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:
will lead to some general remarks on the European perspectives
do we find HRD practices?
European historic background for HRD practices
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
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.
fragmented cultural map of Europe and its impact
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.
of the European Union, of national governments and of universities in the
domain of HRD
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.
general remarks on the European perspective
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
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.