Company configurations, production concepts and characteristics of labour (2)

In part 1 of this contribution we described models for organising companies, economic activities, structuring organisations and production concepts. They all effect the needs for competence. But, these models are just a part of the reasoning to come to demands for employability. Utilizing a model for labelling labour, provides us with information about the character of work. The whole set of models supports the transformation of task bundles and a specific production concept to the needs of competence. In this second part I present this model of labour labelling and relate these with production concepts. The result is a model of competence concepts.

Characteristics of labour
The scale of productions concepts, mentioned before, shows variety in various aspects of a production organisation. E.g. numbers of ‘products’, involvement in one or more phases of production processes and the chosen balance between structuring of work, leadership and independence of workers. Each configuration of the work demands on specific competence. The question is how we can model this diversity. What we need is a possibility for transforming variations in production organisation into characteristics and after that into demands for competence. Damme et al (2005) distinct several characteristics in relation to production concepts.
Quantitative task requirements: “the amount of work to be done, the speed, time pressure etc”. Some workers must produce as much as possible, breaks are undesirable. Others on the other hand, don’t experience this pressure.
Autonomy: “the independency in planning work order, working method and working rhythm”. It’s about controlling the work: I think that more aspects are involved in controlling the optimal or even perfect performance. For these factors look at the model for micromanagement.
Possibilities for contacts: “the collegial contact and support opportunities in the job”. Workers ask for help, discuss performance of the work or solve problems. Others may not and must consult with their supervisor. It’s about knowledge production and learning on work places.
Cyclic character of the work: “the involvement in the phases of the work processes”. A company decides this involvement by choosing a configuration and a production concept and division of labour. Doing so, the decide about the involvement in phases as design, planning, production and control. The more phases the more a long cyclic character of the work and the more knowledge and insights are needed; workers need a higher level of competence.
Skill opportunities: ”the possibilities to develop expertise and to learn of innovative solutions”. Indicators for a need of skill opportunities are increasing complexity of the production, an enlarging cyclic character of the work, the unpredictable character of the work and an enduring uncertainty caused by economic, technological and organisational dynamics. Knowledge production is a more systemic approach of a learning company and creating skill opportunities.

Production concepts and characteristics of labour: competence concepts
Several times I stated relations between the organisation of labour and characteristics of the work and needs for competence. These needs vary with the production concepts. I present the name of the production concept and a brief description of the variations of the characteristics.

Old crafts shop.
The quantitative task demands vary with the orders on hand and with the complexity and numbers of the products. Autonomy vary with the ranks in a company. Masters-owners are fully autonomous; craftsmen are autonomous between the lines of the design by the master; apprentices aren’t even independent; they must follow the orders and instructions of the craftsmen. Possibilities for contacts are minimal and mostly within the company. Occasionally masters and craftsmen contact others about technical problems. The cyclic character of the work differs by the rank. A master can conduct all the phases of the production cycle, a craftsman mostly is involved in the planning, production and control. Apprentices must follow detailed instructions to develop the skills and drills of the trade, to practice these up to the level of automatic mechanisms; their work is short cyclic. Skills opportunities are restricted within the company.

Modern crafts shop
The quantitative task requirements vary with the orders on hand and with the complexity of the products. Also in this model, autonomy varies with the ranks. The owner/co-worker has full autonomy even as the fully qualified workers. Contacts for expertise are colleagues and suppliers of machines and materials. Sometimes the work is long cyclic, but in cases of great series the work is divided in small production steps and, by definition, short cyclic. Skills opportunities are incorporated in the production: its learning by earning producing new or renewed products.

Mass production
In the workshops for mass production are the quantitative task requirements very high. There’s no autonomy because the work is fully structured. By implication the possibilities for contacts are hardly necessary and the work is short cyclic. Even skills opportunities aren’t necessary, new skills will be trained as part of the transition to a new production.

Mass customization production
The quantitative task requirements are as high as for the mass production. There’s no autonomy because the work is fully structured. By implication the possibilities for contacts are hardly necessary and the work is short cyclic. Even skills opportunities aren’t necessary, new skills will be trained as part of the transition to a new production. But the difference is that the repertoire of skills is broader than for mass production due to the variety of parts of the production.

Small series or flexible production
The quantitative task requirements are high because the machines (robots) are very expensive. In brief time machines must be altered to new products. Workers keep control of the production and are responsible for the logistics of materials and finished products. The work includes more phases as at mass production but is nog long cyclic. There is some autonomy because workers are responsible for the adjustments to new products. Skills opportunities are of paramount importance due to the variety of products, updates of machines and the setting, operating and servicing machines.

The quantitative task requirements are high, but the work is not completely to plan because of the variation in products and services and unpredictable conditions. So, it’s clear that workers have some autonomy, but within the boundaries of the ‘technical’ problems and within the boundaries of the protocols for their work. Possibilities for contacts are important due to the uncertainties of the work, but become of less importance by the learning software consulting the workers. The work the work includes multiple phases by the variations in products and services and the uncertainties of the work. So, the work is long cyclic. Skills opportunities are also of paramount importance due to the ongoing technological development and the expanding range of products and services.

Professional production
Even in a professional production concept the quantitative task requirements are high because hours must be declared. The difference with the former production concept is that this is a part of the responsibilities of a professional. Their autonomy is high, except in the fields of professional care and health. There structuring of the work by protocols is necessary to be effective, efficient and to reduce the costs. Possibilities for contacts are very important and the work is divers and unpredictable. InterVision is necessary to develop expertise. The work is long cyclic; professionals are responsible for all the phases of the work processes. Skills opportunities such as (compulsory) schooling and training to keep in pace with new insights and methods and to stay competent are important.

Learning and development
Even in this production concept the quantitative task requirements are high because hours must be declared. The autonomy of the experts/professionals is very high. Notice that a good interaction with the client is an absolute condition for the joint learning process. Possibilities for contacts is extreme important; the learning process of the expert and the client speeds up by the utilization of similar learning experiences and insights. The labour is long cyclic: the entire process is under control by the professional. Skills opportunities are essential for a superior performance in the mutual learning and development.

I have my doubts about the validity of the quantitative requirements. I think this is not distinctive enough, all the companies (profit and not-for-profit) and workers must perform well. An operationalization that is in line with the characteristics of the production concept is necessary. I suspect this characteristic intervenes with the cyclical nature of the work: the more phases the slower the work looks, there’s less repetition but is often mentally much more intensive.

The model of characteristics of labour support the indication of demand for competence and employability. They also indicate of variations per production concept.

Reasoning about production concepts (1)


In my experience, economic and technological innovations lead to debates about the definition of competence for VET and HRM. It seems a debate about a comprehensive definition of competence in directives. What really is something other than the necessary competence at a given moment in a particular company. The debate is about the wrong issues. This is not a search for a comprehensive definition but a debate on reasoning that leads to definitions of competence of employable workers and, at a later date, one on the VET and HRM Guidelines.

In establishing the necessary competence of employable workers in an organisation features of labour in relation the way the production is organised should play a role. It’s a different angle, with benefits in an in-depth understanding of competence. The usual task description offers a rather ‘flat’ description, functional for the division of labour, but not for training, selection and assessment of competence.

An origin of production concepts

We all know several ways of production. Don’t confuse them with company configurations of functions as production, design and management; each function has a specific production form or production concept. My hypothesis is that demands for competence varies with these concepts.

In time, many production concepts have arisen.

At the end of the 18th century Adam Smith describes a more effective and efficient alternative for the craft process. A process for products in which each step is described, structured and standardized. Workers are responsible for one step, not for the whole process anymore. This concept is suitable for a fully predictable production process for standardized products in which workers carry out fully structured actions. It’s mass production, the opposite of the craft processes in the guilds. The time spirit also plays a part. Needs for higher production and standardized products are growing. Above that, governments abolish the system of guilds due to unwanted administrative and economic side effects. Mass production displaces the craft form of labour. A development enhanced by mechanization, automation and robotization of routine operations in the years after until now. The role of knowledge and expertise evolves with. It’s functional for the design of production and the production processes, the division in small production steps and the description of routine operations. Once structured, the body of knowledge is limited to supervision, supply of materials and maintenance of machinery. Workers are reduced to ‘functions‘ of production processes with a restricted repertoire of skills and drills.

Economic effects of mass production are clear. Goods become accessible for many. Craft products, unique single products, on the contrary, are accessible the few with means. This offers them an opportunity to distinguish themselves from the masses. The advantage of mass production is the low cost of products due to the very high production. Disadvantages are the limited variation of products, capital intensity, and costly transitions of workshops when chancing products.

During time, new production concepts, new ways of organizing companies arise influenced by economic and technological developments and changes in the needs of customers. All these affects the needs in competence of workers.

Production concepts and characteristics of labour

The idea of production concepts is not new; many before wrote about the subject. In these concepts factors as division of labour, independency of autonomy in an optimal balance between management, control and structuring. In addition to these, I take the scale size of the ‘production’ and the possibility of structuring and standardisation as important factors.

The old craft shops. This is characterized by small-scale production and long cyclic work processes for journeymen (mates) and master; the division of labour is low. Apprentices work under the supervision and develop repertoire of the craft such as actions and results or skills and drills. The companies of the guild make small ranges of products in low numbers, largely manual without machines of applying parts made by suppliers.

The modern craft shop is characterized by small-scale production, low division of labour with long cyclic production processes for journeymen and masters. The old formal hierarchy of masters, journeymen and apprentices is gone. These companies make a variety of products in low numbers, interact intensive with their customers, using modern means of production and a network of suppliers for parts of the products.

Mass production is characterized by the production in large numbers, per principles of Taylorism, a strong division of labour with short cyclical processes. The whole production process has a high internal complexity because of the many production steps and intensive bureaucracy to control the organization. There is control of all workers, work processes and results.

Mass customization production has almost the same characteristics of the former concept. Small variations of parts of the products lead to somewhat different products. So, the products differ slightly, not the labour.

Small series or flexible production is characterized by varying numbers of products, long-cyclic work and independency or autonomy of workers. Because workers are involved with several production steps of a production run. With modern, automated of robotize means for production. The difference with the modern craft concept is that series of multiple-treatment of materials in one run instead of a step by step process with machines. Workers are responsible for all almost all the steps. Drawings and specs structure the job to be done. So, the division of labour is low. The balance between structuring, management and control and independence is more in favour of the latter; the control is about the speed of the production and the quality of the products.

Services. The concept applies for (parts of) companies with maintenance and small services as their goal. The work be problem solving in a ‘technical’ problem space. Maintenance or services are well known; workers take care for a perfect solution or smooth operation of e.g. machines, mortgages or cars. Planning is a separate function in the company; a specialized worker is responsible for the planning and control; others solve the problems of customers: independent or even autonomous. They work systematically, although there are always uncertainties. Managing the problem is remote, due to the protocols and checklists structuring the work. Workers solve the problems autonomous, asking for backup by colleagues in case of insufficient knowledge or expertise. The work load is high, as many of the cases (problems or services) should be finished at the end of the day.

Professional production or professional problem solving is characterized by low numbers of products, long-cyclic work and autonomy of workers. A high and broad level of knowledge and expertise is an absolute condition; well-known products are examples; in practise the real features depend on the needs of customers, the theoretical basic-design, and a professional answer to the needs and professional quality standards. So, the theoretical and professional standards structure the products, interaction with clients and the work processes. The work consists of certain and uncertain elements. There’s almost no division of labour.

Learning and development’ of consultancy as a production concept is characterized by almost no material products but by (learning-)processes, interaction with clients, long-cyclic work and autonomy of workers. A very high, broad, level of knowledge and expertise of both the problem and strategies for learning and development of individuals, groups and organisations. Past experiences are used to find analogies with the new issue. There’s almost no division of labour.


Not every worker is a soloist, working in splendid isolation; many are team members. Teamwork is an addition to the production concepts.

Team-oriented production concept is characterized as a group of workers; freedom is limited to the division of work on the team. Aspects as the structuring, standardisation and the balance are the responsibility of other in the organisation.

Socio-technical production concept is characterized as a group of independent workers; frequently interacting about issues of the work. A team leader is responsible for the planning and functioning of the team. Result-responsible units (with independent workers) are autonomous in the planning of the work and the quality. The (financial) result counts.

Knowledge production teams concept consist of independent and autonomous and soloist workers with the obligation of knowledge production. Professionals in these teams develop expertise and new knowledge about the profession. It’s an absolute condition for certification and registration of professionals.

Economic aims

Concepts like the ‘old craft’ and ‘modern craft’, ‘mass production’, ‘mass customization production’ and ‘small-series production’ are based on production and trade of material good in so called ‘value chains’. Others, like ‘services’ and ‘professional production’ focus on problem solving for customers; they are based on utilizing knowledge in so called value shops. The concept of ‘learning and development’ is based on both professional knowledge and on expertise and knowledge of learning and development processes of individuals, groups and organizations; it’s considered as value development. I think that value chains, value shops and value development are categories of economic goals for enterprises.


We learn from this overview that we can distinct categories of economic aims of companies. And we learn about the consistency of  a company’s organizational form, with its distinctive features and business segments, with its aims. Next that we can visualize that each business segment has a specific production concept and characteristics of labour. We also are able to design a scale of production concepts, based on division of labour and independence / autonomy and a need for structuring and standardisation. The scale also indicates increasing uncertainties in the work and need for knowledge and expertise of workers: the scale also indicates the extent and nature of the competence of workers.

Ask yourself either we must persist in defining competence with bundles of tasks; or to use the characteristics of labour and the uncertainties in the work. And if so how we could do this.

I also realize that gradually a fuzzy logic originates from this book and blog for transforming characteristics of companies in organizational forms, production concepts and characteristics of labour. This logic supports the determination of necessary competence of employable workers.