Knowledge production and/or learning ability as part of competence (1)

Focus on learning and development of companies and workers


Companies join changing circumstances; therefore they develop constantly. No doubt they expect their workers also develop and therefore have learning ability. Therefore, learning ability is a part of competence of companies and workers. Regularly calls sounds to put learning ability at the agenda of VET and companies. In earlier periods much attention was given to learning organisations. Now, again, calls sounds for upgrading learning ability of workers due to increasing dynamics for companies. Earlier, learning should benefit the durable employability of workers. On ‘LinkedIn’ I responded  to such a call that it concerns to functions of knowledge production so that companies and workers learn, improve or innovate their production. It’s a response that demands clarification.


This blog (in two parts) aims to initiate a discussion about approaches as regards to abilities to learn and develop as professionals. The assumption is that this is distinct from the more general abilities to learn and develop of students. Then I posit the argument that workers and companies are jointly responsible.


Learning ability in relation to a profession has a history. It is a condition proved to be the transition from a simple to a smart economy and adequate measures for connection to a dynamic environment. The history of the Dutch VET makes this clear. After World War II Dutch Vocational makes a gradual transition through consistent with the development of the economy. Characteristic changes mark the development of a broadening vision of competence.

Initially, training focus on the decisive action with a repertoire of professional activities and professional products. Then they focused on that repertoire and act systematically and methodically. The vision widens further; repertoire, systematically acting and working in the technical problem space is needed so that workers can handle variations effortlessly into production. Developments are ongoing. During the next phase the vision broadens to repertoire, acting systematically, working in the technical problem space supported by task-relevant knowledge. The traditional subject structure is abandoned, knowledge in future is job relevant. Then, the vision becomes broader with the addition of another element: repertoire, acting systematically, working in the technical and business problem space, job relevant knowledge and personal development. The expansion is accompanied by an increased focus on the development of learning abilities and career guidance as part of employability.

In brief, it means that the current vision of qualification for the Dutch vocational education focuses on: to act, to know, to be and to become. These developments obviously have implications for the curriculum and instructional design. Also this vision is an answer to the demands of a ‘smart’ economy.


Companies can behave in many ways under varying conditions; there are different learning processes. Which are appropriate will depend on the conditions. The example below, is based on the condition of competition and technological developments. In times of:

  1. stiff competition and low technological developments companies optimize or improve their production to preserve their efficiency and competitiveness.
  2. low competition and low technological development consolidation of the production to the return is sufficient.
  3. stiff competition and huge technological developments companies examine and innovate their production methods and products or services in order to strengthen their market position and entering markets with niches.
  4. little competition and huge technological developments companies improve their production in order to hold their market position.

This example does not describe the full set of factors and considerations; There are more (see Bron, 2012). The question of the consequences on the personnel should be stated directly thereafter. Companies then ask whether their workers not only now, but also durable can be employed. Continuity of the company is the starting point, a strategic consideration. All in all, companies have to make choices that all affiliated to the learning and development of the company and, of course their workers. For an overview, see the figure below.


    Technological Development
    Low Huge
  Low 2      Consolidation and optimalisation to reduce production costs. 4       Innovation of production to reduce productions costs.
Competition Stiff 1        Improvement of production.


3        Innovation by searching new possibilities for products and production.


Strategic choices under influence of competition and technological development (see: Bron: 2012)

This is just a starter for a logic. Let’s also remember that there are formal and practical laws that act as frameworks for the companies. They do almost everything to survive, to grow and uphold their profits. Workers must do as well. It is expected in the current time, that they have their opportunities to remain for the company. Apparently there are two parties, each with its own responsibilities. However, in multiple models of business configurations is the design and planning of the production or service is a matter of management and workers. Their expertise in necessary; apparently both sides can’t without each other. This means that in addition to specific responsibilities there is a shared responsibility and a common site of knowledge play a role in the continuity of the company. This means that in addition to specific responsibilities there is a shared responsibility and a common knowledge which plays a role in the continuity of the company. In this joint playing field is question of knowledge production. See the figure below.


  Learning and development  
Companies Companies and workers Workers
Varying strategic choices to respond to economic and technological development and changing demands of customers in order to maintain, to grow and enter new markets.


Learning organisation as a basic attitude.


Knowledge production by the company and its workers. Consolidate, optimize, enhance and refresh of production and develop new products.


Mutual responsibilities and cooperation as a basic attitude.

Development and/or expansion of expertise to remain in a employable in a learning and developing company.



Durable employability as a basic attitude of workers.

Responsibilities for learning and development in dynamic companies.