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Wednesday
Jun302010

Learning on the Job

We recently worked with a client who was facing the challenge of a large number of employees nearing retirement age with few, equally skilled employees to fill the ranks behind them. This is a situation that will hit many companies over the next decade.

The idea of any kind of workforce shortage may seem a bit farfetched considering the current high unemployment numbers, but the “talent war” has never been about the sheer number of workers. It’s about the availability of workers with the right skills and experience.

Learning at work can help bridge the skills gap. Bringing younger employees up-to-speed quickly should be a critical element in any workplace strategy, and conversely, also allowing older workers to benefit from the new approaches and skills of the younger workers.

While group learning still occurs in dedicated training and conference rooms, we’re finding that workers are increasingly learning at their desk due to online training and one-to-one coaching. And while formal learning is important, one of the most effective ways to move knowledge or new ideas through an organization is through human interactions. If people can see and visually connect with each other, learning becomes fluid and occurs naturally.

Design solutions could include glass office fronts and low workstation panels to allow work to become more transparent; display areas to show work in process to encourage questions and discussion; locate new employees where they can overhear conversations as part of on-boarding; and provide easy access to knowledge, information and shared resources.

Janet Pogue is a Principal in Gensler’s Washington, D.C. office. She co-leads the firm’s Workplace Practice and is a frequent writer and speaker on the critical issues affecting the design of high performing work environments. Contact her at janet_pogue@gensler.com.

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