Practices and policies for sustaining employability through work-life learning

Worklife learning

Much is made of the importance of adults’ learning across their life span, particularly, for work-related purposes. This learning is now seen as being both important and urgent as the requirements for work constantly change and the need to be employable over a longer portion of adult life grow stronger. Often, addressing these learning needs is translated into provisions of lifelong education (i.e., courses, programs) that, indeed, play a significant role for many adults. However, the breadth of the heterogeneity of the working age adult population in terms of their readiness, interest, ability to access education and work activities and purposes for participating in working life and educational provisions means that supporting lifelong learning is of necessity and likely to be of diverse kinds and realised in diverse ways. Indeed, much, if not most, of the learning across adults’ working life often occurs outside of intentional educational provisions (i.e. lifelong education) and through everyday work activities (OECD 2013). However, these different kinds of educational experiences are likely to be particularly helpful when adults are making transitions to different kinds of work, workplaces and confronting significant worklife challenges. Therefore, it is important to understand how that learning arises and how it can be supported, guided and augmented by educational provisions cast broadly and other forms of support.

The project

The project – Practices and policies for sustaining employability through work-life learning – is funded by the Australian Research Council (DP 190101519). The project aims to generate evidence-based policies and informed practices supporting work-life learning arrangements to promote Australian workers’ employability.

The key research question guiding this proposed project is:

What personal, educational and workplace practices can best sustain employability across working life?

The actionable sub-questions are:

  • What kinds of learning are required to sustain employability across working life?
  • What kinds and combinations of workplace experiences and educational provisions can support and guide that learning?
  • What workplace, educational and personal practices will most likely secure that learning across working life?

Perspectives

Perspectives on Working life

With an aim to understand further how this learning can most effectively arise through work and educational activities, retrospective accounts were used initially to identify previous work-life learning processes and outcomes. The Vignettes provide brief profiles of the informants, outlining major transitions they have experienced across their adult life.

Perspectives on Worklife transitions

The transitions adults need to negotiate across their working lives and how they come to learn and develop through them have become growing concerns for governments, workplaces, and workers themselves. Working age adults are needing to navigate pathways to sustain their employability, including maintaining their occupational and workplace competence in changing circumstances and when seeking advancement. So, understanding how these adults come to confront worklife transitions and the changes they comprise is central to understanding what constitutes worklife learning and how it can be mediated by these adults, by others, or by institutional interventions (e.g., lifelong education). The bulletin attached here provides an overview of the processes and refers to some preliminary findings from the first phase of the project. The case is further advanced in Billett et al. (2021).

Perspectives on Learning across working life

The project key emphases are on workers’ learning through and across their working life, and how it can be supported through their work and educational provisions (e.g., PD, CET). This focus on workers’ learning opens up key considerations of workers’ readiness (their ability to engage and learn), their sense of self or subjectivity as well as occupational knowledge. Although these processes are often person-particular, the need for support and guidance (i.e., lifelong education) necessitates understanding how such educational provisions can be effective, viable, accessible and scalable for all kinds of Australian workers. Click here to access the keynote discussing this perspective on learning across working life (Billett, 2022, Keynote, RWL12 Toronto).

Understanding what supports adults’ learning for their economic, social and societal purposes is essential for individuals, their families, communities, workplaces and, collectively for national sustainability and development. Beyond learners’ actions and mediation (i.e., person) and educational provisions (i.e., education), inevitably a third set of contributions (or affordances) are perennially and ubiquitously evident (i.e., from ‘community’). These include cultural or social capital, and those mediated by circumstance, location and ‘happen chance’. For example, to understand, evaluate and enhance how vocational education and training (VET) contributes to individuals’ learning of their occupational capacities and workplace requirements necessitates appraising those contributions across the course of their working life. It is particularly helpful to know more about how VET assists and supports working age Australians through key worklife transitions to appraise its contributions. Here, the concept of a personal curriculum – the individual pathway comprising across working life –  is introduced and evoked to capture the worklife pathways individuals take and the contributions that VET can and should make. From individuals’ worklife histories, it was found that three interdependent contributions arise: the person, educational provisions (widely defined) and those from ‘community’. The concept of personal curriculum and factors shaping are advanced here.

Perspectives on Policy and practice

Upcoming

Publications

Billett, S., Choy, S & Le, A. H. (2022 in production). Lifelong learning across working lives: Personal, social and maturational factors. In Evans, K., Lee, W O., Markowitsch, J & Zukas, M. (Eds) Third International Handbook of Lifelong Education. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer Nature. (accepted 20th January 2022)

Salling Olesen, H. (2022 in production). Re-conceptualizing education and learning. In Evans, K., Lee, W O., Markowitsch, J & Zukas, M. (Eds) Third International Handbook of Lifelong Education. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer Nature.

Billett, S., Le, A. H., Choy, S. & Smith, R. (2021). The kinds and character of changes adults negotiate across worklife transitions. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 40 (5-6), 499-513