Learning on the job: An employer’s guide on retraining staff

Dr Nick Smith, Courses Director and founder of Oxford Open Learning Trust, offers his advice on helping employees reach their full potential – even if they’re a qualification short of their desired role.

Learning on the job- an employer’s guide on retraining staffA new study carried out by Oxford Open Learning Trust in partnership with YouGov has revealed that one in ten workers are considering switching careers within the next year.

With a ‘job for life’ no longer a reality for many, this poses a new challenge for employers looking to retain talent. So what can you do to ensure that employees are reaching their full potential without having to move to a new organisation?

If there are opportunities for development that an employee has expressed an interest in, whether it be a promotion or a vacancy in a different department, you may consider supporting them with retraining.

The same study revealed that employees are willing to retrain to get their foot in the door of a new career, with nearly three in five (58 per cent) respondents stating they would consider training or retraining for a change in role, with this figure rising to two thirds (66 per cent) for those who are employed or actively seeking work.

For workers who are a few qualifications short of their desired occupation, retraining is a valuable investment and it doesn’t even have to be disruptive to productivity.

There are many ways you can help your employees along the way, whether it be subsidising or financing the course in full, or even just offering additional time off for studying.

Getting back into education doesn’t need to spell the end of a career – on the contrary, supporting employees with training can go a long way to enhancing motivation, productivity and loyalty.


If employees didn’t get the qualifications they needed at school, don’t let this restrict their growth within the organisation. Taking a GCSE or IGCSE in your adult life is one of the easiest ways to open up new roles and responsibilities for employees.

Most professions and career paths now require employees to have GCSEs, even if the applicant has studied at a much higher level. Teaching and nursing are both good examples of this. Most advanced apprenticeships have a requisite for around five GCSEs at grades A*-C, including Maths and English.

Fortunately, achieving GCSE qualifications can be highly flexible with limited disruption of day-to-day work.

Depending on the industry, it may be an option for your business to offer apprenticeships packaged with a Maths and English GCSE or equivalent which can be desirable to current and prospective employees. There is also the option of supporting with evening classes or a distance learning course which can be taken out of work hours.

Studying a GCSE will take around 200 hours, depending on your employee’s skill and prior knowledge of the subject. Both the employer and employee will need to plan and agree on how these hours are going to fit in and out of work. If an employee has a year to complete their course, they will need to study an average of 4 hours each week.


A-Levels are most commonly taken to progress to undergraduate education, although the qualification alone will open an employee’s prospects to a whole host of careers – particularly nursing – as well as putting them in good stead to take on more senior responsibility within the business.

Unlike GCSEs, becoming A-Level qualified will require a lot more time and dedication, making it difficult to balance with a full-time job. Employers should be prepared to help pay for the course and even allow for time off to study.

Studying an A-level requires an average total of 700 study hours so it is important that both employer and employee are realistic about the amount of time that can be set aside for studies in a given time frame.

Traditionally an A-level is studied over roughly two years; however some may feel that they have the time to study a course over one year or slightly less. Although employees can be enrolled throughout the year, learning providers have deadlines in place for enrolling towards specific exam dates.

Deciding on how you can help

Never let retraining be a deterrent to getting the full potential out of your employees. Look into what they want to achieve and the qualifications that are needed for them to get there.

If an employee has approached you requesting support with retraining, weigh up if there is budget available to finance the course and the added value this will bring to both your employee and the wider organisation.

Ensure that you have thought carefully about how the course will fit around their work-life and remember to see retraining as an investment rather than a disruption.

If an employee is looking into the prospect of retraining, it is a strong indication that they are a self-starter with a solid work ethic – and keeping them in the business should be seen as a priority.

Oxford Open Learning Trust have created the Profession Picker tool to help adults thinking about a career change. Each year, the Trust serves learners that might need an extra qualification such as a GCSE or A Level in order to advance in their current career or move onto something new.

About the author:

Dr Nicholas Smith

Dr Nicholas Smith founded Oxford Open Learning in February 1989 and recently celebrated 25 years as Principal of OOL. Formerly an Oxford University tutor in English, Dr Smith has written on educational matters in many newspapers and journals.

Dr Smith was also instrumental in setting up Oxford Home Schooling in 2002, an organisation which has become the leading supplier of distance learning courses for home-educated children aged 11-18.





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