02 SES 06 B, Linking Learning and the World of Work
Debates rage about how education should prepare people for work. At the heart of these debates is the question of what knowledge is produced and selected into curricula which prepare people for work.
The relation between knowledge and work is rooted in a serious predicament: Knowledge is produced and transmitted in the sphere of education, by taking huge steps away from what is common and familiar. It involves creating a distance from our working knowledge, and delving into bodies of systematic and specialised knowledge. These bodies of knowledge help us research for more certainty, and help us to have more coherent analysis of what we are looking at. But they do not always speak directly to the problems we face in our day to day working lives.
The sphere of work has systems and procedures and therefore structure and order. Reliance on bodies of knowledge and the moral obligation for justification rather than on mere power within a division of labour are central to what count as occupational authority. Hence the interdependence between autonomy and authority, which, at least in theory, can guard against capricious forms of decision-making and unfair and exploitative forms of control over occupational workers at the lower levels. But, the sphere of work is also characterised by uncertainty of the end result and fast pace. Many solutions to problems are standardised, many are not. The former sets of solutions consist of long and complicated standardised procedures, the latter require judgement, care and dexterity (Gamble, 2018). There is a further challenge at the sphere of work – it is changing fast because of technology, and space is no longer a local construct; it is becoming more and more global. Given the pace of work, its organisation, and the variety of pressures affecting work, there isn’t often, however, the luxury of time to select ‘exactly that specific part’ of what we know and fit it into solving a specific problem (Winch, 2010).
The drive for solutions exerts pressure on educational institutions to identify knowledge which fits for purpose, and procedures which reduce risk and help construct standardised operations. But knowledge serves an important social and economic purpose: bodies of knowledge enable the creation of ‘labour market shelters’ for given occupations and enhancing the ‘occupational capacity’ of their members (Winch,2010, 2013, Abbott 1988, Freidson 2001).
This paper aims to show that thinking about the ways in which knowledge, qualification and work are interrelated to support the preparation of skilful employees (occupational workers) and to maintain their well-being during work, provides a holistic view of occupation, and by implications of qualification and preparation for work. The paper provides a conceptual interrogation of five key concepts: occupation; work; knowledge and skill; labour market; and qualifications.
The paper is primarily a conceptual argument which brings together literature on knowledge, curriculum and work, with the view of showing how both knowledge and factors within the labour market affect the strength of occupations. It provides an interrogation of five key concepts which matter in the question of preparation for work: occupation; work; knowledge and skill; labour market; and qualifications. We chose to engage with the five concepts in this particular sequence because (and this is our main argument) only a true and deep understanding of ‘occupation’ can help understand what is at stake about ‘work’, what needs to be emphasised about knowledge, how broad knowledge informs professional judgement and doing of tasks, why occupations struggle to maintain their power in the labour market, what forces in the labour market shape their formation, what needs to be changed in the labour market to value work and occupations more, what qualifications are intended to signal for employers, why there is qualification inflation and what alternatives are possible in creating a better match between qualifications and occupational work. Empirical work will explore the applicability of the ideas being developed in the policy world in South Africa. The empirical work involves a range of different pieces of research analyzing occupational qualifications in South Africa. One is mapping qualifications to occupations in three sectors of the economy. The evidence includes policy reviews, plans for occupational supports (developed by Sector Education and Training Authority), and occupational profiles (developed by the project). These three sets of data will garnish us with evidence on how the notion of occupation, its relation to knowledge and qualification, and to labour market factors is understood by policy and by key stake holders in vocational skill training organisations, and the implication this has for how qualifications are conceptualized. This kind of analysis is important because terms can be solidified in policy documents without a clear understanding of what underpins them; similarly, policies can be misleading or poorly implemented because of lack of conceptual understanding. Other work explores the current processes and systems for developing occupational qualification, as well as systems for mapping them to tools for classifying occupations, comparing South Africa’s system with a range of other countries’. The SA processes have been modelled along the lines of European systems to some extent, and so both the empirical and the conceptual analysis will be useful for policy debates in Europe.
The conceptual part of the paper argues for a holistic approach to occupation which covers five sets of claims: 1. Since occupation is a social activity, workers do not simply perform their specialised tasks, they share norms and values and views about society which go beyond their working lives. There is then a normative dimension to ‘occupation’. 2. Knowledge required for discretionary specialisation is formal. It is acquired by training and is signalled in the labour market by means of qualifications. Formal knowledge in preparation for discretionary specialisation varies but in some or other way it includes conceptual and practical knowledge. 3. Divisions of labour create a range of occupations and relations between them. Occupations try to control a slice of the labour market and they use a variety of regulative structures, practices and rhetoric to do so. Power relations structure the stratification between (inter-occupations) and within occupations (intra-occupations). They differentiate occupational capacity (and discretional specialisation alongside it) by status, years of experience and permission to perform certain tasks and exclusion from others. 4. Depending on the level of regulation of the labour market and the coordination between key social partners (employers, unions, occupational bodies and government institutions), qualifications will function as symbolic rhetoric of competence or a substantive indicator of the nature of the occupational work involved in the field of practice. 5. Broad social, economic and technological conditions in society at large influence the development of the bundle of tasks performed by discretionary specialisations. The empirical work underway will test notions of occupations, and how they relate to qualifications. We expect this to shed light on the limitations or strengths of current conceptions of occupations and qualifications as embedded in policy processes.
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