Our CEO Simon Parkinson gives his thoughts on why continuing to learn is so important, and how developing your professional skills at work can also have a positive impact on your personal attributes too.

I guess I am a lifelong learner, but I didn’t know that when I left school at 16.

Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t have a bad experience at school.  I left with a solid set of 6 “O Levels” and some good memories, but I knew I didn’t want to go on to do “A levels”.

The world of work

I learnt many new skills and met some great friends and mentors who I am still in touch with today. 

I went straight into the world of work with Salford City Council as an office junior and toured round different departments, before ending up in the surveyor’s team of the Education Department.  I learnt many new skills and met some great friends and mentors who I am still in touch with today. 

Both Salford City Council and Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council (my second employer) invested in me through day release to complete technical qualifications, leading to my first degree as a part-time student from Salford University.  This investment increased my knowledge of both technical and management theories and practices, complementing my skills development and boosting my personal progress.

The impact of organisations and people

It’s vital that organisations, including co-operative enterprises, continue to invest in the talent of tomorrow.

This type of investment by public sector organisations in education for their employees was common practice at the time and benefited not just myself, but also the public sector organisations and the communities they served. It’s vital that organisations, including co-operative enterprises, continue to invest in the talent of tomorrow.

Before joining the Co-operative College, I spent the majority of my career with Royal Mencap Society (RMS), the largest learning disability charity in the UK.  Throughout my time at RMS I was fortunate to work alongside many talented people, not least the current CEO Jan Tregelles. Her level of support, challenge and commitment to making a difference has had a profound effect on who I am, not just as a leader but also as a human being. 

People like Jan would not necessarily refer to themselves as teachers, but the lessons you can learn from dedicated people with strong positive values are another important component of lifelong (and life wide) learning.

My formal education also continued with the support of RMS, and I was fortunate enough to attend a range of development programmes and courses at leading institutions like Ashridge, Cranfield. This gave me the confidence to complete a Masters in Public Administration at Warwick University, again on a part-time basis. 

I knew I’d love the course at Warwick when the induction weekend began with Prof. John Bennington asking us to watch the classic 1957 film 12 Angry Men. This became the basis of our first case study in leadership, whilst I was also introduced to the work of the Harvard lecturer, Ronald Heifetz. His work on Adaptive Leadership has helped me immensely in the pursuit of trying to be a good leader and colleague.

Moving into the co-operative sector

Joining the Co-operative College and the wider Co-operative movement has re-kindled my interest in a values based approach to leadership and work in general.  Instinctively, I have always tried to live and work through a positive set of values.

There is an onus on co-operative enterprises, organisations and the individuals (colleagues and members) of the co‑operative movement to promote and support the importance of education and learning. It is after all enshrined in our Principles.

I see this this in its widest sense.  We need to promote the importance of learning in three areas:

  • Knowledge acquisition – via both formal and informal education
  • Skills development – creating opportunities for people to learn “on the job”
  • Adopting positive Values and Behaviours – holding ourselves to positive set of values and applying these across the work we do.

I love the fact that every day I learn something from the great Colleagues I have at the Co-operative College and the people we work with across the International Co-operative Movement.

I look forward to reading your love to learn blogs and to discussing any thought you may have on mine.