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'It's crucial': 6 reasons why you should embrace learning at work

Combining the ability to learn and work has been a positive – and in some cases life-changing – experience for many Open University students. So, to mark Learning at Work Week 2016, an annual campaign dedicated to promoting the benefits of professional development, these OU graduates explain why ‘learning while earning’ has worked for them...

1) You already have the perfect study space – your office!

Rob Clark

OU graduate Rob Clark

Rob Clark graduated with a MSc in Technology Management while working at the United Nations in Geneva, and took full advantage of his office workspace so study didn’t physically creep into his home life.

“I only ever studied in my office at work. I would study before work, during my lunch break, into the evenings and at weekends. I set up my office as the ‘perfect’ study space: a good computer with two large monitors and a fast internet connection, a comfy chair and good lighting – and zero distractions.”

Adam Prestwood’s employer sponsored him to study a BA (Hons) in Business Studies and he reduced his working hours so he could spend mornings studying from the office. This valuable time helped him move up the ranks from office junior at a financial consultancy to a client co-ordinator.

“Being cloistered away at work, with everyone under orders not to disturb me, gave me the motivation to study. Working at home in the evenings would have been a struggle but when I was in that room I was in study mode. The door stayed closed and people pretended I wasn’t there. I was studying not just while in work – but at work!”

2) Let your employer pick up the bill

Suzanne Smith

OU graduate Suzanne Smith

Suzanne Smith was sponsored to do an OU degree in engineering by her employer – and both have reaped the benefits of her BA and then MSc in Engineering.

“My employers offered to sponsor me to study for a degree with the OU. I jumped at the chance, especially as the OU’s flexibility appealed to me,” she said.

“Having not just one, but two OU degrees has certainly benefitted me. On a personal level, my self-confidence has increased. In the workplace, the knowledge I’ve gained has been essential for my role and I’ve had more opportunities career wise; I believe that having the degrees places me ahead of other candidates when applying for posts. Studying has also instilled in me a sense of dedication.”

3) It’ll help set you up for your next job or career

Brian ONeill

OU graduate Brian ONeill

Brian O’Neill signed up for OU study while serving as a soldier. Despite some challenging circumstances along the way – including two tours of Afghanistan – Brian achieved a BA (Hons) in English Language and Literature and hopes to embark on a career in adult education when he retires from the army.

“I’m due to retire from the army after 26 years’ service and I hope to take up a career in the adult education sector; I believe my degree will help with this transition.

"Having left school without any formal qualifications I never in a million years thought it was possible to get a degree. I think the next challenge has to be the Masters!”

Margo Morrison

OU graduate Margo Morrison

Jamaica-born Margo Morrison took up modelling shortly after leaving school and fit studying around photo shoots and part-time waitressing. Thanks to her OU degree and a MSc at University College, London, she’s now planning a career change to psychotherapist.

“I enjoyed my work and did not want to give it up, but I wanted to return to study; one of my personal goals was to have a degree by the time I was 30.

"One evening I came across a BBC programme that was produced with The Open University and was so impressed by it that I decided to find out more about the OU. I have the OU to thank for putting me on the right path.”

4) It could help you land your dream job

Rebecca Miller

OU graduate Rebecca Miller

Rebecca worked away from home a lot and the flexibility of an OU degree was the only way she could study around her work commitments. And combining work and study means she’s now landed her dream job.

“I think it was the flexibility that made me choose the OU; I was working full-time and was away from home a lot, so it was the opportunity not to be confined to the structure of having to attend lectures because physically I just couldn’t do that.”

She later combined study with volunteering for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) – a combination which led to her ideal job.

“Part of my degree covered quite a lot around child development, and I’ve been lucky enough to get a role as youth education manager for Scotland and Tyne and Wear.

“It’s my dream job because it’s working for a charity and fits with my value set, but I’m also able to use my psychology degree, so it’s come together well for me. I definitely think my degree has helped me to get to this point.”

5) You’re not confined by geography: You (and your course materials) can be well travelled

Kara Alpers

OU graduate Kara Alpers

Kara Alpers, originally from Germany, studied English language and literature in different continents while working as a flight attendant.

I started a degree in Germany, my home country, but after a year I took the opportunity of working as cabin crew and living in the UK. I always intended to move back home after a year, but after hearing about the OU from a colleague I decided to register for degree study whilst continuing to work full-time.

“The OU enabled me to study all over the world whilst working and still having a personal life. It was challenging having to cope with jet lag, time differences, finding time to study and meeting assignment deadlines. I managed to study in four different continents and various locations as well as on board the aircraft in the middle of the night whilst flying over the Atlantic Ocean; it’s safe to say my OU course materials are well travelled!”

6) Inspire others: Pass your success on to colleagues

Paul Mahoney

OU graduate Paul Mahoney

Motivated by a manager who spotted his potential and took him under his wing, Paul Mahoney embarked on a degree course which boosted his career. And now he’s doing the same for his own employees.

He said: “I got a job in a chrome plating factory on the shop floor. I had been there a few months and I got on well with the manager who was just finishing an Open University degree in chemistry. He asked if I wanted to perhaps work towards an OU degree.

“I think he saw something of himself in me. He had wasted his time at school and had got himself a degree and he wanted to push me to achieve the same.

“Getting that first degree was an incredible sense of achievement and I have seen my career take off and my earnings increase significantly. I still live on the same estate where I grew up and there are people there just like me who can make a life for themselves and do better.

“I am very grateful to my old manager who took me under his wing and now I am doing the very same thing he did by pointing people under me who show an interest towards the OU.”

'Continual learning at work is crucial'

The Open University Business School is a partner of Learning at Work Week, an annual event organised by the Campaign for Learning. Their National Director Julia Wright said: "It's excellent that so many companies are taking part in Learning at Work Week 2016. Continual learning at work is crucial for so many business agendas and ensures that as employees we are able to develop through our working life. The Open University Business School free webinars are a great opportunity for colleagues to learn essential skills and get up to speed with new ways of learning through online methods."

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