Learning in Organization

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Learning
Summary points and learning objectives By the end of this chapter you will be able to: q q q q q

understand the components of classical conditioning; provide an example of how classical conditioning helps explain workplace behaviour; understand the basic components of operant conditioning; detail the schedules of reinforcement; provide some examples of how operant conditioning helps explain workplace behaviour; discuss the idea of a ‘technology of behaviour’; give examples of a ‘technology of behaviour’ in the workplace; understand learning strategies; understand what helps and hinders transfer of training back to the workplace.

q q q q

Introduction: why study learning?
The effect of education and training policies on the health of national economies has long been the subject of disputes between economists. But the success of the German, Japanese, and Swedish economies—where investment in ‘human capital’ has been heavy—has encouraged governments to place education and training high on their list of spending priorities. Writers such as Mayo (2000) and others have argued that the narrow focus on costs in the latter part of the last century which characterized organizations should now be replaced with a broader interest in ‘value’. In this century, Mayo argues we need to go beyond traditional accountancy definitions of an organization’s value and attempt to capture its intangible assets which may well be worth more than the tangibles, such as plant and machinery. These intangible assets are the skills, knowledge, and adaptive capacities of the workforce. Many writers point to how private sector organizations have to manage high levels of uncertainty in global and turbulent markets. In the public sector, employees also have to

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THE INDIVIDUAL AND WORK

Box 1.1 Carving out a future
Economists might argue about the nature of the relationship between investment in skills and the macro-economy—a country’s GDP. But the impact of investment in skills is readily observable at the micro level—within individual organizations. Frost (2003), for example, describes how investment in skills has brought security and prosperity to one small construction firm and shielded it from the skills shortages experienced by its competitors. The Wheatsheaf Joinery in the north-east of England specializes in making high-quality hardwood products such as doors, staircases, windows, and conservatories. To ensure it has a pool of skilled employees who can maintain the high standards customers demand it has pursued the same recruitment strategy since the 1950s. ‘We take raw talent and mould it to our ways,’ explained George Marley, current managing director and son of the company’s founder who began the investing in skills strategy. Marley saw advantages beyond ensuring the skill level of employees and the quality of work. He believes the steady intake of new apprentices also stops the company from going stale: ‘Fresh blood keeps us innovative’. Marley’s strategy of investing heavily in skills has gone against the grain of the last twenty years in the construction industry. As he points out, ‘training grants have been cut, bigger companies no longer feel the need to invest and smaller companies think they cannot afford to . . . we kept to our vision. We always looked to the long term. I did ten years of training, from joinery to bricklaying, plumbing, plastering and quantity surveying . . . it took me out of the business but my father believed it was worth it. It broadened the range of work we could offer.’ For Marley the investment in skills involves other considerations: the impact on the organization and other skilled employees. He points out that an apprentice adds three to five hours onto a skilled employee’s week. Extra time needs to be built into jobs to take into account time away on day release (Frost 2003). Marley is correct. The cost and effort required to put recruits through an adequate apprenticeship have meant...
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