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.
It is also about control: who controls knowledge and who controls what
happens; so he was thinking he was loosing control there.
He was also operating under commercial constraints, and that's a factor.
When the constraints are coming from within the organisation, operating
at a certain level, this requires skills at that level.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.