02 SES 02 C, Workplace Learning in Practice
This paper presents outcomes of a study that examines the links between learning-intensive forms of work-organisation, learning and the innovative ability of enterprises. It reveals the potentials of learning for fostering the innovative ability of enterprises, and calls for linking innovation and learning policies.
The analysis is based on quantitative and qualitative research, covering the EU-27 plus Norway. The study builds on the assumption that the likelihood of actual innovation depends on the innovative ability of an organisation. For the purpose of the study, the concept of absorptive capacity (Cohen & Levinthal, 1990) was adapted as a theoretical framework for analysing the innovative ability of organisations. Absorptive capacity was operationalized by using the construct of intellectual capital, consisting of the three dimensions human, structural and relational capital of organisations (ibid.; Edvisson & Malone, 1997). These dimensions were used as indicators of innovative ability.
The study investigates two sets of impacts:
- the impacts of learning-intensive forms of work organisation (structural capital) and learning (human capital) on innovation in enterprises;
- the impacts of publicly funded innovation programmes on the innovative ability of enterprises, including the effects on human capital (development of employees’ knowledge, skills and competences), structural capital (learning-intensity of workplaces and work organisation) and relational capital (external relations, e.g. cooperation between enterprises and educational institutions); in addition, an analysis of the existing programme portfolios in the EU27 plus Norway was conducted.
Building on this research, the conference paper is divided into two main parts, focusing on the questions
a) why is it important to link innovation and learning policies?, and
b) how can they be linked?
To explain a) why linking innovation and learning policies is important, findings of the quantitative and qualitative data analysis are shown, revealing the positive impact of learning-intensive forms of work organisation and learning on innovation performance. The findings suggest that particularly opportunities for learning at the workplace (e.g. high task complexity) constitute a major component of innovative ability. Further, based on the analysis of 1 030 publicly-funded programmes in the EU27 plus Norway, it is shown that there are only comparatively few programmes which actually aim at promoting innovative ability by linking innovation and learning (e.g. programmes that address structural capital – organisational structures and processes – with a focus on the workplace level, aimed at more learning-intensive forms of work organisations and, accordingly, higher intensities of workplace learning). Thus, the potential of VET (vocational education and training), including workplace learning, for fostering innovation is not fully utilised yet in Europe. To show b) how this potential can be used, i.e. how innovation and learning policies can be linked, the paper explains how such programmes can be designed and used, also building on case-studies that have been conducted in the study.
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