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1 Workplace learning in the digital economy: Contrasting evidence from supermarkets and software engineering Work Futures in the Digital Economy Symposium.

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Presentation on theme: "1 Workplace learning in the digital economy: Contrasting evidence from supermarkets and software engineering Work Futures in the Digital Economy Symposium."— Presentation transcript:

1 1 Workplace learning in the digital economy: Contrasting evidence from supermarkets and software engineering Work Futures in the Digital Economy Symposium Chilworth Manor, Southampton 22–23 March, 2012 Professor Alison Fuller

2 2 What do workers do?  “…Millions of people go to work each day to do things that almost no one but themselves understands but which large numbers of people believe they know enough about to set policy, offer advice, or redesign” (Stephen Barley)

3 3 Key questions  What do people do and learn in the digital economy, why and how?  How do changes in the mode of production lead to changes in the nature of work and learning ?

4 4 Workplaces in the digital economy  Evidence from contrasting digital environments in supermarkets and software engineering  Supermarkets: digital technology changes the way the work gets done, changes the nature of the occupation, changes the nature of the workplace as a learning environment.  Software engineering firm: wouldn’t exist without digital technology, has enabled new occupation and organisation to emerge, work organisation and workplace as a teaching & learning environment stem from founders’ understandings about the nature of expertise and how it can be developed

5 5 Learning as Work Research (Felstead et al. 2009)  Research in 12 private and public sectors (20+ workplaces)  121 interviews with managers, 248 workers  Work ‘shadowing’ activities e.g. working alongside interviewees in a sandwich making assembly line, participating in fitness classes run by interviewees, observing health visitors undertaking their work  Photographs, learning logs, collection of workplace (learning) artefacts, analysis of in-house surveys

6 6 Context: Working as Learning Framework  Productive systems  Work organization  Workplace Learning environments

7 7 Supermarket

8 8 Computerisation of Stock Ordering and Replenishment  Innovations in electronic technology allow integration of ordering and replenishment  This ‘begs for and facilitates more centralised management’ (Kinsey & Ashman 2000: 86)  Stores increasingly viewed as transmitters of customer demand through the supply chain – downgrading the occupational and organisational role of store staff

9 9 Symbol Gun “these little guns are controlling …we’re putting all the Information in …which takes it to the computers…without these we wouldn’t know what our stock levels were and We’d be in a bit of a mess” (store manager)

10 10 Control and Discretion  Dept manager responsibility to ensure physical and computer stock levels match  Can lead to tension between local knowledge and centrally determined stock levels  More discretion = more risk but potentially better results

11 11 Scope for Discretion?  Little scope in relation to ‘ambient’ goods (tins, dried products with long shelf life)  More scope in relation to fresh produce (short shelf/fridge life - risk of high waste)  Designated staff can adjust ‘fresh’ using symbol gun

12 12 Outperforming the system with local knowledge  “what you had is grocery where they can’t amend very much, but on dairy [fresh] you can amend everything…And the system, I don’t know why, but it tends to order too much and you just know from knowledge yourself, you sort of look at it, you get a sort of record in your head.” (dairy and meat dept manager)

13 13 Consequences for Learning  Increasing Head Office control reduces discretion and opportunities for learning, but…  Symbol gun permits local intervention and resistance as well as top-down control – depending on approach of store manager  Devices are integral features of the workplace learning environment and resources for teaching and learning  Evidence of ‘job-crafting’

14 14 Software Engineering company  Cutting-edge ‘privately held’ company, designs, sells and supports digital communications applications and infrastructure  Employee benefit trust (annual performance- based profit share)  Interviewed engineers, directors and other staff, plus observed work and recruitment process

15 15 Software Engineers  Identity as ‘intelligent person’ fostered by company strategies and culture  Recruitment of academic high fliers, company brochure  Interview process, listening to other recent recruits  Creating the working conditions to support technical excellence and creativity

16 16 Attributes  “Well you’ve got to be clever enough technically to do it, to have a technical problem solving set of skills. Determination to carry on in the face of this going wrong…And confidence. Yeah, I guess that’s very strongly attached to determination isn’t it…belief in one’s own ability…but I knew when I’d need help the help was there (recently employed software engineer)

17 17 Being part of ‘intelligent community’  “The kind of people we have, this will sound arrogant and elitist, but they’re sort of a long way above the average you might encounter. If you go on a “how to program course”, the people working on that course generally would be of a lot lower ability than the people here.” (Software engineer, the company)

18 18 Software engineers  Work in small teams – managers regarded as teachers and mentors  Transparent review system linked to profit share  Engineers exhibited high levels of trust and confidence in their employment prospects and status

19 19 Work organised to support teaching and learning  Allocated to small project teams – 6-12 months  Team rotation to foster innovation, interest & learning  Production process (design, testing, writing code) provides every day opportunities for teaching and learning  Explicit integration of staff development within the work process and management function  How can business based on this model grow?

20 20 Apprenticeship model of learning  “So I was given to a guy who was an experienced techie …and I worked with him on supporting a major customer. Actually, I think it gave me a very good start in the company because it put me immediately in a position where I was very much in at the deep end…And I had one guy who was clear expert to guide me through it…” (Software engineer, the company)

21 21 DT as a tool, DT as the occupation  Supermarket – DT allowed lower value to be placed on worker knowledge and expertise than ‘system’s’ – lack of understanding of what workers (can) do, didn’t prevent (some) below the radar discretion, learning and ‘job crafting’  Software engineers – detailed understanding of the occupation shaped the way work was organised, prioritised the importance of teaching and learning and underpinned the employment relationship.

22 22 Conclusions  Changing modes of production change the way work can be done, the nature of occupations and organisations with implications for learning  Digital economy can give rise to expansive and restrictive workplace learning environments  Supermarket chain and software engineering firm reflect very different productive systems within the digital economy.

23 23 References  Felstead, A., Fuller, A., Jewson, N. and Unwin, L. (2009) Improving Working as Learning, London: Routledge  Fuller, A., Kakavelakis, K., Unwin, L., Felstead, A., Jewson, N. and (2009) ‘Learning, Knowing and Controlling ‘the stock’: the changing nature of employee discretion in a supermarket chain', Journal of Education and Work, 33:5,  Fuller, A. and Unwin, L. (2004) Expansive Learning Environments: Integrating Organisational and Personal Development, in H. Rainbird, A. Fuller and A. Munro (eds) Workplace Learning in Context, London: Routledge  Kinsey, J., and S. Ashman Information technology in the retail food industry. Technology in Society 22, no. 1: 83–96.  Wrzesniewski, A. and Dutton, J. (2001) Crafting a Job: Revisioning Employees as Active Crafters of their Work,The Academy of Management Review, 26:


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