Highlight HRD practice: A comparison of European and US models

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Subject Perspectives of HRD in Europe (Joseph Kessels) 
Outline My contribution starts out from an analysis of what could be typical European backgrounds for HRD and HRD practices. The following questions and aspects will be addressed: This analysis will lead to some general remarks on the European perspectives of HRD.

Where do we find HRD practices?
It makes an enormous difference whether we look at the large multinational companies in Europe or at the great amount of small and medium sized enterprises that have a very strong local basis and are very dependent on education policies in the local regions. Another aspect is that in the domain of HRD we mostly talk about firms, companies or enterprises, but I think an enormous effort is put in HRD practices for instance in schools, in the professional development of teachers and schools leaders. There are HRD activities in the health sectors and hospitals, in local and national government agencies, and of course in the service industry. The characteristics of these work environments definitely have their impact on how HRD practices take place. So, searching for an overriding model or theory is becoming increasingly difficult.

The European historic background for HRD practices
In many European countries we have a long tradition of apprenticeships based on the guilds. There is a strong history of self-organised education and consultation for institutions in the agricultural sector. For instance in the Netherlands the farmers are very well organised as far as ongoing education and consultation is concerned. We even exported this type of expertise to the developing countries. 
    Another aspect is that many countries have a strong tradition of vocational education. Here I would like to draw attention to the German example. Vocational education has led to a close collaboration between schools and companies, even to the idea of the 'Lernwerkstatt', the learning company or the learning organisation, which is seen as a prestigious title for a company that offers learning opportunities for young people. This is closely tied to other parts of vocational education, and we also see a merger between vocational education and activities in the domain of HRD in companies. It gives them on the one hand a fuzzy idea, a blurred structure; on the other hand this transition from school to work is an interesting phenomenon. And it doesn't fit in the formal HRD discourse.
    Another aspect we find in Europe very strongly is that training has been organised by branches of industry or economic activities. There is a wide range of dedicated training and education offered for instance by the hair dressers, the paper industry, the steel companies, the banking and insurance companies, and the wine producers. The Netherlands  have a long tradition of the company schools run by the larger companies. These schools offer learning opportunities, not specifically job related training, but mostly general education. For large numbers of the population the company schools provided an easy and cheap access to further education and also to further career development. Unfortunately many of these traditional company schools have gone lost.
    In some countries we observe  a sharp controversy between employers and employees. This very often inhibited the development of joint activities in the domain of HRD. I think a strong example is the UK. In the Netherlands, on the other hand, there is a long history of deliberation and consensus among social partners. This was vital for the development of joint action for training and education. Europe has a tradition of a strongly centralised role of the government, especially in the educational civil service. The best example is perhaps France.  The fragmented cultural map of Europe and its impact on HRD
Europe shows a fragmented map in terms of cultural differences, economic activities, historic backgrounds, regional differences and, not to forget, language barriers. For communication among international practitioners language plays an important role, not only in sharing ideas, experience and knowledge. Language barriers are also a drawback on the academic development of our profession. There are big differences not only between states but also between various regions in Europe. Examples include the controversies or animosities between the Scottish, the English and the Irish; the differences between Northern Italy, the region around Naples and the area of Sicily; the region around Barcelona and the formal attitudes of the Madrid people. 
    Interestingly, I became aware of differences in approaches to HRD in Europe by working with international students from Russia and Bulgaria, especially in our joint programmes with the universities of Moscow and Sofia. The students make a lot of records of, for instance, attitudes towards the safety of employees in the production area. One of their comments was: Well, I come from a country where passengers are allowed to travel on the roof of a train; so why do we bother about the safety of the employees? These are examples of culturally determined differences, whether for instance an individual is regarded as an important safety entity. These attitudes have an important impact on our activities for learning and development. The role of the European Union, of national governments and of universities in the domain of HRD
The European Union and the national governments promote  a strong policy on lifelong learning, on the transition from school to the world of work and on the use of information and communication technologies. Here we see an amazing development especially in countries like Finland, Ireland and Portugal who really benefit from these European and national policies on further development. It is also amazing how fast these changes take place. Finland, Ireland and Portugal were for a long time far away from the centre of development in Europe, and now it looks as if they are important signposts for economic and knowledge development. The role of  the European Union together with the  national governments create a different impact on the development of HRD than for instance official agencies in other parts of the world .
    The universities in Europe again form a very scattered picture, if we take examples from the UK, Denmark and the Netherlands. The University of Warwick is an example of a modern entrepreneurial university; the University of Ålborg has a strong position in the environment of new industrial activities; and  the University of Twente as one of the younger entrepreneurial universities has strong links with industry. All three universities combine close relationships with industry with excellent performance on scientific output, whereas a number of old and traditional European universities try to achieve the same in full isolation. Some general remarks on the European perspective of HRD
It is quite tricky to make these general remarks on the European perspective of HRD after  portraying this scattered picture. 
    First of all, my observation is that HRD is not regarded as a well defined, generally accepted, and recognised domain. In many instances Europeans see HRD as an American invention, imported to Europe, which is  helpful as an umbrella to bring together many different activities, but I do not see  a real search for a single model or field. We seem to enjoy divergence and difference rather than feeling a need for having a unifying definition or theory. Many activities that we in Europe combine under the general umbrella of HRD have to do with learning of adults in the context of a profession, of  work, also voluntary work, of  political engagement and citizenship. So it's not  tightly and exclusively attached to commercial activities or large companies.
    When looking at all these differences in HRD practices we could say that there are two dominant paradigms, although many practitioners are probably not aware of these. The first paradigm I would like to describe in the following terms: 'we all need to work to earn a living; it should be organised in an efficient and effective way; it's best done by professional managers, therefore it is the performance that counts; I offer my labour, I am obedient and loyal in exchange for a salary and  security'. The work, the enterprise, the board's opinion or strategy are an unquestioned legitimisation of human activity, and therefore also for the supportive performance improvement and the associated learning and development. Therefore, HRD practices are very often seen as strategic activities to support the  mission and the company's strategy.
    Another paradigm, very often unconsciously induced, is that work or a job is seen as an attractive and meaningful community of practice . It is  regarded as an important means of professional development, as a vehicle for the development of personal talents and of self-fulfilment. From a European perspective, especially in the critical philosophy and the politically engaged practices, this last paradigm has always received much attention, particularly among academics, labour unions and students. In this context, network learning theories, the role of power, and actors' perspectives play an important role, as well as concepts  like coaching and personal development plans. 
    Many of these aspects can be found in company practices as well, where they probably have a different background and stem from a different philosophy.  In the last thirty  years, especially in Europe, we observe an enormous growth of economic wealth. This creates  more room for HRD practices in this domain of personal development, as a vehicle for professional development, creative imagination and for gaining autonomy. It is a question whether this position can be maintained in a period of economic decline and depression.  We are now approaching  an interesting turning point in this field.
    When we have to look at perspectives in terms of what we see in the near future for HRD in Europe it is inevitable - due to the developments in economic activity, the emerging movement  towards a learning society, an information society or knowledge economy that the character of work will change dramatically. This change will have an impact on HRD practices. When it becomes important that every individual in a company should contribute to knowledge development we have to find ways how to promote this. The paradigm of performance improvement is a  strong and accepted logic in terms of making a clear description of the aims and a sharp analysis of the existing situation, conducting a gap analysis and implementing well-designed interventions. This will be quite difficult in an environment where we don't know what challenges and problems we will face tomorrow. From this perspective, a paradigm that supports a strong personal development could offer more opportunities   than  a predominantly managerial oriented approach to training and development. But we don't know, and therefore we are heading for a very interesting period. Perhaps in the coming years there will be some evidence of how HRD, especially in Europe, will develop.
Source Recording of the presentation made at the session 'HRD Practice: A comparison of European and US models' held at the HRD conference in Edinburgh, January 2002 (see proceedings).
Further reading: Kessels 2001; Woodall 2001.
Descriptors D-HRD  EP00  EP01        R04
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Editor: Sabine Manning  © WIFO