02 SES 03 C, Competence and Professional Development
Since workplace learning and competence development in cooperatives have not yet been studied, and because this kind of organisation is getting a lot of attention in the current financial crisis, the objective of this study was to explore this. The question of this study was: to what extent do cooperatives have distinct features with respect to the facilitation of competence development? The added value of the cooperative for competence development within the cooperative is studied.
Cooperatives exist all over the world in many sectors, for instance in the financial, housing, education, and especially in the agri-food sector. Within the cooperatives products are being produced, processed and/or traded. Activities of entrepreneurs who are members of a cooperative are not confined to the cooperative. E.g. farmers may have multifunctional and even international farms. The agri-food sector is crucial for the well-being of the world population, yet it is very vulnerable from a sustainability perspective.
Cooperatives typically consist of a series of members (entrepreneurs; producers; farmers) who have their own independent companies with varying numbers of employees. A production- or processing-oriented cooperative have factories who process the produce of the members and sell it to different clients. These factories have a directorate and varying numbers of employees. Members are the owners of the cooperative, and associated at national and regional level. At the various levels elected members serve in boards. Board members thus represent a number of members and are expected to defend the interests of the cooperative as well as the individual members.
Cooperative learning has been studied widely in educational settings. For the study of learning of members of cooperatives, the literature on situated cognition (Brown et.al., 1989) and communities of practice (Wenger et.al., 2002) however seems to be more relevant.
The theoretical framework of this study consists of the literature on workplace learning (Malloch et.al., 2010), competence development (Author, 2011; Author, forthcoming) and learning of entrepreneurs (Gielen et.al., 2003; Coauthors & author, 2004; Sligo, 2005; Author and co-authors, 2007; Verhees et.al., 2011). Studies on workplace learning and competence development have largely been done with or about employees of organisations. Competence development of employment creators, e.g. entrepreneurs has had less attention, although during the last decade this has been changing. Learning of entrepreneurs in cooperatives however is a new, which is surprising as cooperative organisation approaches have gained a lot of interest. Potentially, the cooperative is a strong network for knowledge sharing. What members of a cooperative learn is still very personal and depends on many factors, including from whom and where they get information (Sligo et.al., 2005). Information provided via cooperatives may be perceived as being important, as this will be trusted more than information that comes from other channels.
So, if competence development of a producer in a cooperative is important for the success of a cooperative, it makes sense to not only look at the learning of the entrepreneur as such, but to also include the cooperative context in the analysis.
Author (forthcoming). Conceptions of professional competence. S. Billett, C. Harteis, H. Gruber (Eds). International Handbook on Research into professional and practice-based learning. Springer. Author (2011). The concept of competence: blessing or curse? I. Torniainen, S. Mahlamäku-Kultanen, P. Nokelainen & P. Ilsley (Eds). Innovations for Competence Management. Lahti: Lahti University of Applied Sciences, pp. 11-24. Author & co-authors (2007). Competence development of entrepreneurs in innovative horticulture. Journal of Workplace Learning, 19, (1), 32-44. Brown, J. S., A. Collins & S. Duguid (1989). Situated cognition and the culture of learning. Educational Researcher, 18, 1, pp. 32–42. Gielen, P. M., Hoeve, A., & Nieuwenhuis, L. F. M. (2003). Learning entrepreneurs as experts. The Journal of Agricultural Education and Extension, 9, (3), 103-116. Coauthors & author ( 2004). Work-related lifelong learning for entrepreneurs in the agri-food sector. International journal of Training and Development, 8, (1), 73-89. Malloch, M., L. Cairns, K. Evans and B. O'Connor (2010). The SAGE Handbook of Workplace Learning. London: SAGE. Sligo, F. X., Massey, C., & Lewis, K. (2005). Informational benefits via knowledge networks among farmers. Journal of Workplace Learning, 17, (7), 452 – 466. Verhees, F.J.H.M, Lans, T., & Verstegen, J.A.A.M. (2011). Entrepreneurial Proclivity, Market Orientation and Performance of Dutch Farmers and Horticultural growers. Paper prepared for presentation at the EAAE 2011 Congress, Zurich, Switzerland. Wenger, E., R. McDermott & W.M. Snyder (2002). Cultivating Communities of Practice. Harvard: Harvard Business Press.
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