About Nesta

Nesta is an innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality and changing lives for the better. We use our expertise, skills and funding in areas where there are big challenges facing society.

How can we encourage lifelong learning in the workplace?

Jobs for life are a thing of the past. Modern careers are more likely to include a change of jobs every few years. Many of us are retiring later. One way to enable workers to be able to adapt to change is through the development of new skills. While employer spending per trainee in the UK has fallen by 17% in real terms since 2011, we believe that employee training and development should play an important part of any company's strategy.

Even before the pandemic, the world of work was facing a high level of disruption due to rapid technological, environmental and social change. As the world begins to open up again, it is time we all embraced lifelong learning.

Investing in staff can make employees feel valued, improve productivity and aid staff retention. Beyond these benefits, retention is much cheaper than turnover and in the changing world of work, retraining staff to adapt their roles will be a better option than displacement and new recruitment.

While many workers may embrace opportunities to learn, often, especially for workers who didn’t have a good experience of formal education, the concept of learning can feel burdensome and overwhelming. It’s therefore important for employers to create a learning and development offer that balances skills development alongside fostering an inclusive learning environment.

Understanding what motivates workers to learn can be an important first step in creating a positive learning culture within an organisation. As demonstrated in the Nesta rapid evidence review in 2019:

"Motivation to learn is driven by personal and external factors. The evidence suggests that while extrinsic motivations can be influenced (for example, by encouraging employers to support and invest in employee learning), it needs to be matched by a degree of intrinsic motivation to drive learner behaviour."

Throughout lockdown we have seen lots of examples of how a peculiar combination of personal and external factors have boosted interest in online learning. The challenging conditions of the pandemic have allowed many to embrace their inner learner. Add to this, the growth of Youtube how to’s, Tik Tok demonstrations and the expansion of Massive Open Online Courses (known as MOOCs) mean it’s never been easier to learn new skills.

As people begin to return back to workplaces across the country, there is a great opportunity for employers to foster this enthusiasm for learning to benefit employees and employers alike.

What can employers do to foster a culture of lifelong learning?

As part of the CareerTech Challenge, the goal of which is to encourage bold solutions to improve people’s working lives and unlock employment opportunities for the future, we have supported several innovators to develop training and guidance platforms for adult learners that particularly focus on improving workers motivation to learn. These platforms use innovative technology to keep learners engaged and build career resilience.

Here are some things we have found that help:

  • Provide tailored recommendations and learner choice. One of the key aspects of the Saffron Interactive platform was that by asking the learner to rank themselves via a series of 36 skills cards, the Create Your Own Future platform provided bespoke and targeted training options for learners to choose from.
  • Relate personal skills to a professional setting. Game Academy, enables gamers to link their video gaming abilities with real life situations, helping to develop their employment skills, such as decision-making, persistence, and team working.
  • Ensure flexible opportunities to learn. The Citizen Literacy App from City of Glasgow College, was designed for adults with low literacy. The app allows learners to develop their skills at a time that suits them, yet is also supported by an integrated package of teacher handbooks and student workbooks for use in face-to-face settings.
  • Encourage peer support. At Coventry University, they found that the social aspects of their Career Skills for the 2020s course, where learners could seek feedback on their work and support from others, was a positive experience for many learners.

In the coming months, as we wrap up the CareerTech Challenge, and much of Nesta’s other work on the future of work and skills, we will continue to share our learning in this field. This will include reflections from the innovators we supported, plus a series of evaluation reports. Our aim is by sharing these insights, we can help to cultivate a culture of learning that will empower more adults to move into good work.

It’s clear that the labour market is changing and we all need to play a part in creating a resilient and productive workforce. What will you do to instil a culture of lifelong learning in your workplace?

Learning at Work Week is a unique annual event to build learning cultures at work. It aims to put a spotlight on the importance and benefits of continual learning and development. This year Learning at Work Week takes place from 17th to 23rd May.


Sarah Mcloughlin

Sarah Mcloughlin

Sarah Mcloughlin

Senior Programme Manager

Sarah was a Senior Programme Manager.

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