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Copyright © 2013, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Article Type: Editorial From: Journal of Workplace Learning, Volume 25, Issue 6
In professional life and work, transitions are increasingly frequent and often dreaded. These may include the transition from pre-service education to first posts in work settings, promotions from one level of seniority or status to another (or demotions), geographic moves from one location and culture to another, and changes in standards for practice. Transitions for practitioners as well as systems are also triggered by major changes in regulatory processes, new technologies, new policies, new procedures, restructured work arrangements, and so forth. For organisations and the public at large, transitions cause concern because they are associated with increased risks of adverse events and decreased quality of service (Donaldson, 2006). In medicine for example, there are quantifiable risks to patients during the transition from medical student to newly qualified doctor (Jen et al., 2009) and similar risks identified for specific transitions at all levels of seniority (Haller et al., 2009). In policing, work role transitions incurred through massive shifts in security agendas and deployment of western police in emerging democratic regions are causing confusion and uncertainty (Ransley and Mazerolle, 2009). When social workers transition to integrated roles, such as in child protection services, they must redefine their knowledge and practice (Forbes, 2009).
However, transitions are also a dynamic, productive space for learning and innovation. They are often multiple, such that practitioners are commonly dealing with transitions in different dimensions of their working lives. Above all, transitions are ubiquitous. The problem is that transitions too often are understood to be the problem of the individual practitioner, as though the primary challenges of transition are psychological or emotional issues that should be managed and resolved on a personal level. But actually, as some analyses presented in this issue show, transitions must be understood at systemic levels if we are to understand how people are affected and how they can best work through transitions.
Therefore, the purpose of this special issue is to explore transitions from a variety of perspectives. There are available very useful theoretical frameworks that researchers are now applying to understand the complexity of professional transitions. Authors who have contributed to this special issue are particularly interested in not only understanding, but also influencing professional learning and practice so as to reduce potential negative impacts and increase effective service.
The special issue itself arose from a seminar series funded by the UK’s Economic and Social Science Research council. This series consisted of six full-day seminars exploring issues of transition in professional work and responsibility. Speakers and audience (academics, professional agencies, regulatory bodies, practitioners etc.) were invited across a variety of professions. Policing, medicine, psychotherapy, and social work professions formed the core focus, but our audience members also frequently included practitioners from nursing, teaching and other practice areas. Clearly, it seemed, transitions in professional practice were an important issue for many.
Two main premises underpinned the series and to a certain extent, this special issue. First was our decision to focus our examination of transitions on what we called high stakes professions within public service delivery: those occupations where practitioners’ everyday decisions have significant consequences of harm or benefit for public safety and well-being. While the experiences of transition arguably pose difficult challenges for all practitioners, high stakes professionals face particular additional stress from the profound responsibilities accruing to their management of transition.
Our second premise is that learning is central to all work transitions. Problems with transitions are frequently attributed to lack of “preparedness” of individual practitioners: consequently, traditional solutions focus upon better preparation before the transition, such as through education and training. While preparation is clearly important, we also understand learning, work and work practices as situated and mutually constitutive. Work sites can be important pedagogic spaces, and, opportunities for learning are embedded in all practices, including practices of transition. Indeed, we have argued elsewhere that transitions can be understood as critically intense learning periods (Kilminster et al., 2011).
Transitions, learning and high stakes decisions in professional practice are all influenced by myriad dimensions. Articles have been selected for this issue to illustrate some of this diversity. First, despite sharing a UK regulatory frame and political economy, the profoundly different worlds of policing, social work and medicine become evident through cases set in each of these professions.
Second, some articles focus on the systemic issues of professional transition while others zoom into more granular levels of practice; in both approaches we see how these dynamics are actually interrelated and mutually constituted.
Third, transitions unfold differently according to the particularities of organisational contexts and employers. And finally, researchers bring different theoretical perspectives to bear in analysing these transitions. To illustrate these final two points in particular, we present two cases each analysing junior doctors’ transitions to practice on the wards. One is set in Wales and the other in Leeds, and both articles draw from very different theoretical traditions to frame the issues and analyse the findings.
This special issue begins with an article that overviews theoretical traditions that have been employed to understand transitions – not only in work, but also in lifelong learning. Here, Tara Fenwick maintains that transition studies have too often personalised and pathologised the transition experience, and focused entirely on the individual. She introduces psychological transition research, life course studies, and career stages approaches, showing the limitations of each of these when they do not account for the webs of relations in which professional practice and learning unfold.
The next two articles focus on junior doctors’ transitions from university to hospital. These touch one of the most prominent fields of professional and vocational learning literature: “school-to-work transitions”. In particular, new doctors’ transitions from medical school to the wards hold critical concern because of the measurable increase in errors and mortalities in that period. The first junior doctor study, presented by Alison Bullock and her colleagues treats transition as a time of uncertainty and stress, and examines various contributing dimensions such as environment, cognition, roles and responsibilities etc. The authors describe a number of educative interventions such as just-in-time resources accessed through mobile technologies, longer induction, and resilience training. The second presents a very different theoretical approach to analyse transitions as critically intensive learning periods. Miriam Zukas and Sue Kilminster examine the transition of junior doctors to new responsibilities, utilising the notion of pragmatic regimes to consider the different logics of work at any moment. Drawing on their interviews and observations of junior doctors, they suggest that transitions are marked by the particularities, urgency and fluidity of clinical practice; they are also sociomaterial, enmeshed with bodies, illness, drugs, machines and networks of professionals as well as patients and their families.
Turning to the field of social work, Brigid Daniel traces the evolving profession in its dance with social policy and changing public values. She focuses on transitions in three selected themes of social work practice: risk, personalisation, and what she calls the multi-disciplinary environment. In each theme, she illustrates the implications of these broad transitions on professional identity and professional learning, collectively as well as individually.
More broadly, transitions in professionalism and in the nature of professional responsibility have become prominent concerns in the UK for most practitioners in public service delivery. Nick Fyfe works from the case of policing practice to show how fundamental shifts in public expectation of police, coupled with a professionalisation movement and massive reorganisation of police forces, is affecting transitions across professional groups, individuals and communities.
Clearly, these views can offer but a glimpse of the many issues and tensions at play in considering professional transitions and the implications for professional learning. There is much work to be done to better understand professionals’ multiple complex and nonlinear transitions, and the simultaneous effects of biography, social differences, and economic trajectories. We wonder about diverse experiences of difficulty, and dialectics of order and disorder, in professions’ and professionals’ transitions. The mediation of these transitions by various agencies, institutions and discourses needs further empirical study. And, we are left with a number of questions to ponder as we continue to explore not only the nature of all the intersecting transitions affecting professional work, but also how to support these experiences as learning periods:
Are there distinctly different forms of transition that are experienced across professional groups? Across activities? Regions? Institutions? Moments?
How do different forms and practices of learning influence professionals’ transition?
How can we conceptualise transitions in ways that disrupt linearity, universality, “development”?
What metaphors can be envisioned to open understandings of transition beyond “journey”, “passage”, “becoming”?
What on earth is a “successful” transition, and why is this question accorded such importance?
Perhaps the most important question for educators is an ethical one, returning us to problematise what has become taken for granted: What, in fact, is the purpose of pedagogical intervention in professionals’ transitions, and on what basis is this purpose justified? While learning and transition may be inseparable, educators may do more harm than good through our well intentioned interference.
1. The series was entitled “Changing forms of professional responsibility: exploring workplace pedagogies in transition”. It was funded by the ESRC (ESRC RES-451-26-0818). Seminar slides and discussion notes may be found at: www.propel.stir.ac.uk/events/ESCRSeminars.php2. Alison Bullock, Fiona Fox, Rebecca Bardnes, Natasha Doran, Wendy Hardyman, Duncan Moss, Mark Stacey
Tara FenwickUniversity of Stirling, Stirling, UKMiriam ZukasUniversity of Birkbeck at London, London, UKSue KilminsterUniversity of Leeds, Leeds, UK
Donaldson, L. (2006), Good Doctors, Safer Patients, Department of Health, London
Forbes, J. (2009), “Redesigning children’s services: mapping interprofessional social capital”, Journal of Research in Special Educational Needs, Vol. 9 No. 2, pp. 122–132
Haller, G., Myles, P.S., Taffé, P., Perneger, T.V. and Wu, C.L. (2009), “Rate of undesirable events at beginning of academic year: retrospective cohort study”, British Medical Journal, Vol. 339, p. b3974
Jen, M.H., Bottle, A., Majeed, A., Bell, D. and Aylin, P. (2009), “Early in-hospital mortality following trainee doctor’s first day at work”, PLoS ONE, Vol. 4 No. 9
Kilminster, S., Zukas, M., Quinton, N. and Roberts, T.E. (2011), “Preparedness is not enough: understanding transitions as critically intensive learning periods”, Medical Education, Vol. 45 No. 10, pp. 1005–1015
Ransley, J. and Mazerolle, L. (2009), “Policing in an era of uncertainty”, Police Practice and Research, Vol. 10 No. 4, pp. 365–381