Just the job

Much is made of the many demands on managers’ time. But there is one aspect of management that is fundamental to workforce effectiveness, and that is the responsibility a manager has for learning in the workplace.

Research in 2000 by the National Institute for Social Work indicated that staff felt they acquired most new skills through the daily demands of doing the job – solving problems and so on – and working with more experienced colleagues. With this in mind, it is essential for learning (in the form of staff development and training) to be embedded within a system of performance management. Only in this way can any learning be linked directly to the achievement of organisational and service user goals. A learning organisation is one in which the learning and talent of individuals are promoted so that the organisation itself begins to shape its future.

Statistics from national surveys of employers indicate that nine out of 10 UK workplaces provide some form of training. But it is spread thinly and equates to about two days’ training for each employee. This puts the UK bottom of EU countries. So learning – if it happens at all – is more likely to take place while the employee is doing the job itself and interacting with colleagues.

There can be few issues on the management agenda more riddled with jargon than training. Take for example the terms used almost interchangeably to mean “learning”, including staff training, continuing professional development, education, competence, study and qualifications. Then there is the jargon associated with training, such as “e-learning”, “training stakeholders”, “self-directed learning”, “sculpting”, “blended learning”, “didactic teaching” and “experiential learning”. If that wasn’t enough, there are the many acronyms to get to grips with: Topss, LSC, IES, TSP, NVQ, SVQ and so on.

Work-based learning belongs in this bag of terms that covers a range of on-the-job training. It can include everything from formal induction to specified standards and vocational qualifications to one-to-one coaching, shadowing, co-working, secondment, assignments and project work.

Work-based learning has become a particular focus for managers with the advent of competency-led vocational training and qualifications. Clearly this has a resonance within social care, where on-the-job learning is seen as essential to ensuring good-quality care services and meeting statutory requirements.

A useful reminder from the Learning Skills Council is that organisations with fewer than 10 staff – representing 80 per cent of all companies in the UK – train the least frequently and least intensively. Within the public sector and from the perspective of large corporate providers in the independent sector, it is easy to overlook the potential impact such a finding might have in social care. The provision of care is now highly diverse and fragmented.

If learning is going to be the air of the organisation, managers need to breathe life into training and development. Good managers recognise the responsibilities they have for influencing the culture of learning within their team or setting or organisation. Perhaps the greatest influence can be exerted through the standards set and expected.

As a manager, you should lead by example and let staff know the importance you place on learning. And then you should show that it is not just a tick-box belief. Be a learner yourself. Work out your own needs (and get others to help) and do something about them. Then let people know what you have done, what you have learned and how you will use your new knowledge. Challenge others in supervision and staff meetings. The trick is to make learning normal.

Given that learning is ostensibly about growing and changing, it follows that the “learning organisation” creates a culture in which learning is valued as well as properly integrated and supported throughout the organisation. The development of staff is seen as a natural process of providing services. It may be supplemented by external training or study, but it is located in the work that people do. Again, ferreting back to the principles of performance management, look to help staff understand why they do what they do and give their work some sense of value and meaning.

In this way, competence in social care settings integrates “doing” with “thinking” and “feeling” to develop a reflective practitioner. The reflective practitioner is able to use knowledge drawn from experience of working directly with service users.

Continuous learning must be encouraged as it can only improve service outcomes. It will create a questioning climate that promotes reflection and experimentation.

Des Kelly is consultant director in social care, Bupa Care Homes; Kathryn Stone is director, Voice UK.

“When I was…

…working for a previous employer with a new line manager (who in my absence would answer my phone “Graham Hopkins’s line manager”), it became clear that he saw gaps in knowledge as a sign of weakness in managers. In a supervision session, I confessed that I was having difficulty understanding the principles of pre-active engagement within a performance management context. He sympathised and said that, although he understood the principles, they were very complex and unfortunately he would not have time to work through them with me. He suggested that I update this serious knowledge gap and find a training course to which he would agree my attending as a matter of urgency. I never did find the course. Nor did I look. Not surprising, because I made up both the word “pre-active” and the phrase “pre-active engagement”. (GH)

Top tips

  • Be a learner. Lead by example and make learning normal.
  • Targeting work-based learning at new staff is likely to be the most beneficial – the quality of induction is critical.
  • Training is no substitute for management.
  • Building evaluation into learning programmes (and outcomes) at the outset will have more use than trying to determine effectiveness after the event.

Rubbish tips

  • Ad-hoc training as a reaction to problems in the workplace achieves the best results.
  • Admitting to your staff that you have learning needs will undermine your credibility as a manager.
  • Work-based learning does not have as much value or achieve as effective results as external courses.

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