Structured and unstructured: Learning in the flow of work
Turning chance or random moments into more formal excursions in work is an exciting idea that many employers and intermediaries naturally describe. Employers often don’t know what young people can’t yet know or what they need to know. They are so close to their own workplace culture and protocols - it’s hard to take a big picture view on things.
Kath from Beacon Foundation has found:
‘Young people want meaningful and authentic work exposure opportunities. Sometimes it’s as simple as sparking an interest through a ‘behind the scenes’ moment, or young person having the opportunity to engage with someone who has a relatable story that they connect with. The role of the intermediary is to support both industry and the young person in finding those connections.’
The intermediaries and facilitators can be the joiners, the connectors - the people that have the time and head-space to work with several players - to discover where the material shifts need to be, and who can operate them in a structured way.
By allowing these instances of learning - small impact and high impact – to be more celebrated, navigable and intentional means more young people can see what is possible through what Jacyl Shaw from GHD describes as signals and symbols.
‘When you intentionally send out the right messages, with actions, young people can see that they could have a role, and that their lived experience is valued. We need more employers to make it easier for young people to step into their businesses, to see inside the culture, the diversity of people, the values - beyond telling stories on our websites. That’s how we can build great teams - teams that are well poised to innovate in the most effective way.’
Intermediaries and facilitators are increasingly providing a role that sits outside of the HR area and more directly addresses the gaps and potential new links between multiple players. TAFE, Universities, Colleges, Schools, young people, and businesses all have a lot to gain from the idea that learning can happen in the flow of work. It can actually enable better learning pathways to emerge that are more visible, valued and by all.
Dave Burton is the Executive officer at Goldfields LLEN – an organisation with a 20 year history. Wearing the hat of an intermediary, Local Learning & Employment Networks (LLENs) partner with schools and industry to maximise pathways to work and training for young people around Victoria - particularly in regional areas where workforce transformations are needed due to manufacturing, industrial or technology disruptions.
The key program managed by LLENs is Structured Workplace Learning, or SWL, which Dave Burton (Director) describes as having many different characteristics when compared to the well known work experience programs students explore in year 10.
‘SWL is more hands on than traditional work experience which has an observational focus rather than a doing angle. With SWL young people are working alongside professionals in different work environments - mirroring, modeling, and reflecting what they do as they work in an industry that is aligned with school subjects the young person is doing. This means they can link their classroom learning to a workplace situation to make it more real, tangible and exciting.’
During the engagement for this blog, one employer noted that at least one consequence of the search for authenticity and knowing “how things worked” was a willingness as an employer to let younger people “interrogate and learn for themselves,” including how the business or the organisation works.
Dave describes the value diversity brings to the employment space. He is able to relate that feedback from employers on the contribution of a young person through the SWL model has been powerful.
‘In the immediate term, one of the key pieces of feedback that our SWL coordinator tells us is that when a placement student is in an organisation (in person or even virtually), they see a lift in the culture of the workplace – motivation and inspiration is lifted in the team. Some people have been in their roles for a long time or have smaller teams, and a fresh lens from a young mind is inspiring. They ask interesting and curious questions and help people see things they didn’t see previously.’
While formal work experience programs have role for students in year 10, direct pathways also exist. But as programs are incubated and scaled, they can sometimes struggle to reflect current workplace practices that shift and adapt in response to changing conditions.
‘As an intermediary, we are working on the actual landscape or environment - the system that holds and surrounds these different programs and ideas to better connect and integrate what young people and employers want to find out - often in real time.’
Learning Creates consultations have revealed that many people are acting as intermediaries of a sort - like lone rangers in a new space between HR and a program or an organisation.
Intermediaries can take a placed based approach with really targeted opportunities that reflect the jobs of tomorrow and jobs of the future because the intermediary can be more flexible and responsive. As Dave notes:
‘One of the key things is formal recognition from the education system and industry in this approach. LLENs can be engaged as a skilled partner. That is important. We acknowledge and understand traditional recruitment methods are not as functional as they once were. The intermediary role will be a more effective mechanism into the future.’
Kath from Beacon Foundation shares the fact that:
‘We work with HR and recruitment but we also work across an organisation to connect businesses with young people. We know that industry is finding the traditional mechanisms to attract young people into entry jobs is not hitting the mark for industry or the young people they are trying to attract. Industry are looking for more innovative ways to access and meet new talent, with the role of an intermediary providing extremely valuable in opening up those innovative opportunities.’
On a similar note, a career coach executive with years of experience providing coaching and development to executives offers:
‘At the end of the day what we are doing at the moment isn’t working because most employment pathways are missing so much of the richness. We are blocking out creativity and ideas, momentum and the social capital that can come from exchanges in learning with people embracing that idea that both employers and young people have so much to gain from more dynamic or flowing engagements. It’s not just about employers doing the right thing, it’s actually about the things that young people bring to the table. We should not try to put rules around this before they have even started. Young people can develop their value proposition to the employer if they know more about what that workplace culture is, or what that workplace needs from them.’
As an intermediary organisation, Learning Creates has provided young people with a central role in the development of the work around new ways to recognise learning. Many have stated that their learning sits outside of what can be captured by a score, credential or test.
Lorraine Ngwenya, coach and facilitator with YLab comments:
‘One of the biggest skills I have developed through this project, is learning to be agile and let go of my plan and re-prioritise without getting flustered. I tap into what is happening now and ask myself, how do we shift? Sometimes we have to react quickly, I have to throw my plan for the day out the window. I don’t think I would have chosen to do a course in how to do this - I just had to be immersed in it.’
This article is part of a series Stories about now that was released in our Discussion Paper Shifts and Flows in Learning and Work which explored the changing relationship between employers and young people. You can access the full report here: https://www.learningcreates.org.au/findings/discussion-paper-shifts-and-flows-in-learning-and-work