  2. I think part of issue in the learning/productivity mix is in that statement “Most workplace learning can support individual development, but to claim it supports business performance is quite a stretch”…

    In most informal on the job learning you wouldn’t argue so. Learning on the job by its nature normally supports business performance, or at least is meant to.

    I really wonder if L&D have lost sight that all workplace learning (especially that commissioned by L&D) must support business performance?

    1. I think one of the main challenges you present here, David, is that a lot of L&D activity tends to be about :
      – compliance
      – product training
      – personal skills development
      – interpersonal skills
      – leadership / management

      It’s almost that we need to go back to grassroots and provide performance support first and foremost. Once we have that, we can then build and support it further with the above list.

      Or that the above list is an integrated part of work life so it’s not seen as a separate set of activities, but business as normal

      1. Yes & no I think… I’ve shared recently how I think performance always was a part of the L&D role but L&D have forgotten (will blog on it). At the same time the activities you illustrate have value and should be a focus of L&D (appropriate to context) so they can’t wait for L&D to be ready…
        I think it has to demand that L&D take ownership for what they oversee/deliver and the performance impact. It’s the only way to assure investment/focus on value adding activities rather than hobbies or nice to haves.

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