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Issue Work process knowledge between creativity and control
Debate [JS:] One of the questions we could raise about work process knowledge is the actual situation and demands of employers. There is a great variety of needs on the part of employers and not all of them are ahead of the game: a lot of them are NOT looking for very flexible employees. To give you an example: I was recently talking to an employer who is a printer. He was recruiting young designers from a university where they obviously had been trained in a very creative way, to look at problems to solve. They developed those skills, but when they arrived to work at the printers he was very anxious that they would not have this sort of outlook. Although they had a terrific capacity for being creative and for being flexible and taking each situation in a different way, that wasn't actually what he wanted them to do. So this may be an issue about educating employers as well as employees.

[CL:] It is also about control: who controls knowledge and who controls what happens; so he was thinking he was loosing control there.

[JS:] He was also operating under commercial constraints, and that's a factor.

[JR:] When the constraints are coming from within the organisation, operating at a certain level, this requires skills at that level.

[JS:] I am not suggesting that he was entirely right in his analysis; he may have been making mistakes. Taking control of his workers and control of the work this made it difficult for him to take advantage of a more flexible work force, unless he himself as employer understands and is educated to understand the opportunities which might be there for a more flexible workforce and a more flexible organisation. That's why I say they need to be part of the learning process too.

[DB:] This raises the question: what is the value of work process knowledge? You could argue that in that printing works there were problems: the students who came in were just not part of the work process function. What is it that work process knowledge gives us a leverage on? What is it that work process knowledge enables us to do what we couldn't do through other perspectives? 

[JaR:] It would be interesting to analyse the reason why there was such a reaction at the printers. Perhaps the problem was that the students cared about creativity concerning the object of action, but they were not aware of the working relationship between the printer and the customers. 

[MC:] Some of it is actually related to the paper by Toni Griffiths on work experience: the issue about people starting work. These horizontal and vertical issues about adapting to the culture. It might just tie in with that employer's difficulty in seeing that these employees are learning by solving problems.

[JS:] I think that is fair. We need to be aware about overstating the extent to which the employers really want flexible employees. I know that this has become a cliché that that is what the employers need, and what the economy needs. But it's a great deal of routine which organisations still want, and one has to be aware of that as well...
    One might say that what is central is the holistic idea: you are not going to do your task in a flexible way unless you have got a large understanding of the processes in the organisation. I am not entirely convinced that having that holistic understanding is always a necessary and sufficient condition of being innovative and flexible. In some situations the knowledge of the process could lead to be innovative, but sometimes innovativeness may come from another source. One could also imagine that the amount of learning that would need to go on to give a worker a holistic understanding could be a bit of a burden; it could be so much that it might get in the way of developing useful things. I wonder whether that holistic knowledge is only one way of making workers flexible, alongside there are other ways: more creative ways of thinking, possibly the capacity of doing research, and a variety of skills and approaches. There are workers in the old economy who have been working in their organisation all their lives and so have their fathers, and they know everything about that organisation, but they weren't necessary very flexible and innovative, or particularly knowledgeable in any sense.

[JR:] Work process knowledge is needed to do a job, to bring about change, and to make innovations. One issue is how you can assess and recognise what people have done in a work situation. Employers and unions are very interested in this, also for stimulating mobility. It is not easy to find a European approach to the validation of informal learning. 

Event CEDRA: Stirling July 02
Descriptors D-KM  EP05          V18
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Editor: Sabine Manning  © WIFO