Highlight Symposium: The European perspective of HRD

EHRD Portal
Search EHRD


> Selected issues
Who's who

Subject Notion of 'flexible worker' challenging 'professional identity'
Context The discussion summarised below is related to the presentations in block 1 of the symposium.
Discussion Participants: Nick Boreham, Martin Fischer, Graham Guest, Gerald Heidegger, Mike Kelleher, Jim Stewart

[MKe:] Nick, in his conclusions from the WHOLE project (see contribution), is particularly interested in the implications of power and control relationships and the implications for industrial relations on the European Commission's work and industry programme. Particularly interesting for me at least was: if all organisations are looking for flexible workers, what are the trade-offs and tensions?
[GH:] I would like to point out the fact that most of this debate is about modern industries and industry related services, which only employ about one quarter of the work population. When it comes to networking, Graham talked about virtual networks and people communicating with emails. Most workers do not communicate with emails, they are just selling and doing things like that. Therefore I think that we should always keep in mind that we are dealing with a minority of workers. And excuse me please, Nick, I think that your presentation was very much focused on those aspects which are certainly an important part of the economy which is relevant for international competition, but when we think about this occupational identity and the social meaning of work then we have to think about the vast majority of people. 
[NB:] Just a quick point: I quite agree with that, nevertheless we have got to look at European vocational training policy. If you look at the European employment strategy it emphasises flexibility and adaptability as one of the major objectives. Employability is defined in terms of becoming more flexible, and the concept of key skills always stresses the idea of preparing people for flexible work. So I quite agree with what you say, but we have got to interrogate European vocational and HRD policies because they are based on an assumption that the future is going to be this very small sector.
[GG:] I would agree with that. As I said, my contribution was designed to be provocative and we need to take care to balance the concept of knowledge workers with people who are more involved with day-to-day practical activities. But it is worth noting that over 60 per cent of UK businesses have just one employee and that's the person running it. I have certainly seen more and more people working in a virtual context. Yes, but we must not get carried away, I agree.
[JiS:] Just one or two things not to get carried away about. A related term that has not been mentioned is that of employability, which is part of the trade-off for the employee to be more flexible. Some research I came across, conducted in Ireland, showed that where employability was emphasised by the employer as an attractive feature of working there, that is increasing employability with other employers, the consequence was that you had a high commitment to that employer on the part of the employees and a much lower likelihood of intention to leave. So in fact it was having the opposite effect that it was intended to have.
[MKe:] An issue addressed by Leif (see contribution) is that the learning capacity and the contribution of ageing workers is detrimental to organisations. At British Telecom, for instance, people at the age of 50 have pensions and are no longer workers; some of them are actually pensioned off before the age of 50. It is assumed they can't make a contribution any more.
[MF:] In the title of this part of the programme the challenge of professional identity is mentioned. I thought that this is a particular German issue. So I would be interested to hear from you what your findings say about this topic: challenging professional identities.
[GG:] As well as working for EurEta I have a background of working for a professional institution in the UK. We spent a lot of time thinking about what that institution is for. Certainly in the UK, professional bodies were founded as gentlemen's clubs two centuries ago, where people would get together. They were men who would sit around discussing the latest developments of steam turbines or whatever. I think many of the professional bodies are still living in that sort of era, and they really have to look now at their relevance. If we go down the road of the portfolio concept what does it mean to have a profession, what does it mean to be an accountant, an engineer or whatever? So those structures I think are breaking down, but many professional bodies deny this.

Source Recording of the symposium
Descriptors  D-CDO  EP05  EP09        V23
Top of the page
Editor: Sabine Manning  © WIFO