Simons, who specialises in workplace learning, said one of the things that fascinates most people she has worked with over the years is the way in which the work itself can be instructive.
“If, for example, you have a new employee, it’s important to think about what tasks they do, in what order, who they work alongside, when they work on their own, how much discretion they are given, etc,” Simons told HRM.
“Actually thinking about the way in which you can organise the work to help the person learn the job is one of the things I think that most people say: ‘Oh, I haven’t really thought of it like that’.”
A lot of employers intuitively know these things because they are experts and have trained lots of employees on the job, added Simons.
“They are instinctively intuitive and they say: ‘I will always start my new employees doing this work here or doing this task before I teach them to do that’.
“They actually intuitively know that work itself can be organised in ways to keep the business going and reduce the likelihood of expensive mistakes. But also to enable that new employee to learn what needs to be done.”
Sometimes that learning can be compressed and quick because business waits for no one, said Simons.
“But when there is downtime because things are slow that can be when an employer will instruct, or ask other employees to instruct the new worker.
“Sometimes it’s not about the new person. It’s about saying: ‘Oh, I worked with a customer today and I learnt this and did you know that?’
“And a lot of that is done when you are having a cup of coffee or a morning break.”
Speaking about learning at work more generally, Simons said she thinks that employees are often aware of the opportunities to learn on the job. However, it can sometimes be difficult because actually doing the work can get in the way.
“Sometimes I think employers forget that work can be an opportunity for learning and they think of training and development as only the formal away from work type which costs money and time,” she said.
spoke to Simons last week about why on the job learning is not always superior to off the job learning.
Simons explained that workers can potentially learn bad and dangerous habits on the job which can be less likely to occur while learning off the job.
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Employers and Hr professionals need to think about ways in which they can organise the work of new employees to learn on the job, according to Professor Michele Simons of The University of Western Sydney.