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Willingness to learn (Young HPC | Skills and behaviours)

We don’t stop learning once we leave school or college. Throughout your career and personal life, there’ll be opportunities to broaden your horizons and sharpen your skills. Being open to these, and prepared to invest time and effort in continuing to develop yourself, is one of the most valuable attributes that employers look for. 

What is willingness to learn?

Willingness to learn is a key behaviour that helps us get on in life, whether personally or professionally. Simply put, it’s being open to – or seeking out – new experiences, skills and information that improve our abilities and enjoyment.

We demonstrate learning from an early age. But, as adults, being open to continued learning can help us form stronger relationships. It shows adaptability to a changing world – or our changed circumstances within it. It also helps us continue to develop vital skills, such as time management, communication and emotional awareness.

Being willing to learn is an essential prerequisite for career progression. To move forward, it’s important to train and develop your skills. But also to learn about your business, and the industry in which it operates. Even if you stay in the same job, the tools and procedures you use will change over time. Being open to new ways of working could help you learn how to do your job better.

Employers expect to help their staff learn new skills – and will usually invest in doing so. In a recent survey, two-thirds of UK employers had provided training in the past year for their people.(1)

Examples of willingness to learn in action

It’s helpful to look at how being willing to learn can make a difference in the workplace. Here are a few examples.

Miça has joined the marketing department of an electrical installation company. She’s a great marketer, but she previously worked for a supermarket chain.

Miça recognises she will be most effective if she learns about the company, its clients, and its objectives. She also needs a better understanding of electrical installations. She researches the industry, and arranges meetings with key people to learn about their role and needs. Her willingness to learn helps her apply her existing skills to a new industry and produce excellent results.

Jade feels as though she could improve the efficiency of her department. She researches different methods and technology, meets with a couple of vendors, then gets her manager to agree to a proposal. After everyone is trained, the team becomes far more productive.

Jade actively sought out new ways of doing things, which showed great initiative and willingness to learn. The department’s performing better, and Jade has improved her personal standing within it.

Cameron has gone from a small town to a big university – and encountered people from a wide range of backgrounds. One evening, he told an old joke that offended some new friends.

Not everybody stops to consider the prejudices they may have grown up with. Cameron feels embarrassed and apologises to his friends. Beyond that, he spends time thinking about why the joke might have been offensive. And commits to educating himself about some of his existing beliefs.

Why is willingness to learn important in the workplace?

Nobody comes into a job already knowing how it’s done. All staff need to learn the ropes, discover their way around the company, and even learn basic things like their colleagues’ names and responsibilities.

Having the ability and willingness to learn helps you get to grips with a job quickly. It helps you develop the best techniques, and take on important information – such as how to stay safe in the workplace.

Employers look for people who can demonstrate a willingness to learn. This doesn’t necessarily mean they’re looking for academic high-flyers. Being committed to learning is a behaviour that anyone can have – regardless of qualifications. Demonstrating effective learning, and being willing to develop your skills and knowledge further, are crucial to winning extra responsibilities in the workplace.

As an apprentice, to be successful you need to ask questions, not just about your job but the project itself – there is no such thing as a stupid question!

Hinkley Point C

Apprenticeships give young people a way to learn a new trade – and get paid for it. Watch this film to discover what a day in the life of an EDF Energy apprentice is like.

People who want to improve their skills and knowledge often need less supervision. They may be better at supporting and motivating others, too. In turn, being prepared to learn helps you get the most from working alongside more experienced colleagues. Employers like to know they’re hiring people who will absorb and develop the skills and knowledge to grow their business.

The opportunities for training, networking and career progression are amazing at HPC. I left my previous role because it was the exact opposite of this.

Sam Shaw,
Commercial Management Apprenticeship

How might you have demonstrated good willingness to learn at school or college?

Anyone who’s gained a qualification has demonstrated their willingness and ability to learn. This is particularly true if you’ve gone on to higher education or gained vocational qualifications. However, a lack of qualifications doesn’t necessarily mean a lack of willingness to learn – there are many other ways to demonstrate this behaviour.

Think about your time in school or college, and any subjects you particularly enjoyed. Did you ever seek out more information and experience? For example, by joining a debating or drama society? Going to watch a play? Or simply by doing some extra reading on the topic if it sparked a new interest?

Alternatively you might have joined a group or after-school club to play a sport or learn a skill, like boxing. Perhaps you joined a coding or robotics group. Or a band. Getting involved in almost any extra-curricular activity demonstrates a willingness to learn and develop new skills.

How can you develop your willingness to learn?

Willingness to learn is often the result of being curious. We might ask questions like ‘How does that work?’, or ‘I wonder how they solve that problem?’. To turn this curiosity into learning, try writing down these kinds of questions as they occur to you, then looking up the answers when you get free time. You’ll be amazed by what you learn.

Embracing your curiosity is a bottom-up approach, but you can also work from the top down. Picture where you want to be in one, five, or 10 years. What job would you like to be doing? Visualising what you want for yourself over a longer time frame gives you the motivation to learn skills and make changes to achieve those goals. You can research the skills and experience you need, then aim for the right jobs, training and education.

It’s never easier or more enjoyable to learn than when the subject is something close to your heart. If you’re fascinated by cranes, you might want to investigate careers in driving or repairing them. If you are committed to tackling climate change, you might want to work in a low-carbon energy industry, like nuclear. When you’re lucky to work doing something you love or care passionately about, the learning is likely to come naturally.

Join the apprenticeship scheme willing to try your best and develop on yourself as a person; that is what everyone around you is there to help with.

Latifah Salawu,
Commercial Apprentice

Different learning styles

There are many ways in which we learn. We might simply read or hear information that we later remember. Or we might be guided as we participate in something practical like operating a tower crane. Or we might take information best when it’s presented visually. Often, schools, colleges and workplaces will combine many visual, written and practical techniques to help reinforce learning, and support students who learn in different ways.

One useful way to manage your own learning is to apply the Feynman technique – named after the philosopher and physicist Richard Feynman:

  1. Pick a subject

  2. Explain it to someone completely unfamiliar with the topic

  3. Reflect on your knowledge gaps – what couldn’t you explain?

  4. Study these gaps

  5. Repeat until there are no gaps!

Managing your learning during Covid-19

Covid-19 has caused massive disruption to education, vocational training and the economy in general. But in these difficult times, the internet has really come into its own as a medium for learning. Aside from schools and colleges using it to reach students, education providers like the BBC and Twinkl gave free access to their resources. Meanwhile, social networks helped students discuss their progress, and other challenges of lockdown.

Many of us switched to online learning to develop our skills during this time. And there’s no reason why you can’t continue drawing on online learning throughout your life! Take a look at sites like LinkedIn Learning to get an idea of some of the online courses available. Speak to your school or college for any recommendations. Or see what professional bodies in the industry you want to work in offer. For instance, APHC (the Association of Plumbing and Heating Contractors) has moved some of its courses online.

How can you demonstrate willingness to learn?

You can demonstrate your willingness to learn by ensuring your CV contains all your relevant grades and achievements. Ahead of an interview or a chat at a careers fair, it’s a great idea to think of some examples from work or college that demonstrate how you’ve learned new skills too.

Learning under your own direction shows particular enthusiasm. Perhaps you’ve played gigs or recorded music without formal music lessons. Maybe you learned carpentry skills or how to strip down a car engine from YouTube videos. Self-taught successes underline your ability to learn. And any props – such as photos or portfolios – will illustrate your willingness to learn.

It’s important to learn about a potential employer and the roles they’re recruiting for. At the very minimum, look through their website and social feeds to understand the business. You might also investigate their sector. For example, by researching the big changes taking place in electricity generation if you’re interested in working at Hinkley Point C (HPC). This web page on the jobs coming up at HPC will help you understand what roles HPC is recruiting for over the lifetime of the project. You’ll also be able to learn about some of the job families in more detail.

Be sure you understand any job you’re applying for. Look carefully at the job description, and search information on any roles, responsibilities or skills that you don’t understand.

This kind of groundwork not only helps you perform better in an interview, it demonstrates to an employer that you’ve used your initiative to find out more about them and their business. Don’t be afraid to ask relevant questions – you’ll often get a chance near the end of your meeting. Asking insightful questions shows you’re eager to learn – but make sure they’re not obvious questions you could have found out the answers to yourself with some online research!

Useful links

If you’re interested in understanding how to develop this behaviour further, take a look at the following links:

  1. Start Profile is a fantastic place to begin if you’re investigating your learning options and different careers

  2. This article on 13 different learning methods is an interesting read if you aren’t sure whether you’re learning in the right way for you

  3. This article is from the US, but it has some good tips about how to show on a CV that you’re willing to learn

  4. Discover the business case for curiosity in this article

Related skills

Willingness to learn crosses many other skills and behaviours in the workplace.

Being willing to learn new skills to overcome challenges is key to problem solving. As Albert Einstein said, ‘We can not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.” Read more about problem solving

Investing time and effort – maybe even money – in learning new things shows commitment. If you’re willing to learn and further your skills, you’re demonstrating your commitment to your future, and your employer. Read more about commitment.

A willingness to learn isn’t a behaviour we should ever stop developing. Some of the most interesting people you’re ever likely to meet in life are those who are always learning. Being curious and adaptable – whether that’s changing how you work, your beliefs or your life plan – are key aspects of being willing to learn. Read more about adaptability.

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