Questioning Favoured Truths of Work and Learning Research
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Questioning Favoured Truths of Work and Learning Research Peter Sawchuk, Bonnie Slade and Bruce Spencer This paper seeks to open a discussion about some of the assumptions that underpin policy and research on work and learning. Our rationale for the paper is that there exists a set of ideas that are still too often taken for granted. From among this set of ideas we focus on the three key areas: a) human capital and productivity, b) the notion of work experience, and c) skill. Each of these intersecting concepts is informed by specific empirical projects yet in this paper they are undertaken in the first instance as a conceptual problem. Each section of the paper undertakes its exploration on the basis of questions of social justice, empowerment and economic democracy, and raises questions about how framing these concepts as individual traits conceals exclusionary social practices. In terms of human capital and productivity we argue that the contribution of education and training to overall economic development and growth, as well as to an individual's economic future, has been recognized for some time. The idea of human capital in this regard comes from the individualising of the argument: if workers wanted good jobs and avoid unemployment they had to “invest” in their own education and learning (this was no longer primarily a state responsibility). This must be also grasped at the level of the firm where employees can learn and contribute to organizational learning producing collective human capital. The importance of labour productivity in growth, competitiveness and trade is often closely linked here, and yet notions of productivity cannot easily be generalised. In terms of the notion of point (b) ‘work experience’, we argue it to be a central term used to understand access to labour markets. We argue that this term is often seen as an unproblematic for the functioning of labour markets particularly in policy-making research. What are the most relevant ways to critically understand this notion of ‘work experience’? We argue that answers to this question must recognize its construction in relation to global market-driven ideologies, and differential effects (e.g. for immigrants). Our approach highlights work experience as a set of relational practices which mobilize, organize, and concert work across various settings to shape access to the labour market. The notions of skill, de-skilling and up-skilling likewise are more often presumed than they are critically analyzed in much work and learning research. There is a long tradition associated with these questions but still this persists. To what degree is skill presumed to be an individual capacity? Even accepting a social dimension to the notion of skill – is ‘de-skilling’ possible if workers are learning all the time? And finally what is the role of value judgment in assessing instances of ‘de-skilling’ and ‘up-skilling’?