“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” Benjamin Franklin

By Sarah Burns MBE, Chair of Smart Works Reading

Lifelong learning is a bit of a focus right now, with individuals being encouraged to develop their potential throughout their lifetime, and organisations recognising the benefits of training (or retraining) personnel to ensure they have a future-fit skill set. It is clear to most of us that learning offers many positive benefits for individuals, communities, and the wider economy — and that increasing and widening access to learning is not only crucial to future prosperity, but also for social inclusion.

Sarah Burns MBE, Chair of Smart Works Reading

We encounter both formal and informal learning at different stages of our lives — whether at school, university, in the workplace, extra-curricular courses (online & classroom) or from simple everyday experience. We also know that people learn in different ways, for example:

  • Visual (spatial)
  • Aural (auditory)
  • Verbal (linguistic)
  • Physical (kinaesthetic)
  • Logical (mathematical)
  • Social (interpersonal)
  • Solitary (intrapersonal)

So, for learning to be truly available to all, organisations or learning environments need to recognise these different approaches and ensure courses can accommodate for them. I myself am a visual, kinaesthetic learner, and I am much more motivated when learning with other people than by working alone. I am also lucky to have the time and opportunity at this stage of my life to be able to embrace new opportunities, which I know is not the case for all.

However, I’m also aware that in the past, a lack of confidence and fear of failure has been a major barrier to my motivation to learn. I’ve thought about this a lot over the years and believe that this relates to a couple of things — my childhood upbringing, and early young adult learning experiences. My parents held academia in high regard and expectations of performance were high (well this is how I had processed it, in my mind I would be seen as I had achieved something through academic success). Yet living with dyslexia (undiagnosed for some time!) lead to a lack of confidence and low self-esteem along with a touch of anxiety, which meant I did not push myself or try just in case I failed. So despite having the opportunity to learn from an early age and having the support of a loving family, it’s only relatively recently that I’ve had the motivation to seize it.

And of course, I recognise, I came from a position of privilege — parents with jobs, a loving home. Other barriers, such as occupational status, parental education level and experiences, income and level of qualification all shape the likelihood of participating in learning and are all interrelated with social class. And throw in disability, ethnicity, cost, time, lack of access to technology, financial constraints, and time pressures, or simply being ‘A slower adapter to technological advances’, and many people will be overwhelmed before they even begin. I will always remember the first office job I got , I moved from being a Nursery Nurse to training administrator in a software company. I had never switched on a computer so had a lot to learn, my company was kind enough and believed in me enough to give me a week of one on one training on computers which changed how I thought about what I could achieve if I took the chance , opportunities in front of me.

It’s also clear that having connections to the labour market enhances your opportunity to participate in learning. Even being registered unemployed or having a low skilled job gives you greater learning and workplace training opportunities. Public sector and corporate jobs often include access to learning as a key component of employee benefits. And simply having working parents gives opportunities for children to learn about jobs, and the world of work.

An interview coaching session at Smart Works Reading

Motivations for learning are wide-ranging and influenced by personal, social, and economic circumstances, as well as past experiences. We might want to get a promotion or a pay rise at work, learn a new skill, boost our confidence, be curious about something, or simply enjoy the eventual sense of achievement. An often-overlooked motivator is a desire to fit in, perhaps with a new social or professional network, where you need to build new relationships and to inspire and be inspired.

I have found that growing my social and professional circle, gaining new experiences, understanding different values and perspectives has all helped me to grow my self-confidence and enjoyment in learning. I may not have A levels or have gone to university, but I have many life skills and qualifications that I use every day and have continued to learn both formally and informally throughout my adult life.

Now, more than ever, I see the benefits of staying curious and learning new skills. Throughout 2020 in lockdown, I saw many friends do just this (baking, pottery, gardening, setting up new businesses) — they had a thirst and a new drive for self-learning, honing their skills and exploring to thrive in their life, whatever the direction it was taking them. I’m proud of what they have achieved — and also proud of my own achievements in what has been a tricky period.

At Smart Works, we work every day with women to help them gain the confidence to succeed in their career. Over lockdown, we have developed a new “Career Coaching” service, which is for any women that could benefit from one-to-one coaching to help them find their next role in employment. This could be about understanding your strengths, writing your CV , or identifying your transferrable skills — but it’s also about learning who you are, and who you can be. Don’t let a lack of learning, of connections, of opportunity — or the fear of failure — hold you back. Let us help you have the confidence to take your career forward. I regret the years when though lack of confidence I put learning to one side and didn’t focus or grasp opportunities that came my way. Let us help you seize yours with both hands!

For more information, please connect with us at Reading@smartworks.org.uk

We are a charity who provide work appropriate outfits, styling advice and interview coaching to women in the Thames Valley area to help them get back to work.