Five reasons why Learning at Work Week is the perfect time to start improving your knowledge, training, skills and networks

Pamela Dow, executive director of the Government Skills and Curriculum Unit in the Cabinet Office, and Josie Cluer, lead partner for Ernst & Young LLP’s provision of bespoke learning and coaching across government, mark the start to this year’s Learning at Work Week
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17 May 2021

The countdown has started to this year’s Learning at Work Week, an annual reminder – and source of support – in building a learning culture.

To mark the start of Learning at Work Week on 17 May, here are five reasons why today is a great day to take the next step in building your knowledge, skills and networks.

Reason 1: Because you are entitled to the tools you need to succeed, right from the start

Good induction is more than a few introductory chats. New starters – at all levels – sometimes struggle to know, and gain, the universal skills and knowledge necessary for working effectively in government.

At worst, the civil service can seem like an initiation test in codebreaking, anthropology and intrepid exploration. That means that middle class ‘social capital’ – confidence, familiarity with cultural norms, deep networks – can be unfair assets, and they shouldn't be. If we are serious about giving everyone an equal chance to succeed, then we have to give them equal opportunities to do so. This should take the form of high-quality, formal induction, and clear and accessible skills training.

Reason 2: Because new skills are needed for the challenges of modern government

Along with the universal knowledge and skills, we need to equip ourselves for the  digital age. The basics of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) are as necessary in every role as writing clearly. They’re need to have, not nice to have. Big data analysis and interpretation, digital capabilities, and scientific methods are core to approaching most public policy challenges. We need to know enough about them to know when and how to seek specialist support. We don’t all need to be car mechanics, but we need to know how to drive the car, and who to call when it breaks down. At the same time, excellence in public administration will always be in demand. That means mastering and practising skills – subjective judgment, managing people, complex trade-offs – that robots are unlikely to learn. They’re essential for running and transforming complex systems. 

Reason 3: Because management is as important as leadership

Leadership in government will only be as good as the managers with the skills to transform inspiring visions into tangible results. In recent years we have – rightly – supported people to think about leadership styles, and qualities, and difference, and impact on others. We have shown that having only one model of a leader is undesirable. But too much focus on abstract qualities can detract from clarity and precision in what leaders and managers have to know and do. As we progress through our careers we need to acquire practical skills to achieve tangible results: managing projects, managing performance, managing people. That's why the curriculum framework underpinning the new Government Campus emphasizes “Strand 3” – leading and managing. We’re bringing clarity and accessibility to the practical knowledge and skills leaders and managers need, as they build experience through their careers.

We have shown that having only one model of a leader is undesirable.

Reason 4: Because you can develop your technical skills and speed your career progression

On joining the Civil Service and throughout your career, you can join a profession and cross-Government function, as well as move between them. You’ll have a defined ‘domain’ of skills and knowledge, and a community of practice, providing both formal and informal expertise, accreditation and ‘license to practice.’ You’ll be supported in a clear career pathway, which will be relevant beyond government and the public sector: finance, law, economics, commercial, debt management, communications. Your function or profession is not just about training, it also gives you access to a valuable network of colleagues and mentors beyond your immediate team.

Reason 5: Because the better your skills, the better we will be able to deliver for the public

In his Ditchley Foundation lecture last June, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove, talked about the privilege of public service. Ministers and civil servants are united in their shared ability to deliver for the public: better government, better services, better use of resources. “By our efforts, others stand taller.” When civil servants have confidence and competence in the skills to do their jobs they not only perform better but have more pride and status. The civil service is more productive and measurably effective, and the nation has better public services and more trusted institutions.

For all these reasons and more, now is the time to:

  • Access training available to you by going to
  • Talk to your line manager about what training might benefit you
  • Find out about what your department or function or profession is doing to celebrate Learning at Work Week by speaking with your learning and development or capability lead
  • Read about the great training already being developed as part of the Government Skills Campus through real life stories shared throughout Learning at Work Week and beyond on


The views expressed in this article are the views of the author, not Ernst & Young. This article provides general information, does not constitute advice and should not be relied on as such. Professional advice should be sought prior to any action being taken in reliance on any of the information. Liability limited by a scheme approved under Professional Standards Legislation.

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