Organizational Performance

Question

Discuss how the concept of workplace learning can help improve your organization’s performance.

Please using simple language

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Contents

Meaning of workplace learning. 2

Relevance of workplace learning to employees. 3

The need for workplace in today’s organization. 5

The market value of workplace learning. 6

Changes in skills and specialization trends. 7

Emergence of new job categories in the service sector. 8

Organizational restructuring through workplace learning. 9

Bridging the gap between theory and practice. 11

Meeting the challenges of workplace learning. 12

Conclusion. 13

References. 14

Meaning of workplace learning

            Workplace learning reflects a perspective whereby both the employer and the learner (employee) benefit from the learning activities resulting in improved job performance, enhanced career development, and transfer of essential skills from one job to the other. The concept of ‘workplace learning and performance’ is commonly used to encompass ‘activities and measurable outcomes’ for achieving a defined goal.

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            Learning is one of the ways through which organizational performance can be improved, although it is not the only one.  However, the concept of ‘performance’ tends to be closely tied to that of ‘learning’ owing to the crucial role it plays in enhancing operational efficiency in organizations.

The concept of learning is closely related to that of ‘competencies’. Although employees may have gained competence in performing certain routine tasks, they may lack the ability to attain standards expected of them by the employers in the present time and in the future. Additionally, the competencies gained may need to be refined in preparation for future roles in a different job. In this regard, workplace learning facilitates the acquisition of knowledge, skills and attitudes that are required for improvement in performance in a certain occupation.

However, concerns about competencies go beyond basic employment issues. Today, many employers continue to lament the lack of skilled workers, especially in jobs that require high-level technical know-how. For instance, in a recent report the Canadian Expert Panel on Skills,claimed that there is a persistent shortage of technically skilled employees who can combine essential skills (such as teamwork and communications) and management skills (such as budgeting and cost control) in the Canadian labor market(Carliner 2006, p. 18). Elsewhere, a report released by the RAND Corporation claimed that organizations are shifting towards reliance on non-routine cognitive skills in the completion of everyday skills and functions such as problem-solving, abstract reason and communication (Karoly&Panis 2004, p. 12). This situation creates a sense of urgency on modern organizations to put workplace learning mechanisms in place in order to ensure that employees gain advanced competencies in addition to core competencies.

Workplace learning takes place in the context of employment. In workplace learning, the interests of all stakeholders, including employers, employees, and the government are taken into consideration. It is a type of learning that enables individuals, employers as well as organizations to adjust positively to the changing work and business environment. It also brings about efficiency in all production processes during employment. This creates an ideal environment for employees to meet their career development goals. Modern organizations can only ignore workplace learning at the cost of their long-term performance success.

Relevance of workplace learning to employees

In the 21st century, workplace learning is not just about creation of preparedness of employees for employment; rather, it has become the lifeblood for sustaining them in the workplace. Employees need to continue learning in order to improve their level of professional efficiency throughout their working lives.

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Workplace learning is also an ideal way of extending one’s educational capabilities in the workplace. Moreover, new challenges and opportunities continue to arise in the workplace, necessitating the need to acquire new knowledge and competencies in readiness for them. Incidentally, some of the knowledge and skills acquired in the workplace enrich the employees’ personal lives, thus enabling them to maintain a work-life balance.

In any working environment, new practices keep emerging as part of organizational growth. Employees are an integral part of this organizational, although they can only bring about organizational progress if they have embraced workplace learning. Indeed, organizational learning is an ideal way of ensuring that all workers are not sidelined or marginalized in their quest for career and professional excellence. Workplace learning provides hardworking employees with an increased sense of belonging especially when the nature of learning comes with increased commitment and additional responsibilities.

Productivity in the organization is hard to achieve if the boundaries of education, training and education among employees are not eliminated. Traditionally, the concepts of ‘work’ and ‘learning’ used to be considered different elements. However, today, workplaces are increasingly being acknowledged as sites of learning. Knowledge is being regarded as a primary resource that gives rise to unprecedented demands for workplace learning. In this context, this knowledge is offered in a flexible environment.

Through workplace learning, challenging tasks can be tackled whileunveiling new, efficient ways of doing tasks at the same time(Matthews 1999, p. 24). When this happens, business and industry players are able to create ‘learning companies’ or learning organizations, whereby special attention is according to all workplace learning activities.

The need for workplace in today’s organization

In many countries, the sophisticated nature of economies has necessitated changes that are necessary for the organization of work to remain competitive in the 21st century. The professional labor continues to become as complex as today’s society, mainly through fragmentation and subjectivity to change. One result of these changes is the blurring of boundaries between different professions. Similarly, distinctions between work and life, production and learning, are becoming less rigid. This is because of changing values, shifting boundaries and roles of work. These changes affect the emotional, physical and cognitive demands of employees at all levels.

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It is not surprising, therefore, that the knowledge that is acquired during formal education settings is insufficient to sustain compatibility with the ‘new work order’. The need to put this knowledge into use under unfamiliar circumstances arises rather readily. In additional to formal education, both prospective and existing employees have to learn workplace values such as flexibility, teamwork and communication skills.

The 21st century workplace is characterized by high labor mobility both locally and internationally, globalization has led to fast integration of market mechanisms from different regions of the world. Challenges faced by employeesin one part of the world are quickly being anticipated in other parts of the world. Through efficient communication networks, organizations can overcome many workplace problems through learning from the mistakes of other corporate players.

In today’s increasingly globalized business world, countries and regional trading blocs are playing an active role in supporting workplace training programs that increase international competitiveness. For instance, the OECD supports many workplace reforms, including training opportunities for adults, integration of training and education and emphasis on workplace assessment and multiskilling. This is evident in the way new education models that closely link education and industry are being created.

Apart from employers, unions and governments have also been in the forefront in advocating for a stronger relationship between education and industry. These parties pursue agendas that emphasize on what employees can do rather than on what they know. In other words, learning is driven by market demands. This approach is closely related to the lifelong learning approach that generated intense interest during the 1990s.

The market value of workplace learning

Learning has become so valuable that it cannot be left in the hands of in-house training departments or even educational institutions per se. it has an intimate connection with productivity. It is directed on not only what the employees are doing presently, but what they can do in the future when the market landscape changes.

The vast changes that have taken place in production and work can be attributed, in part, to development in electronics technology, particularly automated systems. Through automation, information and communication systems have undergone tremendous transformation. The automation process has led to integration of many production processes. This affects social life as professionals in one area keep developing interest in how technology is used in other professions. These developments have influenced many areas such as industry, manufacturing, public institutions, banks and hospitals.

Changes in skills and specialization trends

The need for workplace training keeps arising as skills continue to change. These changes go hand in hand with decline in specialization. Today, ‘multiskilling’ and ‘up-skilling’ practices are more commonly used in production processes than ever before (Rainbird, p. 301). This is part of wide-ranging changes that have been influencing labor processes since the 1990s. During this time, employees who did not have computer skills were being rendered redundant as computerized systems were taking over their skilled jobs.

Computer systems have made it possible for ‘multi-activity’ jobs that used to be performed by workers possessing different skills such as data storage, typing. Therefore, lower-level office workers such as secretaries and clerks were rendered redundant. Other routine tasks that have been eliminated include inventory, data processing and payroll.

As part of declining specialization, employees have had to get used to skills such as endurance, manual dexterity, bodily exertion and ability to analyze wide-ranging problems and make crucial decisions. In the industrial setting, computerization leads to improvement in performance only when employees acquire workplace training on manipulation of these electronic gadgets.

The improvement in performance is largely dependent on the willingness of the workers to learn and maintain flexibility in the workplace. They must be ready to be redeployed in areas that they previously considered to be the specialties of their colleagues in other professions. In organizations that adopted these changes, job categories such as switchboard operators, bookkeepers, typesetters, and salaries clerk disappeared.

Emergence of new job categories in the service sector

Although modern changes in technology have led to the phasing out of certain tasks, it has led to development of others, particularly in the service sector. In the lower-paid tier of this sector, fast-food workers, leisure industry workers and domestic workers are some of the most commonly affected lot. Professions such as beauty therapists, adventure guides, valet and aerobatics instructor have emerged in Western societies (Garavan& McGuire 2001, p. 153). In most cases, these workers do not work on regular hours since most of these jobs are not performed on a full-time basis. This dismantling of conventionally accepted working standards has been associated by increase in performance levels.

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In the upper-paid tier, improvement in performance is being undertaken through workplace training as employees and employers alike try to adjust to realities of the modern workplace. Commissioning organizations are increasingly being engage in jobs involving the management of self-employed and contract workers. Unfortunately, in many commissioning organizations, these workers do not enjoy the employment relations that their counterparts in the by-gone era used to enjoy. For instance, they rarely get the protection of formal and collective employment contracts. Transformation through regulation of work hours and casual arrangements has considerable implications on the employees involved.

Outsourcing has also emerged as a new trend in today’s service sector, whereby the role of workplace takes center stage. Through outsourcing, various services are simply contracted out of the organization that requires this service. In order for workers to be able to work in outsourcing environments, the need training on new forms of employment practices. In most cases, these new skills have to be acquired within the workplace setting. Some of the activities that may be outsourced readily include clerical, security, outsourcing, general laboring, assembling, telecommunication operations and custodial roles.

Recently, outsourcing has led to the development of the ‘virtual corporation’ whereby a minimum number of staff is employed oversee the tasks of contracting a specific number of support staff for specific tasks. These tasks require to be performed within a specified time. These organizations provide rapid response mechanisms, meaning that business is not adversely affected by changes in the business environment. Additionally, employees get an opportunity to exercise newly acquired skills as well as learn new ones. Moreover, as tasks become increasingly abstract, the need for manipulability, flexibility and analysis arises, thereby challenging employees to tackle new forms of mastery.

Organizational restructuring through workplace learning

Through organizational restructuring, managers and employees can widen their perspectives on the current tasks through creation of new roles and opportunities. Modern technology provides these people with an environment where new, highly efficient approaches to production are adopted.

The restructuring process makes many tasks across organizations to become similar. This takes place during the process whereby there is an increase in organizational integration and blurring of hierarchical distinctions among employees. In fact, workplace learning makes these distinctions ineffective and unnecessary. In such a context, authority is based on an appropriate relationship between knowledge and responsibility and not the traditional structures of rank and status.

When information flows among multiple users, employees are able to think creatively and innovatively on how to use share and exchange it. This nurtures a teamwork culture that transcends the constraints created by traditional hierarchies. When employees’ minds are turned into workplace learning, a sense of empowerment and responsibility takes the place of cumbersome bureaucracies that affect performance negatively.

New information technologies have revolutionized the way workplace learning takes place. However, these technologies can only function effectively if they are used in the right manner. They can easily take the place of valuable interpersonal contacts, leading to workplace tensions. Additionally, employers should learn about new ways of dealing with participatory management programs in order to maintain control and discipline among the workforce.

The nature of outsourcing engagements continues to change in which employment contracts are negotiated. This is a reflection of the changing nature of today’s labor markets. When properly negotiated, these contracts can lead to increased workplace performance(Buckler 1998, p. 21).

As the context of work continues to change, workplace learning is becoming a necessity owing to the fact that employees can telecommute depending on the nature of their work. When telecommuting, all an employee needs is a laptop, mobile phone, modems and faxes. The ability to telecommute may depend on the skills acquired and the employer’s confidence in these skills as well as self-discipline of the employee. These practices can be beneficial for a company that hires people who have diminished attachments with their corporate ‘families’ or home countries.

Bridging the gap between theory and practice

            According to Boud& Garrick, (1999, p. 16), a large, daunting gulf exists between polished rhetoric and workplace practice. There is need for the best workplace learning practices to be adopted in order for this gap to be closed, leading to improved performance levels. In many organizations, learning is still understood on the basis of ‘content-rich courses’ that are managed though command control systems. However, thanks to new technologies, some of them are beginning to realize the defunct nature of this model.

            New forms of thinking that bridge the gap between theory and practice in workplace learning are being driven by financial pressures on modern organizations. Rather than develop sophisticated learning platforms, it is much more economical to make use of the existing workplace systems as learning centers for employees.

Through workplace learning, managers are able to maintain passion on getting the desired business results rather than merely developing workplace solutions. In this regard, employers can approach the concept of workplace learning as a means to an end rather than an end in itself. Not only is workplace learning much less costly, results are achieved and assessed easily and quickly. Moreover, natural learning is a perpetually continuing process whose quality is determine by the nature of results generated. Ordinarily, workplace learning takes place in informal contexts, where workers feel at ease to make enquiries about issues that they do not understand. This reduces the likelihood of work-related accidents being caused by incompetent employees.

Meeting the challenges of workplace learning

            Although technological solutions provide an excellent platform for workplace learning, it can answer only a limited number of knowledge-related questions. However, new use of knowledge may require composition, thereby forcing all managers and workers to become skilled designers. This is an attribute that has to be nurtured through workplace learning in order for performance to improve.

            Knowledge sharing can also be a challenge if the existing organizational culture is characterized by polarization on the basis of many social and workgroups. In such a circumstance, the level of performance achieved will be determined by the extent to which the employees are willing to build trust and foster the right attitudes.

            Additionally, some advanced competencies that are acquired in the current job position can only be practiced in a more challenging job. The issue of transfer of competencies from one job to the other is a necessary should be addressed by managers in a strategic manner, whereby emphasis should be on employees’ future roles in the organization.

Other challenges include achieving competencies while at the same time building confidence, expanding diversity and creating a result-oriented approach to problem-solving. These goals are sometimes difficult to achieve since proper selection of the necessary technology tools is necessary. Some of these tools complicate tasks instead of amplifying capabilities.

The diversity of views is difficult to achieve if the existing organizational structures are rigid. Similarly, it is impossible to employ technology in workplace learning if it is being implemented within a platform of inefficient organizational culture. Employees who are afraid that technology will take the place of their jobs cannot be good workplace learners. The goal of improving performance, therefore, may not be achieved. However, if the right mechanisms are put in place

Conclusion

Workplace learning helps a great deal in improving organizational performance. It should be employed by both employers and employees in the course of their engagement in the organization’s activities. For employers to be satisfied with workplace learning, it should bring about positive business results and long-term sustainability. For employees, successful workplace learning should enable them develop their career and derive job satisfaction.

            Employers should define all workplace learning goals in order to steer their organizations on the path of achieving its mission. However, today’s organizations face many challenges in efforts to institute workplace learning mechanisms. Modern economies continue to become sophisticated, forcing organizations to struggle to maintain competitiveness and profitability. For employees, the complexities of work-life balance and blurring of divisions among different professions are worrying. However, through proper planning, organizations can facilitate a smooth transition into the ‘learning organization’.

Both employees and employer must respond proactively to changes in skills and specialization trends through use of ‘multiskilling’ and ‘up-skilling’ practices. This is the ideal way of making the best use of the market value of workplace learning. Lastly, bridging the gap between theory and practice is necessary. Performance can improve if employers and employees can assess workplace learning solutions on the basis of business outcomes.

References

Boud, D. & Garrick, J. Understanding learning at work, Routledge, London, 1999.

Buckler, B. ‘Practical steps towards a learning organisation: applying academic knowledge to improvement and innovation in business processes’, TheLearning Organization, Vol. 5, No. 1, 1998, pp.15 – 23.

Carliner, S. A Review of The State Of The Field Of Workplace Learning: What We Know And What We Need To Know About Competencies, Diversity, E-Learning, And Human Performance Improvement,Canadian Council on Learning, Montreal, 2006.

Garavan, T. & McGuire, D ‘Competencies and workplace learning: some reflections on the rhetoric and the reality’, Journal of Workplace Learning, Vol. 13, No. 4, 2001, pp.144 – 164

Karoly, L. &Panis, C. The 21st century at work. The RAND Corporation. Arlington, VA. 2004.

Matthews, P. ‘Workplace learning: developing an holistic model’, The Learning Organization, Vol. 6, No. 1, 1999, pp.18 – 29.

Rainbird, H., Fuller, A. & Munro, A. Workplace learning in context, Routledge, London, 2004.

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