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In-company training in a safety-critical industry: lessons from the aircraft industry

Junmin Li (Chair of Economics and Business Education, University of Cologne, Cologne, Germany)
Matthias Pilz (Chair of Economics and Business Education, University of Cologne, Cologne, Germany)

Journal of Workplace Learning

ISSN: 1366-5626

Article publication date: 27 January 2023




This paper aims to investigate the in-company training according to the technologically demanding and safety-critical feature of the aircraft industry. This study addresses to the tension between the structured and the more incidental part of in-company learning in their training and learning environment.


Against the background of concepts of workplace learning from vocational training research and concepts of the safety management system from safety research, aircraft companies from England and Germany were visited. Data from interviews with training managers and trainees as well as non-participant observations are analysed.


The findings show that workplace vocational learning in this industry is guided by different measures to design the learning environment to prevent purely incidental and informal knowledge acquisition. However, the formalisation of informal learning process leads to a high expenditure of material, personnel and time resources. The findings show that trainers and training managers working together internationally creatively manage different training systems. The training activities are designed to convey the values of safety culture like responsibility, accuracy, transparent communication and reporting. The requirements of the safety management system are also met through the training.

Research limitations/implications

Challenges and tensions in the actual implementation of the training activities could not be identified. The people interviewed were selected by the companies, so there is a risk that certain perceptions are over-represented.

Practical implications

The results show that the safety-critical industry needs its own pedagogical approach to workplace learning, which is not based on independent work processes in the workplace. Insights can be drawn for in-company training in other safety-critical industries too. However, to enable effective in-company learning, which at the same time strengthens the safety culture of the company, many resources must be used. The companies must consider all dimensions of work from the individual level to the work structure level.


This paper discusses the tension between formal and informal learning and shows the specific design of this tension on the basis of a concrete industry for the specific needs of this industry. The results lead to the realisation that the general discussion about workplace learning must be viewed in a differentiated way depending on the industry.



The research was funded by t the DFG (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, funding No. PI 418/6-1) in Germany. Application made by Prof Dr Matthias Pilz, University of Cologne. We would like to show our gratitude to Prof Dr Lorna Unwin and Dr Ann Lahiff for sharing their expertise with us during the research, and we thank the reviewers for their constructive comments.


Li, J. and Pilz, M. (2023), "In-company training in a safety-critical industry: lessons from the aircraft industry", Journal of Workplace Learning, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print.



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