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The Rise of Working Learners

November 17, 2016 1:20 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

By L&D

A recent study by the ACT Foundation uncovered a rise in the number of working learners, ATD reported. Working learners are defined as “individuals who work for pay and learn toward a credentialing at the same time.”

The article points out that this education can be formal training or personal skill development, and lists some examples of why individuals choose this path:

  • gain financial support for living and school expenses
  • learn or maintain new skills and experience
  • build or maintain professional networks
  • reinforce classroom training.

The study showed that nearly 50% of high school students work outside school for pay. At the undergraduate level, that increases to 85% for those who are enrolled full time, and about a third of those aged 30 and older are working learners.

Changing learning needs

According to the ACT foundation: “only 52.9% of students who started at two and four year institutions in fall of 2009 had graduated at the end of a six-year period.”

The article goes on to say that working learners place more value on learning the right thing at the right time as opposed to taking in all the content at once—whether or not it is relevant to their current profession.

But what’s causing this change?

“The learning economy and global performance is changing. Numerous work efficiency tools have made it easier to connect, enabling people to change how, when, and with whom we work,” the article states.

“When the forces of constant connectivity are combines with rapidly changing technologies, it creates an environment where people need to be increasingly productive, literate, and learning-oriented to keep pace with the ever-evolving marketplace. This quickened pace doesn’t leave time for weeklong learning sessions; people need to learn it now to stay relevant.”

This rise in working learners also correlates to the rise of freelancing and the gig economy. In fact, according to the ACT Foundation study, there are more than 53 million people freelancing today.

These freelancers are using it as a career path to develop the skills they need, while also building their client base. Of these people, 38% are Millennials, many of whom see freelancing as a career path rather than a stepping stone to a salaried career.

What does this mean for organisations? 

As companies continue to attract and retain younger generations, they could benefit from the freelancing ideals. The ACT foundation has identified three key barriers to meeting the needs of working learners:

Uniformity in hiring: Companies are hiring people using old hiring standards and failing to adapt the position to the actual need.

Educational attainment: Firms continue to hire based on educational attainment despite the changes occurring in the education economy.

Working learner inclusion: Companies often promote and pay more attention to employees who have put in more time, ignoring younger workers.

While not everyone in your organisation is pursuing a formal degree, people are learning. A simple way for companies to adapt to these new learner needs is by modernising their learning programs.

Today’s learners look very different than they did even a decade ago, yet many employee development programs still rely on old methodologies. Those who work in a modern learning organisation will optimize learning methods and integrate new and old learning solutions. More importantly, they will close skills gaps faster.


Author: This report by L&D was submitted to CEIA by Dr. Parminder Jassal, Executive Director, ACT Foundation. Dr. Jassal also recommended the following article:


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