How can workplace learning help to reposition Ireland's engineering industry towards a high skills route?
thesisposted on 2009-11-16, 11:15 authored by Derek Walsh
This thesis set out to determine whether learning that takes place in the workplace can help significantly in the attempt to create a high skilled engineering workforce in Ireland. The rationale for the research was linked with certain stakeholder views which, suggest that the engineering industry must reposition itself higher up the value chain. Government aspirations of creating a knowledge based high skills economy and the promotion of lifelong learning were other influencing factors. A central tenet of the analytical framework on which the study was based is that learning and working are interdependent. Moreover learning is just as much a social and participatory process as it is a form of acquisition. Engineering companies in Ireland are classified as either traditional or modern. The expectation at the outset was to find that modern companies would provide a more conducive environment for deep learning to occur. The research was based on four case study companies representing both of these classifications in order to build a more complete of what exists in reality. Policy debate in Ireland on high level skills, lifelong learning and knowledge creation revolves mainly around greater participation levels in third level education and acquiring formal qualifications. The author was of the opinion at the outset that this type of one sided approach ignores a critical element in the skill and knowledge formation process. Evidence is presented which shows that engineering workers develop significant skill levels through the normal work routines and by interacting with work colleagues. The divide within the industry in relation to modern and traditional companies was shown to be insignificant as far as attitudes to learning and the need for skills are concerned. Certain skills which are regarded as being essential for high value added forms of manufacture were shown to be best acquired in the workplace. By focusing exclusively on formal off-the-job training and education as a means of measuring skills and knowledge levels, we will never really know what skill levels and expertise exist within the industry. More importantly the research showed that engineering employees regard the workplace as a site where certain types of skills and knowledge can only be acquired. Workplace learning must be regarded as an integral part of the engineering skill formation process and should be afforded formal recognition. The thesis is unique because it is industry specific and located in the Irish context. It is based on an analytical framework which relies on a synthesis of discrete findings from previous researchers. These interacting variables were combined as part of a mixed methodology in a way that had not been done before and resulted in some new insights on the concept of workplace learning as part of an engineering skill formation process.
Date of award2009-07-03
Awarding institutionUniversity of Leicester