Learning through Work Experience for the Knowledge Economy

Education + Training

ISSN: 0040-0912

Article publication date: 1 June 2004



(2004), "Learning through Work Experience for the Knowledge Economy", Education + Training, Vol. 46 No. 5. https://doi.org/10.1108/et.2004.00446eae.001



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Learning through Work Experience for the Knowledge Economy

Learning through Work Experience for the Knowledge Economy: Issues for Educational Research and Policy

Toni Griffiths and David GuileEuropean Centre for the Development of Vocational Training2004ISBN 928960268625

A recent report by ex-Netherlands premier Wim Kok stated that the EU would fail in its employment objectives unless member states step up their efforts to increase adaptability, labour supply and investment in human resources. Mr Kok chaired the EU employment task force set up by heads of state in response to concerns that Europe was failing to tackle effectively the significant employment challenges it faces.

The task-force report argued that Europe’s economic growth is too slow and unemployment too high. Globalization and demographic ageing mean that Europe must become more competitive and must increase employment and productivity drastically. The report stresses the importance of using all available tools – and particularly electronic learning – to develop lifelong learning and skill levels in Europe.

It states that barriers to participation in training exist in all member states, and more must be done to break down these barriers through policies and partnerships that stimulate the demand and supply of lifelong learning. The social partners – trade unions and employer organizations – have a crucial part to play.

Another ex-Scandinavian premier, Denmark’s Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, has explored ways of putting Europe back on track to becoming the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world by 2010, as foreseen in the EU’s Lisbon strategy.

The Lisbon strategy goals were generally seen as challenging when they were set in 2000, at a time when the EU was enjoying strong economic growth and falling unemployment. Since then, the economic outlook has become less favourable, the employment performance has deteriorated and the objectives seem even more daunting. Four years into the ten-year programme of change, it is clear that insufficient progress has been made.

Mr Rasmussen concluded that the Lisbon process seems to have foundered because of a combination of economic pressures, institutional inertia and, perhaps fundamentally, a failure to capture the imagination and support of the wider European public. This report, too, stresses the importance of lifelong learning and a workforce possessing good technological skills.

In the context of these two reports, the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (Cedefop) has published a timely text that identifies the achievements and limitations of successive European policy reforms and considers future challenges in relation to work experience.

Learning through Work Experience for the Knowledge Economy: Issues for Educational Research and Policy describes a new analytical tool – a typology for conceptualizing different models of work experience in terms of learning, rather than the traditional approach of treating work experience as a social institution. The new typology of learning through work experience places the question of what is learned, how it is learned and how it is used at the centre of research and policy discourse in vocational and general education and also, by extension, in the wider domain of lifelong learning.

The book argues that work experience can contribute to preparing individuals for the future only if a shift takes place from viewing the primary purpose of work experience as a form of socialization to that of connecting different modes of learning. The text explains the meaning of the neologism “connectivity”, which it says lies at the heart of a new model for work experience for the knowledge economy.

The book provides a summary of the European policy context, showing that reforms of work experience from the late 1980s to the mid 1990s did not address the questions raised about the developing European knowledge economy. The text reconceptualizes skill in the European knowledge economy, distinguishing between conceptions of skill and contexts of skill use. It explores learning theory and puts forward a broader meaning of the connective model of learning by identifying distinctive practices in learning through work experience. It illustrates connectivity by highlighting innovations in Denmark, Germany, Sweden and Britain.

Finally, the book explores the implications of the typology for the development of new forms of knowledge and skill that lie at the heart of the knowledge-economy debate. It focuses on another European priority – how to ensure quality in work experience.

The text contains material to appeal to anyone involved in planning or delivering work experience, but its emphasis on theory will ensure that its primary readership will be academic.

Related articles