Disturbing practices: training workers to be lean

Keiko Yasukawa (Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Technology, Sydney, Sydney, Australia)
Tony Brown (Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Technology, Sydney, Sydney, Australia)
Stephen Black (Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Technology, Sydney, Sydney, Australia)

Journal of Workplace Learning

ISSN: 1366-5626

Publication date: 8 September 2014



The purpose of this paper is to explore the possibilities for expansive learning during organisational change. It considers the introduction of “lean production” as a disturbance to the existing work practices.


The paper considers two case studies of “lean production” training with production workers in manufacturing firms. Data for the study consisted of semi-structured interviews, observations of workers during work and training. Engeström’s third-generation cultural historical activity theory was used as the key theoretical tool for analysis.


The study found that the introduction of and training for “lean production” did not lead to expansive learning. The training did not afford spaces to address the fundamental contradictions between the “earning a living” and ”productivity” motives of work.

Research limitations/implications

Further research on the different kinds of “spaces” for learning could lead to greater insights into the affordances of expansive learning in workplaces. In particular, the concept of “third space” is useful in such an endeavour.

Practical implications

Training designed to increase productivity could integrate more discussions about what workers themselves should expect to gain from increased productivity.


The paper presents a critical perspective on recent case studies of workplace training at a time when workforce development and “lean production” are uncritically promulgated as beneficial. It highlights the opportunities that exist for critical educators to make interventions in the interests of the workers.



The authors acknowledge the helpful comments from the anonymous reviewers of the paper.

Funding and support for this project was provided by the Australian Government Department of Industry, Innovation, Climate Change, Science, Research and Tertiary Education through the National VET Research and Evaluation Programme managed by the National Centre for Vocational Education Research. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Government or NCVER.

An earlier and abridged version of the paper was presented at the 2013 combined SCUTREA Annual and CRLL Biennial Conferences, Glasgow Caledonian University, Scotland, UK, 25-27 June 2013.


Yasukawa, K., Brown, T. and Black, S. (2014), "Disturbing practices: training workers to be lean", Journal of Workplace Learning, Vol. 26 No. 6/7, pp. 392-405. https://doi.org/10.1108/JWL-09-2013-0068

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