02 SES 07 B, Challenges of Workplace Learning
After the financial crisis 2008, dual VET systems were praised for their low youth unemployment rates, which drew interest from policymakers from Europe and overseas. Despite strong international interest, not much is known about the everyday training practices of training companies. The proposed paper takes a closer look at the case of Switzerland.
In Switzerland, at the age of 16, about two-thirds of young people enrol in an upper-secondary level VET programme, and a majority (approx. 80%) opt for dual-track VET programmes, which combine classroom instruction with apprenticeship training in host companies. In 2008, nearly one in every five companies in Switzerland trained at least one apprentice (Müller & Schweri, 2012). Companies are important actors in dual-track VET systems. They voluntarily provide apprenticeship places on the apprenticeship market, select apprentices and influence their professional socialization as well as their future career via the workplace training they offer (Schweri, 2010).
However, this training activity is unevenly distributed by company size. Swiss dual-track VET system relies heavily on the participation of small and medium-size enterprises. In total, around 70% of all apprentices were trained in companies with fewer than 50 employees, yet 40% in microenterprises with fewer than ten employees.
From the theoretical perspective of organisational sociology, all companies are coined by their context and depend on the institutions, norms and ideas that exist in society (Mikl-Horke, 2011). Workplaces can take many forms. The different contexts the companies are situated in influence the learning opportunities they provide. Important contextual factors are the wider political, economic and social environment, sectoral as well as organisational characteristics such as size, ownership, organisational history and culture (Fuller & Unwin, 2004; Unwin et al., 2007). All companies are faced with tension between production and training. However, strategies to deal with this conflict vary according to company size and industry, but also the company’s training tradition and the space it gives to its formative activity (Bahl et al., 2012). In the proposed paper, we will especially deal with company size as a core contextual factor.
With regards to the influence of company size on education and training, differences between small and large employers have already been reported (Culpepper, 2008; Culpepper, 2007; Wagner, 1999). For example, small employers are more cost sensitive than large ones, tend to provide fewer learning and career opportunities and have a lower retention rate for their apprentices. Furthermore, large companies are more likely to have separate training facilities and tend to keep apprentices out of the production process for a longer period of time. In contrast, small companies arrange their workplace training around their daily work or when there are pauses in production.
Companies also differ in terms of the person assigned to work as a workplace trainer (Unwin et al., 2007). Large companies offer a greater division of labour, whereby a full-time workplace trainer often delegates the daily training tasks to other colleagues and supervises them. In contrast, small companies cannot afford full-time training staff.
A specificity of Swiss dual-track VET system is the major involvement of microenterprises, where about 40% of the apprentices are trained. Typical examples are hairdressers, painters, and car mechanics. Despite the importance of microenterprises as educational agents, not much is known about the everyday challenges they face when fulfilling their double mission of production and training. Therefore, we ask the following research question: How do microenterprises deal with the tension of production and training? In particular, we are interested in the different strategies that microenterprises adopt to fulfil their training mission.
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