Interim Progress Report Summary

Executive summary

1. This project aims to fill a gap in the learning and skills infrastructure nationally by creating a new, voluntary role for employees in non-unionised workplaces: the Workplace Learning Advocate.

2. The Workplace Learning Advocate (WLA) promotes learning in their workplace by

  • Encouraging and supporting learners
  • Organising learning events
  • Offering information and advice about learning to colleagues
  • Engaging management and HR to secure employer support for learning
  • Building networks within and beyond their employer-organisation and linking with local learning providers and other resource-holders.

3. In the period to March 2012, the project worked in four regions Midlands, London, the North-West and the North-East) to 

  • Promote the WLA role to employers, business intermediaries and skills bodies
  • Train over 70 employees to take on the WLA role
  • Construct an infrastructure to support the WLA role.

Over 45 non-unionised employers (most employing less than 250 staff) from a range of sectors participated.

4. Results suggest the project has achieved proof of concept for the WLA role. The role has won support in organisations of varying sizes across a range of sectors in various parts of the country.

5. There is anecdotal and qualitative evidence that the WLA role has impacted positively on teamwork, team cohesion and staff motivation and morale. It is perceived by employers and employees to add value to the employment offer.

6. In Lincolnshire and Rutland, the Employment and Skills Board (ESB) saw the WLA role as a cost-effective way to encourage informal, employee-directed, voluntary workplace learning. The ESB’s employer-members reported that it:

  • Built individuals’ confidence in their own ability to learn
  • Encouraged and support staff to share skills informally
  • Fostered a workplace culture of coaching and mentoring
  • Developed workforce skills
  • Enhanced cohesion and team working
  • Helped organisations to meet criteria for quality awards such as Investors in People

7. Outcomes include uptake of basic skills learning, apprenticeships and vocational qualifications. Employers reported that the role’s peer-to-peer focus added value to ‘top-down’ organisational learning systems.

8. WLAs recruited and trained by the project came from a range of roles including production, administration, HR and management. Most were women. The WLA role offered these employees career and personal development, including confidence-building.

9. Employer commitment enabled WLAs from different organisations to meet regularly. These meetings were motivational and helped WLAs develop a shared sense of role identity and learn from each other.

10. A modified version of this approach that focused on organisations that provided business services to micro and small employers succeeded in reaching these smaller employers in the East Midlands and London.

11. In some instances, the project offered WLAs small one-off grants to seed-fund learning activities. This appears to have helped WLAs initiate activity without engendering dependency or weakening local ownership.

12. Steps toward a support system for WLAs include

  • Work with unionlearn and Community Learning Champions  to validate the role and share resources
  • Development of a branded website to communicate the role
  • Development of training programmes to promote recruit to the role
  • Trialling of networking, including newsletters, personal email and telephone support

13. Training appears to be a valuable promotional tool for the WLA role and helps to recruit WLAs. WLAs value training in information and advice skills because it equips them with key knowledge and skills and also because it builds their confidence, a motivating factor for many of those attracted to the role.

14. WLAs benefit significantly from active participation in peer networks. These networks can function as a powerful vehicle for peer learning, enabling WLAs to construct a community of practice and a shared sense of role-identity. They also help make the role and its resources visible to other interested parties (e.g. learning providers). These networks are usefully supported by the project’s national website (promoting the brand, informing employers and resourcing WLAs).

15. Active participation in peer networks requires employer support. With employer support, peer networks can be self-managing and self-sustaining.

16. On the evidence to date, a workplace development approach that integrates training with strategic and peer networking offers the most effective approach to establishing the WLA role.

17. This approach would require a support infrastructure to

  • Manage the brand and assure quality
  • Administer any revenue (e.g. employer subscriptions) / funding (e.g. seed-funding)
  • Support training and research, including conferences, seminars
  • Develop and disseminate resources, including website and social media
  • Assure strategic synergy with other business intermediary and learning and skills infrastructure organisations

The project has made headway in developing aspects of this infrastructure.

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