Research Paper 25: Learning at work as a low grade worker: the case of hospital porters


This research paper presents the findings from a project commissioned by Southampton University Hospitals Trust (SUHT) that explored the working and learning experiences of hospital porters. The overall aim of the project has been to increase understanding of the workplace as a learning environment and to identify ways in which it could enhance employees‟ learning and career progression.

The research has identified the dedication of staff working within the Trust‟s Portering Department. The porters place the patients at the centre of their work and many show aspects of job performance that go beyond the expectations or perception that may be held of staff working in this kind of role and grade in the NHS. Making greater use of the knowledge and ethical practices embedded within the daily work of the porters would assist greatly in elevating their perceived status and would be to the benefit of everyone involved, not least the patients.

The study was conducted over a ten month period from May 2009 to February 2010 by a team of LLAKES researchers. Evidence was gathered by a variety of qualitative methods and involved a wide range of participants from across SUHT. A conceptual framework (the Expansive–Restrictive framework) was applied to analyse the characteristics of the porters‟ existing workplace learning environment and to help indicate ways in which their learning opportunities may be enhanced and, hence, made more expansive.

This research has focused on the role of workplaces as learning environments in shaping opportunities for learning and career development for hospital porters. It makes an important contribution to debates central to the LLAKES research agenda by providing a concrete illustration of how work mediates learning and life chances in the contemporary work organisation.