Knowledge production and/or learning ability as part of competence (2)

Focus on learning processes

1st revision

Introduction

In the first part of this contribution I stated that workers and companies have their own and mutual responsibilities for learning and development. It is a form of responsiveness and a strategic choice[1]. Even for workers is learning and development a strategic choice[2]. If one states that the ability to learn and develop is important an explanation is necessary.

A learning and development attitude is an absolute condition if companies will survive in a dynamic environment. It’s an instrument for direction and control. First, I’ll focus on the learning and development of companies, then the mutual processes and last the learning processes and competencies of workers.

Learning and development of companies

When economic or technological developments urge companies to adapt their production and services, they start strategic learning processes. They need to seek answers about de strength of the competition, economic or technological changes and changing needs of their customers. Instruments as benchmarks, SWAT-analysis, and CRM are applied and cause rethinking of goals, products, services and structure of the company. The search is caused by the fundamental investigating attitude of the company. In my opinion learning and development are instruments for the direction of a company and also over the work to be done. These fit in the forms of direction and control earlier mentioned.

Learning and development consist of various processes:

1             Specification as condition for quality assurance. Companies and customers want guarantees about the quality of processes and outcomes. Above that, companies or departments learn by means of specification, monitoring and comes to modification in order to produce more efficient and better outcomes. This is the aim of methods as the PDA-cycle. But I doubt that this is enough. To determine the cause of inadequate performance or bad products its necessary to know the conditions of adequate production processes; the model for micromanagement can serve a frame work for analysis. This method is not a solution for all the cases. A full, detailed specification of processes and condition is only possible for predictable circumstances. Uncertainty makes a full specification and control almost impossible. In these cases it seems wise to specify the problem space, the degrees of freedom to act and the necessary expertise as a base for communication and account for the processes and outcomes. Communication about the quality is also a form of uncertainty reduction. For companies, both methods are examples of the third form of direction and control.

  2           Consolidation by standardisation is similar to descriptions of processes and outcomes. However, the goal differs. According to Bron (2012) it’s a possible response to severe competition in an environment with a stable technology, economy and customer’s needs. The motivation is keeping the competition position. Mostly, consolidation leads to awareness of habits and to think about processes and results, with, paradoxical enough, consequences as optimization and improvement. Consolidation also is an instrument for direction and control of the third kind.

3             Optimising is a learning process from the question whether processes can be more effective. Workers and managers evaluate the efficiency of each step or activity;  the implementation is the order, though the result remains the same. Optimisation rises above quality assurance: the costs of processes are scrutinized. It’s an instrument for direction and control of the third kind.

  4             Improvement also is considered as a learning process aiming  for a higher efficiency and effectiveness. Workers and managers evaluate each step with the interim outcomes and the final result. The aim is an equal product for customers and more chances for profit. Improvement is the result of description, analysis and redesign. It’s an instrument for direction and control of the first, second and third kind.

5            Innovation of the production processes and/or the results is a result of strategic learning about development of economy, technology, customers’ needs and a reflexion on the efficiency an effectiveness of the production. If the company decides to enter his markets with new products of services a new learning and development process starts. In a joint undertaking the company transits to a next level. Innovation is caused by description, analysis, and design and is an instrument for direction and control from the first, second, third and fourth kind.

Companies and workers

Knowledge production, as a term, is a construct that comprises various learning and communication processes. It leads to a better performance of the company and adaption of changes in the environment. These processes between workers and between workers and management and between business units are intended to specify, consolidate, optimize, enhance or renew the production. The management organises the knowledge production and divides these processes about business units and workers. How one organizes these learning processes, ultimately it comes down to the competence and the learning and development of employees under uncertain circumstances.

Competencies, learning and development of workers

Learning and development of workers is vital for their employability due to dynamic circumstances and unpredictable elements of the work on hand. Dynamic companies, with knowledge production as part of their strategy, need such workers. The question is which kinds of learning are necessary. I’ll present here a ideal model. It’s based on the, probably romantic, assumption, of an intrinsic attitude for learning and development, an absolute condition for labour in dynamic or uncertain situations.

Learning and development workers from falls or stands with reflection on work in progress. This means that workers look back on the course and the result of the work with the goal to improve themselves and the work efficiency. They process their experiences, develop rules of thumb for the efficient performance, enhance their problem solving skills and develop a personal practice theory or expertise. It’s a kind of reverse self-control. This reflective way of working contributes to continuing development of competence: learning at a workplace. Undoubtedly they encounter on deficits in their ability. They fill these deficiencies to communicate with colleagues during or after work per mobile or on internet forums, find additional information on the net or in reference books or communicate with suppliers. Reflection on work in progress is a kind of learning at the workplace and also direction of the forth kind.

The need for compensating these deficiencies is to be considered as a trigger for a reflection on competence and expertise. Workers wonder whether their body of knowledge is adequate for a profound performance of their work. Recent research, in the Netherlands, reveals that many believe that they are ill-equipped for their work. They find their competence inadequate and feel less employable and therefore vulnerable. Sustainable employability is an issue for workers, at least should be.

There are workers who deepen their professional competence, in addition to the supplement of deficiencies (casually). They acquire new insights, theories and designs of their field. Partly because of this they are able to structure and solve more complex problems in the technical problem space . There are also workers who broaden their professional competencies and improve their employability. It leads to widening the potential job bundle. Training we call this.

There are also workers who wish to develop outside their field. For example by social activities or actions that lead to personal development. Now it has been found that the welfare of workers partly depends on their will to develop their selves in general and to be busy outside their work. Those who do this, remain generally healthy for longer than the very passive. Employability and personal well-being evidently depends on the ability and the willingness to follow developments and to react in operational, tactical and/or strategic ways.

There are times workers reflect, from their experiences, on their personal goals and working conditions. They wonder what the work means to them, why they do it and if it is still in line with their ambitions. This happens often around their thirtieth.

 

Responsibilities

Learning and development of companies and workers depends on the interaction between both parties. The company organises, facilitates and direct these processes; workers are responsible for  the processes mentioned above: reflection on the efficiency, the personal body of knowledge, the values and goals for labour, broadening and deepening the body of knowledge and by that the (sustainable) employability and their welfare. Workers and companies both are responsible for knowledge production: consolidation, optimisation, improvement and innovation are mutual responsibilities. Companies are responsible for the strategic learning processes: learning from quality assurance, the improvement and innovation cycles and monitoring and analysing the developments in economy, technology and customer’s needs in order to respond adequately.

[1] Some companies don’t make efforts for learning and development. Instead they replace their personnel for new for new production of services. At least they have a network of flex workers as a condition for responsiveness. Building and construction is an example; the composition of the teams vary every order.

[2] Some workers choose for a professional life without learning and development, expecting this is sufficient enough. They get a rude awakening. Their competence and employability devaluate fast in a dynamic world and they will loose contact with the reality of their profession.

Direction and directors of competence 1

Mutual involvement of employers, workers and government is a special feature of the direction of competence. Above that, the nature of those relations is exceptional. The Flemish poet Elschot once sighed that between dream and action “… laws interfere and practical objections and also melancholy” (Elschot: the marriage). It concerns love and attraction. This poet seems to reflect on the problematic relation between a husband and his obvious eldering espouse, losing her attractiveness. But the sigh is also helpful in a reflection on the relation between employers and workers. To stay successful as a company the workers should be and stay employable. If not, the relation becomes problematic and a desire rises to continue with other, more promising, workers. Workers also have their demands: they want to become and stay happy with their employer. Therefore the employer must be and stay attractive. The relation between employers and workers is mutual. Both have to work on a good relation. Labour relations come about in a joint effort of workers, HRM and the government. Love and employability are matters of hard labour, communication and direction. This metaphor of creating and maintaining a relation, even a marriage, will be applied for the relation between employers and workers.

 Knowing what you want is an absolute condition for a director; and therefore an employer and his workers. Contract formation benefits from transparency. The imago, goals, products and services of a company express a need to survive, to make profits and even to grow. Workers commit their selves with and will come to a mutual understanding and commitment and to an exchange: effort for wages. Implicit formal and informal contracts are the basis of relations as in a marriage. Irritations occur when the reality not corresponds with the expectations or the contracts and the tolerance or mutual trust diminishes; the relationship comes under strain.

               Contract formation begins with an information exchange clearing the goals of both partners. Specific conditions, e.g. the company’s strategy, play their role. A company has an appropriate, functional and efficient  configuration of units, each with specific tasks and production concepts. Units create a structure of well-defined tasks or task bundles. An analysis of these and possibilities  for directing and controlling tasks give ground to the competence demands. It also clears features of labour and the conditional degrees of freedom of action for workers in the production cycle. Which are conditions for a sound balance between the directing and controlling the work and degrees of action for the workers. During the process (prospective) workers reflect on the results of the analysis and wonder they can contribute to the company goals, are competent, have the expertise and whether or not the exchange of effort and wages favours their needs in the short and long term. Defining the desired and necessary competence has characteristics of an iterative search process for an optimal balance between division of labour and production, the competence of workers and the features of the work itself. Important are the possibilities for structuring the work processes ad a sound balance between  directing and controlling the production and degrees of freedom in action for workers influence. The conditional competence can be retracted form this information. Realize that a number of variations are possible in this process of research and choices between many options. 

But there’s much more. A well organised workplace structures the job and attributes to the efficiency and effectiveness and by that the attainment of the company’s goals. Workplaces are organized in a way that workers can read them know what to do. These ‘affordances’ define the work. Compare it to the organisation of a house of a partnership: a well organised house is a pleasure to live in and attributes to a sound household. But what to do in the case a workplace can’t be organised in advance? E.g. a service mechanic working on many places with a variety of features of technical devices. Again and again the workplace has to be ‘read’ and the work and the tools adapted to the circumstances. Unpredictability is a defining feature of a workplace and competence demands. And what to do in case of technological innovations, chancing economy and customers’ needs and an adapting production organisation in a dynamic environment? A transition of the company and its workshops is needed in order to survive. In a marriage the partners have to communicate in order to adapt the developments in their environment. And companies and their workers? 

Responding to the uncertainty due to dynamics and/or unpredictability is possible by methods such as pacifying the distinguishing targets of workers and employers, negotiations about the changing bundle of tasks or by mutual learning processes  in order to develop new products or services. Ergo, contract formation is an ongoing process.

 

During contract formation the description of task bundles is an important fact in organizing a production and in the mutual contract formation. Don’t expect these descriptions always apply in a dynamic environment or unpredictable workplaces. On the contrary. task bundles are functional models of a reality and certainly in dynamic or unpredictable situations. Again and again a revisions of the contract are necessary in order to clear the needs for employability or ( in the term of our metaphor) the marriage going.

 

The metaphor of the marriage is not fully valid as a model; the partners in a job are not formal equal as in marriage. Firstly, in work relations there is a hierarchy between employer and worker. Secondly, contracts have to fit in the frame work of formal and practical laws fulfilling conditions for a sound contract formation protecting the rights of both partners. The need for protection has been proved many times. Thirdly, the idea of an endurable contract between employers and workers is considered inappropriate in a hyper dynamic environment and a violent global competition. The response is a flexible workforce on a basis of short term contracts: loose labour. In terms of a relations: mutual benefits in a short time for clear defined tasks. After a job done the company and the worker evaluate the contribution; a negative position results in a farewell. The loose worker looks out for new jobs. A condition is that the possibility of modularisation of the production (in toe phases of the product cycle) into defined jobs. In an ex-ante evaluation the prospective contributions will judged. Flexibility is a strategic choice of the employer and the worker; both expect a profit.

 Flexibility is possible if many conditions are fulfilled. Both, employers and workers, become director of their short term relation and both need specific competencies. In addition to the more ‘technical’ competencies workers must be able to analyse the offered jobs and value their competency, renew their competency in order to adapt new technologies and customers’ needs and to negotiate the contracts. Also workers need to market their the value of expertise and the prospective contribution to the company’s goals and maintain their financials. Knowledge production, acquisition, negotiation, finances and micro-HRM are areas of additional expertise. Employers must have the competence to organise the production for a flexible workforce, for ex-ante and ex-post evaluation of the competence: a more technical HRM. In short flexibility of production leads to wider competence than earlier stated.

 Apparently starts directing skill in formulating goals, designing products and services and develop a business configuration. That’s not all. The environmental dynamics requires companies to resume all of this and to adapt so that the objects can be achieved. Managing a business is an ongoing search and selection process. This has consequences for the workers needs no further discussion. They will also adapt the changes to keep de labour relation lively and profitable for both. It is not a unilateral quest, both, employers and workers, are directors of their labour relation and the work. The comparison of a labour relation with a marriage reveals that these are dynamic and profit from a good interaction. Above that, relations are not a matter of arrangement but a variety of processes such as learning and negotiation.