Effects of an Innovative Learning Culture on the Competences of Learners: Workplace Learning in Switzerland in the Context of Apprenticeships

Effects of an Innovative Learning Culture on the Competences of Learners: Workplace Learning in Switzerland in the Context of Apprenticeships

Antje Barabasch (Eidgenössisches Hochschulinstitut für Berufsbildung (EHB), Switzerland), Anna Keller (Eidgenössisches Hochschulinstitut für Berufsbildung (EHB), Switzerland) and Dominic Caldart (Eidgenössisches Hochschulinstitut für Berufsbildung (EHB), Switzerland)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-1238-8.ch007

Abstract

Competence demands for employees in the ICT sector have increased and new job profiles have been necessary, especially in the telecommunications industry. New competence requests challenge conventional qualifications and learning pathways, such as the apprenticeship route in Switzerland. For management the challenge is not only to change structural conditions of vocational learning at the workplace, but also attitudes, beliefs, and values regarding the ways in which apprentices are treated, the ways in which communication takes place, tasks are distributed, or expectations are expressed that require a transformation. The chapter introduces an enterprise case study. It elaborates on aspects, such as structural conditions for an innovative learning culture and measures for competence development, such as supporting agility, a trustful communication at eye level, as well as the flexibility in offering guidance.
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Introduction

The information and communication technology (IaCT) sector has seen a steep increase in the number of employees. Since 1991, it has grown four times as fast as other sectors and has become one of the biggest sectors in Switzerland1. Parallel to the growth of the ICT sector the task complexity has increased. Overall, the competence demands for employees are higher and require the development of new job profiles (Aepli et al., 2017), which is particularly challenging for the telecommunications industry (Limacher, 2010; Ruiz Ben, 2005). Vocational Education and Training (VET) programs in this sector, which are particularly complex and intellectually demanding, comprise programs in informatics and mediamatics (Stalder, 2011). Next to a successful secondary school graduation preconditions for starting an apprenticeship in these fields are a strong performance in math and languages. New competence requests challenge conventional qualifications and learning pathways that have been formerly common practice. For management, especially in human resources and those who are concerned with training the challenge is not only to change structural conditions of vocational learning at the workplace. There are also attitudes, beliefs and values regarding the ways in which apprentices are treated, the ways in which communication takes place, tasks are distributed or expectations are expressed that require a transformation.

For the study to be introduced in this chapter the Swiss telecommunication enterprise Swisscom was chosen, because it operates in an innovation-oriented context. It trains a relatively high amount of VET learners and has invested in future oriented training. Its innovative learning culture is not only shaped by the action framework of the enterprise, but also by the specific requests of the corresponding domain of the economy. High innovation pressure in the telecommunication industry results in special demands and requests to have an internal development dynamic, or ability to change, which can be described with the construct of agility (Krapf & Seufert, 2017). It implies an agile work organization which is marked by iterative (repeating) working processes that are oriented towards the (changing) needs of clients, flat hierarchies, and a shift of responsibility from management to teams. Sequences of objective-stage reflection are an important component of the enterprises culture when dealing with mistakes. The results of our case study provide insights into corresponding organization structures of VET in the company, attitudes, beliefs and values of the stakeholders in VET, as well as insights into how the development of 21st century skills such as creativity, self-reflection and autonomous action are promoted.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Projects for Learners: Are constructed based on work tasks that are needed in a department. As the members of a team realize that more workforce is needed, they can decide to employ an apprentice for it and advertise it in form of a project. This means they provide a description of the tasks as well as the competences that can be acquired. The advertisement for the project work is than placed on an online-marketplace. Learners can search on the marketplace for a suitable project and apply for it. Projects most often take around six months. There are also much shorter projects, such as just for one day or one week.

Quality Project Provider (QPA): One member of the team that advertises project work for learners is selected to be the responsible person for the project and for looking after the apprentice during this time. QPAs do not have to have a qualification as a workplace trainer. They are regular workers in the department and specialists in their field, so that they can share their expertise with the learner. They have to provide the needed knowledge so that the learner can fulfil the task and provide help or instructions, if needed. At the end of the project, the QPA has to assess the project work of the learner and his/her competence development. The assessment takes place in a meeting with the learner, the QPA and the coach. While for the learners the responsible QPA changes with every project, the coach oversees the whole learning process, from the beginning to the end of the apprenticeship (3- 4years).

Apprenticeship: Is a three-to-four-year structured work-based learning program after which a Federal VET Diploma is awarded. The diploma serves as a transparent proof of acquired competences across Switzerland. An apprenticeship is a form of tertiary education after compulsory school, that takes place at a workplace, vocational school and a third workshop-based learning venue.

Coach: The coach is a stable attachment figure and assesses the whole learning process looking at all the feedbacks learners receive from the different QPAs. They search for projects to be placed on the market place and help learners to find suitable projects for them. Next to it, coaches offer support in the application process for projects and advise where needed throughout the apprenticeship. The aim of the coaches is to support learners in increasingly taking over the responsibility for their learning. When problems occur, coaches are there to solve them with the learners.

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