For lots of us, learning the skills needed for work is difficult. You have to set aside enough time, find a space where you won’t be disturbed (too much), have the right set-up and the correct resources ready to go. In addition, with the workplace becoming increasingly digital and requiring a whole range of new skills, there seems to be a never-ending list of things to learn. Whether unemployed, employed or looking to move careers, people want to make sure they are not just investing their time in resources that are useful, but also ones that will keep them engaged.
For the past eleven months, in partnership with Accenture, we at Good Things Foundation have delivered Future Proof: Skills for Work, a project focussing on supporting people in their employment journeys. By working with our Online Centres Network, we have funded and worked with 14 community partners to support over 350 people, helping them to develop a range of digital and career skills.
The impact of COVID-19 on the UK economy has made it even more urgent for workers to improve their digital and other workplace skills. With people becoming furloughed, made redundant or looking to shift careers, we have continued to see this group taking part in Future Proof to develop their skills.
Whether through face-to-face meetings or remotely since COVID-19, staff and volunteers at centres involved with Future Proof have always made time to sit down with learners to understand their needs, goals and learning constraints. Whilst some people may be limited with the time they can spend on learning due to employment or childcare commitments, others may lack the confidence or resilience that is often needed to carry out successful learning. As part of Future Proof, we were keen to explore not only the impact that taking part in the project has on learners, but also how learning ‘softer’ behavioural skills such as confidence, motivation and resilience can help someone reach their goals.
By collecting baseline and impact data from the project, speaking with community partner staff and volunteers and talking with learners themselves, we have developed three key insights.
Firstly, learning involves trust, which comes in many forms. Many learners suggested they were often sceptical of online learning platforms, websites which contain a range of resources, modules and courses for students to use. This scepticism often stemmed from pre-existing hesitations about being online and, with warnings of false information being spread during COVID-19, people were further apprehensive about using these learning platforms. Being able to speak with trusted personnel at centres - and with reputable names of Accenture and Good Things associated - helped learners to feel that they could put their trust in the resources provided in Future Proof, these being Skills to Succeed Academy and Accenture Digital Skills. Being able to access forums on these platforms where they could interact with other learners and ask questions also helped people to develop trust in these resources. Ultimately, as shown here, no matter how good online learning resources are, they are nothing without human mediation. Furthermore, when people are able to access trusted learning resources, they can then build trust in themselves about their ability to find things out.
The relationship between trust and learning was also evidenced by learners frequently noting the impact that staff and volunteers from centres had on their learning journeys. With many people coming to centres at times of distress, perhaps when facing economic, personal or psychological challenges, being able to sit down with someone who is open, honest and genuinely cares, has a huge impact on how they learn. Many taking part in the project reported that their previous experiences with learning digital career skills had been negative or uninteresting; now, with the support of centres and with the freedom to learn at their own pace, they were experiencing the opposite with Future Proof.
Secondly, people want to be challenged. When signing up to Future Proof, people often had a range of goals,such as gaining qualifications or being able to keep up with changes at work. Many not only achieved these original goals, but also others they did not initially expect. In follow up conversations, they often noted that by being pushed by the resources - enough to challenge them, but not enough to dent their confidence - they had greatly warmed to the learning journey on offer with Skills to Succeed Academy and Accenture Digital Skills. Learners wanted to step out of their comfort zone and have their thinking challenged, and enjoyed the tests and assessments available at the end of courses.
Thirdly, sustainable learning can build resilience. People taking part in projects like Future Proof may not always be able to handle the challenges and inevitable setbacks that come when learning. We were keen to understand how grit and resilience impacted people’s learning journeys - and whether taking part in Future Proof helped to build these traits. The findings appear to show that for many people - even those coming from more senior positions in employment or with higher education backgrounds - a lack of grit and resilience when it comes to learning digital skills is a common problem. This problem can, however, be turned around when people are provided with the correct level of support during learning, meaning they are given enough help to get over certain hurdles but have the space to develop confidence and resilience in themselves. Furthermore, when learners know they can ask questions of people they trust, understand they aren’t being rushed and - most importantly - are motivated rather than forced to learn digital and employability skills, they begin to develop grit and self-determination within their learning.
For many adults, learning digital skills is something often approached with hesitation and trepidation. Whilst higher levels of education or job role can indicate higher levels of comfort around learning, anyone can find periods in which they must develop new skills difficult. Future Proof: Skills for Work has already helped hundreds of adults learn a range of employment and digital skills, whilst also supporting them to develop the softer skills that underpin any learning or success in the workplace such as confidence, motivation and resilience. With COVID-19 causing many of us to think about our longer term employment plans, programmes such as Future Proof provide the necessary flexibility and support that is essential in creating supportive learning journeys for people.
The final Future Proof: Skills for Work learnings report will be available in November. Find out more about the project here.