Emphasis on degree-style learning holding back workforce

Employers are placing too much emphasis on degree-style learning rather than focussing on skills, according to Andreas Schleicher, director of the directorate for education and skills at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

In a panel on bridging the skills gap at the CIPD's 2022 Festival of Work in London on 15 June, Schleicher said: "We need to become much better at integrating the world of work and the world of learning much earlier. We pile up lots of learning skills in school and university then we dump people in the workplace and let them struggle.

"The most important career decisions aren’t made when you leave school, you make them when you start school."

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More practical forms of learning may be more effective, Schleicher suggested.

"I'm an advocate of vocational learning where you work with real people on real projects. When you make mistakes they have real consequences, rather than piling up abstract knowledge."

Amelie Villeneuve, global head of people capability at Standard Chartered Bank, said unconventional methods of learning may be more engaging for employees. 

She said: "When you play more, you learn more. A lot of people have become disengaged because corporate learning has been pretty boring. Looking at someone talking behind a screen and explaining what’s written on the screen – they don’t do that in school so we shouldn’t expect people to do that at work.

"Doing better at making things fun and engaging and going beyond this idea that gamification is equal to quizzing when it shouldn’t be. Learning a lot more from consumer technology about how people like to have fun could help to re-engage."

Instilling a strong learning culture at work can help to plug critical skills gaps. Schleicher added that learning could be a good source of motivation for employees. 

He said: "Great places of work are great places of learning. You won’t motivate employees with money alone, you can give them really interesting work to grow beyond themselves. We need to become much better at integrating the world of work and the world of learning.

Schleicher also argued that workers can be reluctant to undertake further learning when it isn't required, which hampers their career development in the long term. By taking the initiative to seek out their own learning, employees could learn new skills that businesses are hiring for.

"Employers could do more to be more focused on the investments people make in their skills."