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Designing learning opportunities in the workplace

July 28th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

Ludger Deitmer has drawn my attention to an interesting article in yesterdays edition of the Weser Kurier newspaper (sadly the article does not appear to be in the online edition). The article was based on interviews with young people undertaking apprenticeship in Bremen in north Germany.

I have previously written in Wales Wide Web about the advantages of the apprenticeship system in Germany as providing high skills and socially prestigious training for young people. Indeed over 50 per cent of school leavers in Germany progress through the apprenticeship system, spending part of their time in companies and part in vocational schools.

In recent years the system has been under pressure due to a shortage of training places, but recent figures suggest this is changing. In Hamburg and Munich there are now surplus apprenticeship training places, in Bremen there is about a balance between places being offered by companies and young people seeking apprenticeship places.

However, attention is now turning to the quality of the training on offer. And Marius Fischer, an apprentice in the logistics industry, was fairly scathing. Apprentices, he said were just given menial work to do, referring to one period of three weeks spent scanning documents into a computer. The so called company training was boring with few learning opportunities. He rarely saw a trainer. Apprentices, he said, were just being treated as cheap labour. “This work is so stupid, a chimpanzee could learn to do it”, he said. A further complaint was that apprentices were not given sufficient experience in different areas of the company to understand the entire social and economic process.

Although there has been some attention paid to quality of training, in Germany and in the European Union, little attention has been paid to the quality of the teaching and learning process. Work based learning can be a powerful form of learning. However, for this to happen it requires the work place to be designed for learning with challenging work and learning tasks. And although managers may play an important role in that workplace and word process design, possibly more important is the role of trainers. A series of research studies have indicated that more and more people are taking some responsibility for training as part of their job. But despite this, and despite a number of well sounding policy initiatives,  little attention has been paid to the training of trainers. Whilst the subject of teacher training is a high priority, there almost seems an assumption that skilled workers can automatically provide training.

Of course Marius Fischer’s experience does not reflect apprenticeship training as a whole in Germany. But is is a reminder of the importance of teaching and learning processes for young people and that the development of rich learning processes cannot be left to chance be it in the school or in the workplace.

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