Cumulative learning all adds up to a better career

12 Jan 2023
It’s a new year and with it comes the chance to set yourself new goals and objectives for 2023. The best way to ensure this year’s resolutions don’t fail is to ensure they come from a genuine desire for self-development.

It’s always good to make a commitment to your health, wellbeing, and prosperity but what about your work life? If a new or better job is on your wish list, then you need to stand out to your existing or next potential employer.

In her latest blog, Julie Graham, CEO of Ingeus’s Employment Services, takes a look at the increasingly popular self-development trend of cumulative learning and considers how it can benefit the labour market – jobseekers, employees and employers alike.  

While not everyone has a raft of qualifications and work experience to fill their CV, we all possess sought after skills and abilities – our transferable skills. Developing these and presenting them to an employer is part and parcel of what we do daily to support participants here at Ingeus.

People who haven’t worked for a long time, or feel they’ve been stuck in a rut doing the same job for ever, sometimes wrongly assume they have nothing new to offer.

During the Covid-19 pandemic students couldn’t attend school and other courses, hobby groups couldn’t meet, and businesses had to adapt to remote learning. Despite this, the extraordinary circumstances forced development of new skills for many of us in areas like IT and remote communication; emotionally in terms of strengths like resilience and empathy; or by taking up hobbies like crafting, gardening or baking, for example.

What’s becoming increasingly evident is that life skills and experience of all kinds can be valuable assets. Even young people with less life experience can demonstrate acquired knowledge and an enthusiasm to gain more – exactly what any employer wants.

Although it’s not new, I’ve been hearing more and more recently about the concept of cumulative learning. It’s something we wholeheartedly embrace here at Ingeus so here’s my take on what it is and why it’s important.

What is cumulative learning?

It may sound a complicated term, but cumulative learning is basically when someone gradually develops knowledge and skills over time, by building upon what they have already learned. The theory was first introduced by the American psychologist Robert Gagne in 1968.

A simple example is the phrase, ‘You can’t run before you can walk’ – you can’t do something requiring a higher level of knowledge or skills such as running before you have learned the basics. 

Why are employers interested in cumulative learning?

Many businesses are experiencing skills shortages and are finding it difficult to fill roles, indeed latest statistics show 1.19 million job vacancies in the UK. There is no sign of this trend abating in 2023, which means it is a workers’ market – there are opportunities out there to switch and develop your career.

Employers are looking to take on more people who are work-ready and prepared to learn and build on their knowledge and abilities.

For those already employed, there will be more opportunities for cumulative learning though reskilling and upskilling. Reskilling is learning new skills so that you can do a different job whereas upskilling is learning extra skills to be better equipped to do your current job.

The benefits of cumulative learning on your career

Employers value staff with a willingness to learn, who are open to developing new skills.

If there is a job that seems like it might be too difficult for you, you can take steps to reach it, gradually learning the information and skills needed to be able to do it. 

I’m reminded of a recent Ingeus participant, Ina, who so desperately wants a career in hairdressing. In order to achieve her goal, she’s improving her English language skills and working as a cleaner to gain experience. She’s developing social skills, proving her determination and reliability and moving solidly to a point where she has the time and skills to train as a hairdresser. It may take her some time, but her cumulative learning will pay dividends.

Job roles naturally change over time. So, if you are open to learning, it could make you better at your current job and help you stay engaged with your role for longer, plus, you may learn skills which you can transfer to other roles.

This is certainly the case at Ingeus – our diverse and dynamic mix of programmes means there’s always doors opening. Our teams relish this change – there’s never a dull moment! We take steps to future proof our teams to move onward, sideways and upward.

How does a jobseeker demonstrate cumulative learning?

We are learning all the time – even when we do not realise it. Experiences, school, courses, interactions with people, every job no matter how small – all contribute to your cumulative learning experience.

A CV gives you the chance to shine to potential employers and demonstrate all you have learned.

As well as including qualifications, think carefully about the skills you have which may be useful. For example, you can learn teamwork through playing a sport or how to work with others through a joint project at school. Raising a child takes adaptability, negotiation skills and patience. Organising a large event needs budgeting skills, organisational ability and time management. 

Make sure you always update your CV with any new work experience or skills you have learned. This will mean it is always ready for any new opportunities.

So, let’s make 2023 the culmination of your career aspirations!

As Mahatma Gandhi said: “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”
I couldn’t agree more!

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