Learning at work: gap between lower and highly educated people increases again
In the years of economic growth, workers’ participation in courses and training has remained stable. However, the gap between lower and highly educated workers is still growing. These are some of the conclusions of the latest report, ‘Nederland in Leerstand’, of the Maastricht University Research Centre for Education and the Labour Market (ROA).
The report, released today, presents trends in formal and informal learning and knowledge development in the Netherlands from 2004 to 2017. The study was conducted by ROA and funded by the Netherlands Initiative for Education Research (NRO).
ROA found that highly educated workers are also more likely to take the initiative themselves to pursue training; for lower educated workers, the initiative tends to come from the employer. Interestingly, older workers’ courses and training participation has been increasing in the past ten years.
Another striking conclusion is that learning from the tasks performed at work decreased from 31% in 2010 to 24% in 2017. “Still, the time spent on instructive tasks continues to make up a considerable chunk of the total time workers spend learning: just 15% of the total learning time at work comes from courses, whereas 85% is the result of informal learning activities”, says researcher Didier Fouarge. In the education and financial and business services sectors, workers learn most from workplace tasks.
Informal learning is no less important than following courses; indeed, workers report learning as much from one hour of informal workplace learning as from one hour of formal learning. Over half (54%) of workers followed a course in the last two years, and more than three quarters of those courses led to a diploma or certificate.
Informal learning and course participation are usually at a higher level if the worker’s work involves interpersonal communication, language and problem solving. “Since workers generally spend more time on instructive workplace tasks than on courses, we can conclude that the average worker learns more in total from the tasks they perform than from the courses they follow”, Fouarge says.
For the Dutch government, it is imperative to develop a sound lifelong-learning policy that boosts the knowledge economy. Two questions are key here: what competences does the (ageing) Dutch workforce need? And how to encourage the required training and informal learning?
The aim of lifelong learning is to maintain and increase competences so that workers remain employable. The ROA study shows that older people’s participation in training has increased: the gap in course participation between over-55s and younger workers has decreased significantly. This may be attributable to the austerity measures for pension schemes, which means people now retire later.