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Recognising the importance of fostering a lifelong learning culture has never been more vital

Candace Miller, Managing Director, SFJ Awards
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While continuous learning should long be considered by all organisations to be as fundamental for every staff member’s development as any other part of their role, if it was not before the pandemic, it most certainly should be today.

After undergoing the most dramatic changes to our world of work over the past eighteen months, that we perhaps are all ever likely to, though we might not yet understand the long-term impact of this, what we do know, is that we must do everything we can to foster an organisational culture of learning.

Not only to retain the workforce that we have, but to together build a better, brighter future for us all.

Why is creating a culture of learning so important?

Various recent studies make the case that there are correlations between the presence of a learning culture and an organisation’s profitability, productivity, growth and ability to adapt and evolve to meet changing markets conditions. But as the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development reported in April 2020 with their report Creating learning cultures: assessing the evidence, there is relatively little empirical evidence. This hasn’t stopped the argument however, that organisations with a learning culture are more likely to succeed long-term.

Empowering people, building skills and trust; driving a competitive advantage by keeping skills up to date; attracting and retaining talent; driving innovation and resilience; increasing performance and productivity through leaner processes and fewer missed targets and timelines caused by skills gaps… Inherently it feels right, doesn’t it? After all, if learning wasn’t important why do we spend so much time and energy at school, in Further Education, at university and, dare I say it pursuing CPD?

Why should it be any different for organisations? After all, they are largely made up of people. With workforce the greatest cost to many businesses, especially in our public and other service led sectors, doesn’t common sense, let alone basic economics provide the answer? Still, how often do we hear companies proclaiming they are a learning organisation, yet talk to staff, and hear there is a level of cynicism about how well those headlines translate into action.

Are errors really treated as opportunities to learn and improve? Are skills gaps responded to with relevant and timely development interventions? Are individuals encouraged to take charge of their own learning and development and is their learning recognised and celebrated? Or is there just a set menu of courses, qualifications and accreditations that are valued and once done, nothing much else happens? No support shown for on-going learning, beyond completion of any statutory and mandatory requirements that keep insurers happy, but don’t in themselves necessarily increase competence and capabilities?

As someone who has spent their entire career in the learning and development ecosystem, from early days developing learning programmes and materials to encourage a better understanding of the animal kingdom and food sources, to now running a regulated Awarding Organisation and End-Point Assessment provider, it won’t come as a surprise that I hold a fundamental belief in the absolute importance of learning, the development of a learning culture and the recognition of learning achieved.

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Taking the time to celebrate success, recognise and reward

Consequently, it is a no-brainer for SFJ Awards to once again sponsor the ‘Dedication to lifelong learning in the NHS’ category of the 2021 Our Health Heroes Awards, run by our sister organisation Skills for Health, of which I am also proud to be an Executive Director. Recognised as the leading national awards scheme for the roles that often go unnoticed by the public, these Awards, now in their sixth consecutive year, celebrate individuals and teams often working ‘behind the scenes’ without whom the NHS simply could not survive.

These Awards are really important on several different levels. One, because they truly celebrate individuals and teams who do outstanding work, yet who might not normally get the limelight shone upon them. Two, in the healthcare sector, more than half of the workforce is made up of committed, expert individuals who are not medically qualified. And three, despite endless headlines in recent weeks purporting to highlight this as a somehow shocking statistic, their expertise is utterly essential to the smooth operation of the NHS and wider healthcare system.

Without them, there would be no cleaning, no meals, nor restocking of ward supplies, no management of appointments, bed usage and staffing rosters and so on. Those with medical training work together with those with training in different spheres of endeavour, and it is only fair and proper that we celebrate these vital contributions from all.

Finally, this particular category of course matters to me and my colleagues because, whilst learning a new skill or acquiring competence in new activities is rewarding in itself, how much more rewarding and encouraging is it if there is external recognition, external celebration and external accolades for achievements gained? Hence SFJ Awards’ delight in being once again asked to support this category which celebrates those who have clearly demonstrated their dedication to lifelong learning in the NHS. We did not need to be asked twice.

Championing a commitment to lifelong learning across our education and training system

At this time, when there are significant changes being taken forward in our vocational education and training system, how great would it be if more people and more organisations would adopt a ‘lifelong learning culture’? Whether that learning is recognised via apprenticeship completion, diploma, certificate or award certification, or school, college, university or training programme ‘graduation’ ceremonies, learning cultures and leadership go hand-in-hand.

So, I make a plea to our new Secretary of State Nadeem Zahawi and his new ministerial team – please recall what it felt like for your learning to be recognised and rewarded and carry that feeling into how you shape our education and training system for the future. Enable us to have a skills system that truly encourages a learning culture and celebrates everyone’s learning achievements, wherever and however gained.

Nominations are still open for the Our Health Heroes Awards, across eleven diverse categories, until midnight Tuesday 19th October 2021. Make yours here today.

Candace Miller, Managing Director, SFJ Awards

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