From mailroom to start-up – on the job learning

By May 24, 2016 No Comments

Looking back now, I realise I wouldn’t be where I am today without starting my career in the mailroom of a large corporation. This start gave me the opportunity to work my way into various roles while meeting some inspiring people along the way. These humble beginnings provided the kick-start I needed to work towards my life now in the ‘start-up world’.

I entered corporate life directly after completing my VCE education – not really knowing where I wanted my career to take me. Seeing opportunities open up at work in these early days made me think – is education always just about going to University? The willingness and commitment to learn as part of your job can be just as, if not more important, than formal qualifications.

Here are some of the many benefits to learning on the job:

  • Strengthening existing skills
  • Developing completely new skills
  • Feeling motivated and challenged
  • Possibility of being promoted
  • Opportunity to be mentored and coached
  • Opportunity to mentor and coach others
  • Networking and building strong relationships
  • Feeling committed and valued in the workplace
  • Gaining a firm understanding of the business
  • Being able to figure out your passions

Towards the end of my time in this corporation, I found myself on a secondment supporting the communication and training work stream of a major project. This is where I found my passion for education. It opened up the doors for me to move into the ‘Learning and Development’ start-up world.

If there’s anything working in start-ups has taught me it’s that you don’t have to have all of the answers. Finding a solution may not always mean that you’re the person for the job – you might collaborate, outsource or work with someone who helps to ‘fill in the gaps’. It’s a fast-paced environment of constant upskilling, learning and connecting with others or different sources of information.

To get the most out of your on-the-job learning experience, consider the 70:20:10 model for blended learning:

70% of learning is experiential – This happens through daily tasks, challenges and practice:
–   Secondment opportunities and job rotations
–   Problem solving and lessons learnt
–   Working on special projects and assignments

20% of learning is social – This happens with or through other people, like co-workers:
–   Coaching and mentoring
–   Gaining feedback
–   Connecting with subject matter experts and networks

10% of learning is formal – This happens through structured training courses and programs:
–   Workshops
–   Online learning via a Learning Management System or Learning Portal
–   Webinars or Seminars

Being open to learning and seeking out new opportunities can lead you to places you may not have thought possible. I can now build engaging presentations, videos, podcasts, websites, understand new technologies and software, and have the ability to project manage and so much more. Starting in the mailroom, I have proactively sought opportunities and made the most of them to build quite a comprehensive skill set.

Some tips for being open to learning on the job include:

  • Always ask questions
  • Be part of the problem solving
  • Show initiative
  • Ask to be given opportunities
  • Show enthusiasm
  • Always look for a solution, don’t be a ‘road block’

If you work on developing this kind of attitude, opportunities will open up – so that you too can build a skill set that gets you to where you want to go.

Tara Ridsdale – THINKA Co-founder, Design

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