Helping the UK fire on all cylinders

UK workers feel they're not reaching their full potential. Is doing a degree at work the answer?

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

According to a new survey by not-for-profit consultancy HE@Work, almost three-quarters of UK employees feel they’re not fulfilling their potential at work – which means that either we have an inflated opinion of our worth, or that we’re not getting enough on-the-job training. Either way it’s bad news for employers – star staff might not be inclined to hang around if they don’t think they’re being suitably stretched.

It’s also bad news for the Government, which is desperate to improve skills to make our ailing economy more competitive. So far their only solution to Britain’s chronic skills shortage has been to boost the number of university places – but that won’t do much good for those whose days of watching re-runs of Quincy and pinching traffic cones are long behind them. It’s not that most of us don’t get any training at work – after all, it’s a brave employer who ignores it altogether these days – but generally speaking, we don’t usually end up with a great deal to show for it.

The answer, according to HE@Work, is for business and academia to work together to formalise work-based training. ‘What we’re doing is looking at the learning which is naturally taking place in the workplace, and then packaging it up so it looks like something academia would recognise,’ executive chairman John Mumford told MT. But it’s also about beefing up the academic level of existing workplace courses by adding in extra elements – for instance, you might go away after a course of IT instruction and write a project on the strategic importance of your new system (thus making it more like degree-level study).

But what’s in it for employers? If they’re already imparting the necessary information through their training courses, why should they invest time in making them more rigorous? ‘It’s motivating for the staff, and it enables the company to cope with change better. If you’ve got staff who understand the context of what they’re doing, they’re much more able to see the value of change,’ says Mumford. The accreditation also goes down well – the survey found that we would rather do a smaller number of fully-accredited courses rather than a larger number of non-accredited ones.

As for the Government, so far they seem to have dumped the responsibility onto employers – though recent comments from Skills Minister John Denham suggest that it's now keen for universities and companies to work together. ‘We’ve now got a lot of people – universities and employers – trying to make it work,’ says Mumford. ‘But it’s a science that’s still in its infancy.’ So you might have to put your BA in Fire Exit Studies on hold for a while yet.

PS. HE@Work's report is available to download for free 

In today's bulletin:
Investors give HBOS the cold shoulder
Government faces uphill task with welfare shake-up
Domino's takes even bigger slice of the action
Bratz boffin busted by Barbie
Helping the UK fire on all cylinders 

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