Development of A Workplace Learning Environment

Learning occurs throughout life; it is a continuous process.  From the moment a human being is born, he starts learning. The learning process is a continuous virtuous spiral between activity and thought, between practice and theory. Technology has resulted in a massive change in work, study, and leisure activity.

The labor market and the workplace have been rapidly changing and academics is not enough to help an individual cope with the work.  This has necessitated the introduction of workplace learning, which helps face the challenges that the growing market and competition provides. The use of the workplace as a learning experience has been transformed for three reasons – growth of knowledge economy, impact of new economy and information and communications technology (ICT) in improving productivity, and the third is the growing use of High Performance Working Practices (HPWPs)[1] that are transforming the ways in which work is organized.

Workplace learning is becoming increasingly popular especially because of the benefits to both the employer and the employees.  This provides higher levels of profitability and productivity to employers and higher earning and work that is more challenging for the employees. Workplace learning is normally associated with formal courses for the technicians, professionals and the managers.  Formal courses may be necessary for professional development but it is just the beginning. The workplace itself provides the biggest learning environment.

Comfort Driving Centre (CDC)[2] is a small company in the service sector. A new company in Singapore, with just 145 employees, it has managed to get a market share of 24% of trainee drivers in Singapore in a small span of three years. The company being new need not mould its old culture but develops a new culture as it learns. The organization lays emphasis on establishing shared values, rewarding performance against company objectives, involving employees in their work, supporting the capabilities of staff at all levels. It is purely teamwork, which is the driving force in the process of learning at work.

Being in the service sector CDC does not have to focus on excellence in the product. Their ‘product’ is the service to the client. The quality that has to be maintained is the ‘comfort learning experience’. Young people are recruited so that they can be molded as the company desires. The company’s goal is to produce technically competent and socially responsible drivers. This means they need to have excellent trainers to train these drivers. The company trains all its instructors and there is a continuous upgradation in their learning process. The working environment is such that mistakes are considered an inevitable part of learning and tolerance is granted. However, from the junior level itself the instructors have accountability so that responsibility for performance can be identified and rewarded.

CDC stresses that learning is not merely acquisition of knowledge and skills. The vision of the company is not to teach the employees to train the drivers but to enhance their communication and service skills so that they can handle the clients in a supportive manner.  The average age of the management team is in late 20s and the company uses project teams to tackle management problems. The project team has developed the computer based theory package and the involvement is on the individual’s initiative and enthusiasm.

The motivation to the instructors was such that they became interested in developing a computer based training programme. All had just a basic secondary education with no exposure to computers at all. With the help of a consultant, they developed a package that would not only instruct the learner in the theory required for the driving test but would also provide feedback and support in a learner-friendly environment. The project team meets continually to enhance the effectiveness of this programme. What is noteworthy here is that it is the basic motivation provided by the workplace environment that has enhanced the learning for its entire staff, which just has the minimum requirement of the ‘N’ level.

CDC follows the mentoring system in which the senior staff acts as guides and coaches for the younger colleagues. There is a strong commitment to training driven by a force to service the clients. The staff is put through a course on customer service training conducted by a local consultancy group. The company could not afford both in terms of time and money, to send its staff for intensive off-the-job training elsewhere. A sense of professionalism in infused in them and before every shift there is a five-minute briefing session to cover operational issues. A different theme is thrown to the employees each month and one hour is dedicated to reflect upon and reinforce the company’s message for that month. The company also has a resource room where they can enhance their skills. Most of the management training is informal and on the job. With the exception of the General Manager, nobody else has professional training and he adopted a ‘logical approach’. This gives a sense of ownership to the staff and all training is based on what they need to know. They are not forced to attend formal classes just because some management techniques should be known. Some people do go in for diplomas/degrees on their own in their area of service or expertise. Besides, no request for work related training has been turned down. Collective decision through active participation from all levels is encouraged.

From the information available, it is evident that being a small organization, CDC lacks in resources to send its employees for extensive training. They need to enhance their budget in this sector and concentrate on work related training. They seem to focus a lot on providing service and problem solving. While this is good, but unless the basic function of the company is upgraded, service itself cannot sustain the company. All decisions are taken collectively and the management and the staff have day to day contact. This again is not advisable as there is a need to introduce professionalism. Most of the learning takes place through everyday interaction of the employees. Interpersonal relations may be good but an HR is necessary to formulate plans and implement it for the overall growth of the company. Since they have association with a Japanese firm which has the technical know how on how to develop teaching methodology and driving techniques, CDC should send its employees by rotation for training to retain or improve its market share in Singapore.

On the other hand it is encouraging that such an environment does provide for a comfortable learning environment. Being too formal from the beginning may be discouraging for the employees who have barely completed high school. They lack the confidence and this sort of congenial atmosphere helps them to feel a part of the organization instantly. Workplace no doubt is the best learning environment but it should be in line with the company’s objectives.

If the basic objectives are compromised with, the cost to the company would be very high. It would lose its market share faster than it gained it.  CDC should recognize its strengths and more importantly its weaknesses and improve upon them. It needs to invest in professional human resources and formal training. It will have to bear the cost in terms of time to acquire work related skills, which as of now is not laid stress upon.

The vision of the company is to make everyone multi-skilled but it has to be done in the right manner. Compromising on the basic skills would not help in its development. A congenial workplace-learning environment is desirable but too much of familiarity also is not good for any organization.

[1] file:///d:/Documents%20and%20Settings/Administrator/Desktop/learning%20environment/ch_1.htm

[2] file:///d:/Documents%20and%20Settings/Administrator/Desktop/learning%20environment/ch_2.htm

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