Skills Minister John Hayes has called on all UK businesses to promote informal learning at work, following pledges from 64 companies to increase informal workplace training for their staff. These companies, including 11 from the FTSE 350, represent nearly 2m employees. They formed part of a recent ‘Café Culture’ campaign run by Business in the Community on behalf of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) to improve workers’ skills and they include Barclays Bank, BT, Channel 4, FirstGroup, Ginsters, Google, McDonald’s Restaurants and Microsoft.


The central aim of ‘Cafe Culture’ is to promote good practice among employers, so BIS and Business in the Community have now published ‘Building the Cafe Culture Movement’ to help other organisations to see the benefits of informal adult learning at work.


Mr Hayes said: “Businesses have a pivotal role in promoting adult learning, and so have a unique opportunity to change and, indeed improve, people’s lives. In turn, they can reap the harvest of a productive and engaged workforce.”


The ‘Cafe Culture’ campaign, which has been running since 2009, has involved a wide range of sectors, including manufacturing, finance, construction, utilities and food and drink companies. It took its inspiration from the idea of a wider cafe culture, where people meet informally to share ideas in a fun and relaxed environment. By translating this to an office environment, the intention has been to encourage people to work together as teams to support creativity and improve skills.



Comment: This all sounds a bit too good to be true and, when you think about it, it is. Someone has – rightly – identified that some 80 per cent of learning at work is informal, with the rest being delivered formally, via classrooms or e-learning programmes.


Formal learning can be seen and measured – at least terms of input (so many people spend so many days on this particular course and achieved the pass mark percentage in the post-course test). By definition, informal learning isn’t always visible and can’t be measured.
So BIS and the Skills Minister are asking firms to agree to do something which we all think is a good idea but there is no way of assessing whether they’ve done it or how effective it is. That sounds like a ‘win, win’ to me! Every firm in the country could sign up for this initiative with complete confidence, do nothing and then sit back and accept the praise. Where do I sign…?