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Designing workplaces to support learning

April 28th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

I have written at length on this blog about the growing tension between the schooling system and the changing ways in which we are using the internet for self managed, networked learning, often through informal learning in the work force. The implications of this these changes are slowly working their way into the system.

The US Information Week government website draws attention to an interesting report. The report, ‘Net Generation: Preparing for Change in the Federal Information Technology Workforce,’  “surveyed federal IT workforce trends and found that young IT workers are among the most demanding employees yet, but that the federal government, in many places, has been falling short in its ability to entice these young workers to join and remain in the federal workforce.”

There are three particularly interesting findings from the report.

Firstly, instead of choosing a career and working their way upwards within a company or organisation, individuals are tending to see particular posts as learning situations, moving on when they have acquired new skills and competences. ““‘Net-Geners’ are not patiently working their way through the organizational hierarchy, but are instead sampling professional opportunities and moving on quickly when they see no clear-cut advantages, personally, professionally, or financially, to staying,” the report said. “As a result, many organizations are experiencing the loss of younger workers before they can recover their recruitment investment.”

Secondly the report suggested changes in workplace design and practice to make the workplace more attractive to younger workers. This includes IT leaderships working “actively and openly” with teams to facilitate a trusting and empowered working environment. The report urged regular assessments, as it found that young workers are constantly looking for feedback.

The report also recognised the importance of social networking for working and learning.“The Net Generation understands intuitively the power of Web 2.0,” the report said. “The deprivation of connectivity to the Internet has a visceral impact on the Net Generation.” That means agencies must strive to adopt the latest social media technologies to help accommodate the working styles of young IT workers, and that agencies need to look more strongly to the possibility of telework.

A finding from research we have undertaken in Pontydysgu is that the more responsibility people have for their work, the more likely they are to use technology for informal learning. The research also suggest that tecahing others is a powerful form of learning. the report appears recognise such findings.

The report pushed managers to give young workers early responsibility. “Younger, more technically savvy workers who demonstrate the ability to interject greater efficiency through technological solutions can provide training on these capabilities,” the report said.

The report is interesting. We have consistently pointed to the need to design workplaces to provide opportunities for learning. Sadly, all too often this is not happening. There are numerous frustrations particularly in regard to limited internet access. The report is into Federal IT employees, an area where there is likely to be a skills shortage in the future. But, longer term, it may be that such sectors can provide examples of innovative practice for future work space design.

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