The Productivity of Learning at Work

Enterprises in Singapore are increasingly finding it difficult to attract suitable candidates in the right numbers and skill set due to full employment and an aging workforce.  Industries are increasingly recognising the need to redesign workplace and business processes to be lean and be less manpower dependent. 
Although technology can be introduced, where the person is needed, there is still a need to deploy the right person with the right skill set in the improved process to ensure smooth operations.  The improved process may even need a worker to multi-task, overseeing a wider range of sub-processes and hence a higher level of skills might be required to do so.
Operating in this challenging environment alongside the worries of a global economic crisis, enterprises need to muster all its human capabilities to adapt, manoeuvre and navigate in order to prevail.  To do so, there are three key focused action areas enterprises must commit to excel.  Firstly, enterprises must identify its key business processes and the skill sets required to operate them.  Next, it must be able to recruit candidates with the best match and put them through a properly considered workplace learning process to bring them up to speed in performance.  Finally, the enterprise must provide the environment and culture in which each worker is able to learn and respond adequately to the ever-changing workplace demands.
However, pure off-the-job learning is increasingly a luxury for a lean operating environment.  There is an increasing demand for learning to take place spontaneously on-the-job to deliver performance and business results. Thus, the process of learning and performing must be more integrated and productively carried out. 
Productivity in enterprises refers to methods to increase revenue and reduce input waste in all activities, including interestingly enough, traditional learning and development methodologies.  The productivity for learning activities implies achieving the highest application of learning in the shortest time while reducing the waste of non-application.  The proximity and timing of learning to the performance of the skill at the workplace can be major contributors to the productivity of learning.  The nearer the learning activity to the actual workplace; the more real is the context of learning.  The closer the timing of the learning activity is to the performance of the skill; the quicker the result can be yielded.
Although formal off-the-job learning is still an important component of skill acquisition, more can be explored on how a worker can learn at work, which allows the learner to spontaneously learn as he / she performs the tasks.  Apart from off-the-job formal learning activities, enterprises need to consider three aspects to achieve this purpose:
  • How can work processes support learning? 
  • How can supervisors and peers play a part in the feedback and feedforward loop to the learner? 
  • How can the work culture support individual to engage in self-reflection and learning?
Workplace learning is key to responding to the realities of a lean workforce and manpower-starved enterprises in the Singapore landscape.  Singaporean workers, and Singapore as a society can and must leverage on it as a catalyst to build a life-long learning culture towards greater creativity and innovation, one person at a time.