Esther Anwuzia worked with Heathrow’s Learning and Development team on its campaign to encourage and support self-driven learning.  Her video transcribed account of her fellowship at Heathrow gave us an insight into the different type of challenges posed by working in a commercial organisation:

“I worked with Heathrow international airport for the duration of the Cambridge social sciences fellowship programme. The title of the project I worked on was ‘Creating a constant appetite for self-driven learning at Heathrow’ and the aims of the projects included the following:

a) We were expected to identify broad trends and patterns that have influenced employees’ perceptions of what it means to learn at work

b) We were also expected to identify which learning methods are imagined in the industry and have been predominantly adopted by organisations. We didn’t expect it to identify which of these learning methods have been considered best and worst practices in relation to developing self-driven learning at work.

c) On the most specific nodes, we were expected to draw from these broad trends to identify and recommend enablers, barriers and strategies for developing self-driven learning among employees at Heathrow.

As a PhD student in the Faculty of Education, my PhD is focused on understanding how parents and teachers influence the career motivations of adolescents, and how this determines their employability later on. I believe that the fellowship at Heathrow will provide an opportunity to understand the concept of employability from the perspective of the organisation, in addition to the perspective of educational institutions and home environment. I also believe that by doing research on what it means for employees to upskill in order to stay relevant in the workplace and to avoid the risk of unemployment, I will be able to make additional recommendations on employability strategies for adolescents who are the future workforce. In all, I believe that my PhD project, in addition to the Heathrow fellowship will enable me to contribute to the promotion of the development goal of dis-unemployment for all.

At the beginning of the fellowship , my teammates and I matched with members of the Learning and Development team at Heathrow, where they explained the challenges that the team was facing with regards to help being employed at Heathrow, to help develop self-driven learning. For the most part of the fellowship , I conducted intensive research at Cambridge on best practices on work placed learning that has been adopted by organisation. However, my teammates and I thought it would be best to design an online survey to capture the perceptions of employees at Heathrow, and the notion of self-driven learning and how they think Heathrow as an organisational environment can help in developing their skills.

After that, we then co-designed an online survey in alliance with members of the L&D department, but we were unable to distribute the survey before the outbreak of the pandemic. However, before the pandemic, I was already able to conduct one on one interviews with some employees at Heathrow on the subjects of their perception of how best they learn and a perception of Heathrow as a learning organisation.

The fellowship culminated in the submission of two reports. The first report spoke of the impacts of Covid-19 on learning strategies and how the pandemic will shape learning and development in the future. The second report was on wide trends and best practices on work placed learning, as well as the findings on the interviews I conducted with employees at Heathrow.

A major finding from this project was the need for a close collaboration between members of the L&D team and employees in designing learning strategies that will benefit them in developing self-driven learning at work, as opposed to a top-down approach from the Learning and Development team to employees.

One of the major insights that I gained from collaborating with a commercial organisation was the difference in the way ideas are communicated to a commercial organisation, as opposed to how we communicate ideas in the academia. For a commercial organisation, they’re more interested in the practicability of an idea. It’s not just enough to hypothesise that this idea will work or could work, but to show exactly in what ways it applies to the organisation, and more importantly to justify it with examples from other organisations where the idea or method has been proven to work.

One thing I also realised which is quite different from working with a commercial organisation as opposed to a policy-based organisation is the difference in the specificity of a problem. For commercial organisations the problems are very specific and there is a sense of urgency around the resolution of the problem. For a commercial organisation the problems should be identifiable as well as their solutions, whereas for a policy-based organisation, there’s a likelihood that policies could be more all-encompassing.

I discovered that when working with a commercial organisation, problems are very specific, as opposed to a policy-based organisation where there could be a time lag between when the problem is identified and when there was a solution. Within a commercial organisation as a result of the continuous change in the environment, it’s never static. So for solutions, there is a sense of urgency and immediacy around defining solutions to problems, which of course without which, work will be hindered significantly.

I’ll definitely recommend the Cambridge Grand Challenges fellowship for prospective applicants because it’s a valuable way to develop hands-on problem-solving skills in relation to real life problems, as well as improving your communication skills outside the academia, which definitely contributes to your future development as a researcher and a professional.”

Esther Anwuzia’s fellowship with Heathrow took place between October 2019 and May 2020.

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