02 SES 14 B, Integration Into New Learning and Working Cultures
Within the Swiss VET system, every year, a new generation is entering a rapidly changing labour market. The ways in which these young adults are integrated into the world of work is crucial for enterprises, not least to maintain firm competitiveness because vocationally educated employees are the backbone of the economy (Finegold & Wagner, 1997; Häfeli, Neuenschwander, & Schumann, 2015). In order to maintain its significance, VET needs to address new competence demands by adapting its instructional approaches.
This study focuses on how apprentices in a large telecommunication enterprise in Switzerland are socialized within a new learning culture. It focuses on how they acquire the competencies relevant for their working careers as well as for a specific occupation. A key issue in the study is how learning processes are managed by the apprentices, their coaches, supervisors and VET managers. Based on a qualitative comprehensive case study within one enterprise insights have been gathered into the character of an innovative learning culture within VET, that is into attitudes, values, beliefs and practices within the company that support and encourage learning at the workplace, benefiting the organization and both the individual learner and workers. The aim of this study is to understand what constitutes an innovative learning culture within VET and to increase the understanding of the role of innovative learning cultures within the preparation of future workers at Swiss enterprises.
- Which factors contribute to the shape of the learning culture within this successful telecommunication company from the participants perspective?
- What kind of competences are specifically developed and how?
The development of innovations in training companies and the development of innovations in pedagogy are relevant for modernizing VET. If companies are innovation- oriented, this can have an influence on the training in the company. The workplace training is then adjusted, so that it fits the development of the whole company. Such innovative training structures are established, because of trends that are affecting enterprises entirely, such as digitalization or upcoming agility.
A learning culture consists of variables such as values, beliefs and attitudes that are common within a community and tend to perpetuate themselves, sometimes over long periods of time. It comprises collective memories, long held assumptions, common expectations and definitions. It also provides a sense of belonging and identity and helps individuals to navigate within specific environments. Learning cultures reflect actions, dispositions and interpretations of participants and vice versa shape them as well. The reciprocal process means that learning cultures are shaped by learning professionals or managers and also influence learners’ behaviour.
Vocational competence is compiled of job- related, personal and social competences (Rauner 2017, p. 44). These competences should lead to the ability to complete vocational tasks in a holistic way, which requires presentation/form/clarity, functionality, efficiency, sustainability, work- and process- knowledge, environmental compatibility, social acceptability and creativity. Beyond that learners in VET need to develop competences in innovation management (Limacher, 2010). Product- specific knowledge loses importance and is often not transferable. Vice versa, high perception skills, openness and the ability to find and understand new information independently become important.
A relevant framework for understanding an innovative learning culture is to inquire how it provides opportunities for learning and supports motivation (Appelbaum et al. 2000). Motivation can be supported by new approaches to work organization, such as flexible daily work hours, possibility to telework, flexible work environments with open office spaces, moving offices or fixed offices to be used when needed as well as working rooms for creative team work may also indirectly foster learning by supporting greater diversity in the workforce.
This case study lasted from September 2017 until June 2018. In total this paper reports on the base of 20 semi-structured interviews with learners and 6 with coaches. Interviews partially inquired about facts in respect to the learning experience and in addition, by asking open-ended questions, initiated narrations about individual experiences, perceptions and ideas. Conditions for the sampling were that learners should represent the three language regions of Switzerland and that we would have access to a mix of learners who coped reasonably well with the learning culture in the enterprise and learners who struggled with it. Interviews with learners lasted between 30 and 60 minutes and were undertaken by a team of two researchers. The interviews have been transcribed in the original language (German, French, and Italian). For the data analysis the program MAXQDA has been used. In the first step of data interpretation the documentary method according to Bohnsack (2003) has been applied. Data were processed using a qualitative content analysis (Kuckartz, 2016). After a first overall sighting of all the transcripts, they were coded. Step by step, the coding system was refined as the codes were selected by themes that appeared or seemed to be important in the transcripts (inductive categorisation). First, emerging themes and subthemes have been identified on the level of “immanent sense making”. It refers to consequently remaining on the relevance system of an individual as well as the group of learners. Of interest were individual orientations and the realities that learners describe based on their perspective. The interpretation is therefore based on the framework of the actors. We looked for text sections in the transcripts that draw a picture or are metaphorical. Based on these findings the team started a process of reflective interpretation. The cases then were analyzed based on the research questions, and some additional themes were added to the existing coding system. In this way, a detailed category system was developed. A certain cohesiveness of the coding has been ensured by commonly working as a team on several transcripts. The entire material was then finally coded by two coders.
A number of themes characterizing new forms of workplace learning and socialization have been detected, such as methods derived from an agility framework, project-based learning in teams, coaching and navigating individual learning pathways. Especially the paradigm of agility is characterizing the socialization of young adults throughout their apprenticeship. Particularly relevant is that autonomous work is expected from apprentices and supported by coaches. The latter also help in learning how to take initiative, provide feedback or reflect upon one’s mistakes. By working in changing teams and having regular exchanges with coaches, apprentices learn how to communicate in different situations across the organization. The coaches serve as role models in the ways in which they engage in shaping changes in the enterprise and apprenticeships. Overall, several structural measures support the new learning culture in the enterprise, such as a more informal way of communicating with each other, a certain amount of freedom to organize ones working day and place to work. The results of the study provide insights into new approaches to apprenticeship training within the Swiss telecommunication industry that are aligned to new working cultures typical for IT related professions and environments, while at the same time the specific character of the Swiss apprenticeship is kept. The innovation certainly lies within a highly individualized structuration of an apprenticeship and within the early need to work autonomously, which for 15-16 year old young adults remains a big challenge but also provides a steep learning curve.
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