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11. Innovations in Learning | Age Pioneers Action Panel Report

In our last session before the summer break, we spoke with three organisations that are innovating learning and development in the workplace.

James Marsh
James Marsh
A published author, as well as a corporate and lifestyle media professional, James works across content, marketing and consultancy.

Age Pioneers is an action panel of cross-sector HRDs and heads of D&I. It includes the likes of Bank of Ireland, Unilever, EY, Capita, Dentsu and Boots. We have a core group that attends each month and picks apart a single topic in relation to age inclusion. We use the first 30 minutes to interview our panel on the topic to share their experience and have a Q&A (which becomes this published article). For the next hour, the group becomes the panel and debates the topic under Chatham House rules in an unrecorded event, to allow peer networking and collaboration.

It's Time to Embrace Inclusive Learning

Joining Lyndsey Simpson, 55/Redefined’s founder and CEO, our guest speakers were:

Simon Tindall, Director of Skills and Innovation at The Open University. Simon has extensive experience in education and research, having worked at Sun Microsystems supporting government and corporate education programmes, and at Desire 2 Learn, a Canadian e-learning business, helping organisations reshape the future of education and work. At The Open University, Simon builds strategic partnerships with companies (nationally and internationally) to support learning and research.

Alice Knight-Driver, founder of The Drive Project. Alice has a background in theatre, training and development. In 2015, she set up The Drive Project, a creative social enterprise that uses theatre, art and storytelling to positively impact people’s wellbeing and deliver lasting change. She has worked with Deloitte, The Royal British Legion and numerous NHS trusts. Alice has seen first-hand how storytelling can be transformational to individuals and teams in the workplace.

Annie Leach, Chief of Staff and People at Join Talent. In addition to recruitment, Annie’s career in HR spans a wide range of industries including telecommunications, airports, banking, motor vehicles, energy and building products. With experience in implementing training and learning programmes across a broad spectrum of workforces, Annie latest role takes on the challenge of training workers who all work remotely.

The Landscape of Workplace Learning

Workplace learning has become increasingly important as a lever for an organisation’s ability to attract, engage and retain employees. Innovative learning and development programmes are seen as valuable, strategic tools to shape culture, build engagement and transform workplaces.

Today’s top talent is looking for employers that enable them to enhance their personal development, not just in relation to the tasks they perform at work, but more broadly to give them a greater range of opportunities. People expect a lot more from their employers than just financial compensation — they want to know that the company they work for values their efforts and will invest in their future potential.

New Approaches to Learning

There are some great examples of companies running innovative training and learning programmes. For example, Sainsbury’s has decided they will source their science and data specialists from the shopfloor by retraining their workers who are in midlife. And it works.

Simon Tindall: “We’ve helped Uber put more than 1500 drivers and couriers through an education programme. Around 75 per cent of them are first generation migrants and, as a cohort, these Uber students score significantly above the average Open University assessment.

“What’s interesting is that Uber are not trying to train an Uber driver to be a better driver. Instead, they are helping these drivers or couriers to consider what their future careers might be. It tends to be in areas such as business or law but it’s not always multi-year degree commitments. It can be a shorter skills course or a micro-credential.

“Uber are skilling these drivers and couriers for a future career, while retaining them to drive a certain number of hours with a multi-year commitment. What we are seeing is a higher motivation, both in the drivers’ studies and in their commitment.”

Key learning: Don’t just offer training for the present job, provide training for a future career – which may not be with you.

How Else Does Uber Think Differently?

“If a driver or courier doesn’t wish to undertake further education or training, they can pass that credit to a family member or friend. About 25 per cent of people on the programme are family members – it could be a spouse, child or sibling. It’s a golden opportunity for somebody to get established and gain a new skill.

“If you are giving this credit to somebody else, then, arguably, the retention factor is even greater than if you’re doing for yourself. And Uber then use these education programmes as part of their ESG positioning. They attribute programmes like this to helping them regain their London taxi operation licence. We are now launching similar schemes with other companies – they take about three months to set up.”

Key learning: Extend education benefits to employee’s family and friends – it engenders loyalty and boosts ESG.

What Are the Cost Benefits of Tailored Learning?

“Training is perceived as expensive, but recruitment is an unforeseen cost. For example, to offer a degree programme to a shop worker with the Open University would cost around £3000 per year. If that employee leaves, we estimate recruitment costs are around £5000.

"Plus, the cost of an Open University degree is significantly cheaper than other universities and any tax cost due can be reduced through programmes such as salary sacrifice. It’s also worth remembering that the Open University offers over 10,000 hours of free learning, interactives and videos.

“The Open University has always had corporate links with companies, we just do them on a bigger scale than most – we sell in employee sponsorship to around 70 per cent of FTSE-type organisations. What we’ve seen recently is a shift away from skilling people for their particular role or even for a future role within that company, and towards skilling them for their future career progression. Also, we are seeing the focus move away from that middle tier of management towards more frontline workers.”

Key learning: Development is cheaper than recruitment, and there is a movement towards offering frontline workers learning for future career progression.

How Does The Drive Project Use Storytelling in the Workplace?

Why is storytelling so effective?

Alice Knight-Driver: “Some evolutionary biologists believe we’ve been telling stories for over a 100,000 years – and that means our brains are hardwired to respond to stories and to understand the world through story.

“MRI studies show when a story is being told, the same parts of the brain in both storyteller and listener light up. At the same time, the body produces chemicals such as cortisol, oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine. This creates neural coupling between both people – the storytelling generates empathy and trust, it improves our memory and we are more likely to retain the information.”

Key learning: Storytelling has the potential to develop understanding and change behaviour.

Telling Stories Adds Context and Builds Understanding

“We work with individuals to help them put their stories together, so they can be the most impactful and influential storytellers possible. This is combined with providing opportunities for them to tell their story.

“An example is an incredible project we are working on with University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust. We have put together a training package that tells the collective story of the hospital – of what’s behind the data – so the Trust can really understand what is going on. We started with the People Department to work out the themes and framework of the stories. There are over 9000 employees, so we can’t tell everybody’s story. Instead, we ensured we had a good range and cross-section of the hospital staff.

“By collaborating with an amazing storyteller, we created a 50-minute version of that collective story. We trained four members of staff to tell that story to the Trust board. The impact was incredible. The chairman and the chief executives said, ‘Thank you so much. We’ve heard, we’ve listened, and it is so useful to actually hear what is going on."

Key learning: Storytelling gives individuals a voice – and that can support an organisation’s strategy for change and culture development.

How Can Storytelling Benefit Older Workers?

"We can create a space for older workers to share their stories in the multi-generational workplace. When someone works out what story they’re going to tell, it gives them an objectivity and a distance – and, in turn, this allows them to understand the power of their story.

"For multi-generational teams, storytelling has a dual purpose:

  • For those older workers, it is an opportunity for them to feel genuinely valued. Others are interested in their voice, and it shows the older worker their experience is a gift. It’s a superpower.
  • As the younger generations listen to those stories and understand them, they are building empathy, trust and relationships. The younger workers learn from their older co-workers and gain knowledge."

Key learning: Storytelling can create empathy and help disseminate knowledge among a multi-generational workforce.

Remote Learning at Join Talent

Join Talent is an organisation where everyone works remotely – what learning processes have you devised that make you so successful?

Annie Leach: “I think it’s all about the content. We have a huge e-learning platform where we have all the typical personal development, compliance, leadership and impact courses. But what we’ve also developed at Join Talent is a series of courses by job grade and job title – for every role in Join Talent. That’s not normal and probably the most innovative piece that we have.

“For example, you might be a talent partner but want to progress to be a manager. There is a series of courses to show you how you can do that. I’ve developed a matrix that shows you all the different skills you need at each job role and how you can develop. We do a lot of Zoom sessions – that works well because everybody learns differently and we have different time zones. It’s a way of really embedding the learning and development culture in a completely remote business.”

Key learning: Effective learning programmes go beyond accepted norms, and provide clear pathways for all roles.

How Do You Ensure Employee Engagement When Everyone is Remote?

“Feedback surveys told us people wanted to talk on online sessions and bring them to life. So, we’ve started weekly ‘Lunch and Learns’ on certain topics. We are never short of people wanting to host a session. As a department, we don’t get too involved – we might suggest tweaking a slide or taking out some of the content to ensure it fits in a 45-minute session – but it mostly happens naturally.

“There is an appetite within Join Talent to share. For example, you might be an expert in corporate or tech recruitment. And you think, ‘I want to share my skills because I’m an expert.’ When you do that sharing piece, colleagues come to learn as they lunch. Everyone’s having a really good conversation and learning from each other. It cements that engagement piece for the remote workforce. I think that’s going to be a game changer by bringing e-learning to life a bit more.”

Key learning: People want to share their expertise – and that can help create engagement, especially for remote workers.

How Do You Help Remote Workers Feel They ‘Belong’?

“We have people in many different UK regions and in different countries, so we have created ‘Squads’. This is where we group people by location, not by job function. So, although you are working remotely, you build a rapport and community with people in your region. We find that helps with continuous learning and we’ve seen an increase in the number of questions and conversations about types of recruitment and sectors. We’ve noticed these Squads help with engagement and continuous learning.”

Key learning: Even if workers are remote, you can create regional communities to build engagement.

Six Conversations Between Age Pioneers Attendees

  • Attendees loved the idea of being able to gift learning to others (there’s a video explaining the Open University/Uber scheme here). It was pointed out that one of the most underdeveloped cohorts are stay-at-home parents, whose children will soon be heading off to college or university. If more companies allowed gifting of education and development to these parents, they could fit learning around childcare responsibilities to ensure they have upskilled by the time they re-enter the workforce.
  • Being able to gift learning could work well for other over-50s, too. 55/Redefined’s report Shut Out, Forced Out and Overlooked (January 2021) discovered that 90 per cent of 50 to 65 year olds believe that they have the transferrable skills that will enable them to change career, if only employers would invest in their learning. Sadly, only 35 per cent of employers were prepared to re-skill and retrain anybody over the age of 50.
  • Storytelling comes easier with age – older workers have had time to amass more stories. They are able to draw on multiple experiences and that adds authenticity.
  • “The humble enquiry” – this was a phrase that gained a lot of approval. It is the art of management through asking, not telling. For example, instead of saying, “I think you should…”, the manager can ask, “Tell me about a time when it was challenging at work today?” or “What are the things you find are the greatest challenge?” The humble enquiry builds trust and rapport.
  • Amazon uses gamification to promote learning. The internal database allows everyone to add a badge for the courses they have taken. It helps nudge people towards further learning.
  • Mandatory learning, though very common, was not perceived to the most effective way of training. It can easily become a memory test and box ticking exercise that employees don’t learn from. Gamifying this learning can improve learning outcomes.

Why We Created Age Pioneers

This group was launched because, as 55/Redefined founder Lyndsey Simpson, recalls, “Our very early adopter customers told us they loved what we were doing. They loved working with us on age inclusion. But, also, they really wanted to understand what everybody else was doing. So, we set up Age Pioneers to bring together cross-sector HRDs and Heads of D&I to form an action panel. Our core group of attendees has grown to over 300 in just ten months. In that same time, 55/Redefined has grown massively, we’ve expanded outside the UK and Ireland into the US, and our team has quadrupled.”

A Big Thank You

Age Pioneers couldn’t have succeeded in the way it has without the support and sponsorship of Join Talent during the last 12 months. And what a 12 months it has been for Join Talent, too! In just the last year, founder Katrina Hutchison O’Neill has been awarded Scale Up Entrepreneur of the Year and been named one of 2023’s Top 100 Most Influential People (UK), plus Join Talent has won The King’s Award for Enterprise for International Trade. With more than 200 employees in 23 different countries, Join Talent are changing the face of recruitment and talent acquisition.

Follow Join Talent on LinkedIn.

To be part of future Age Pioneers events, get in touch to register your interest for free. Missed a session? Take a look at our previous recordings and articles.