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Human resource development: key organisational process in a knowledge economy

Rosemary Harrison and Joseph Kessels

Refereed track (4,982 words, excluding references)

1)Rosemary Harrison,
68, Hallgarth Street,
Durham City,
DH1 3AY,
England.
Phone and fax: + 191 384 5409
Email: m-rharrison@ntlworld.com

2) Joseph Kessels,
Professor of Human Resource Development,
Faculty of Educational Sciences and Technology
University of Twente,
P.O.Box 217,
7500 EA Enschede,
Netherlands.
Phone: + 31 53 489 31 69
Fax: + 31 342 461304
E-mail:kessels@kessels-smit.nl

ABSTRACT

An emerging knowledge economy creates major challenges for human resource development (HRD) in organisations. The purpose of this paper is to identify some of these challenges and explore their implications for HRD professionals. The paper takes the form of a literature review to contribute to the ongoing debate about HRD's changing role and tasks.

Having set the organisational process of HRD in the context of a knowledge economy and of macro-level socio-economic policy, we explore notions of strategy, structure and knowledge and their implications for those with HRD responsibilities in organisations. We identify and discuss four major challenges that confront the HRD function, and conclude that a knowledge economy invites HRD professionals to play a crucial role in the transformation of organisations. As working, learning and knowing are closely related processes, HRD could become the integrating vehicle for generating human and social capital: primary driving forces in a knowledge society.

KEY WORDS:Ethics; human resource development; knowledge economy; knowledge process; knowledge productivity; knowledge workers; lifelong learning; management competencies; social capital; strategising and organising.

Human resource development: key organisational process in a knowledge economy

HRD AND THE EUROPEAN AGENDA IN A KNOWLEDGE ECONOMY,

Competition and collaboration in a knowledge economy

In an economic environment where knowledge is becoming the main organisational currency, firms must be able to learn fast, respond to recurrent unfamiliar challenges, and ensure that their workers can construct and share strategically valuable knowledge as well as acquire technical and interactive skill. For over a decade the 'dizzying pace' of technological change (Bettis and Hitt, 1995) has been stimulating globalisation - a process directly linked with the Internet and the pricing and information revolution that it has made possible. A major consequence of the conjunction of an emerging knowledge economy and increased globalisation is that innovation and flexibility rather than efficiency have become the main drivers of value. Companies that do not quickly learn to co-create value with their customers and capture the intelligence that illuminates what those customers value will soon lose competitive advantage (Prahalad and Ramaswamy, 2002). In this turbulent environment competitive advantage relies on capability to adapt to new and unfamiliar challenges by generating and applying new knowledge to continuous improvement and radical innovation in work processes, products and services and to customer relationships.

It is the purpose of this paper to identify and explore the major implications of a knowledge economy for those who have core responsibilities for learning and development of people in organisations. At this point, therefore, it is relevant to introduce the concept of HRD as an organisational process.

HRD: The organisational process

Although the strategy literature has for some time contained a distinctive strand on organisational learning and on knowledge management, there is still surprisingly little on HRD as a key process for organisations operating in a knowledge economy. One major United Kingdom (UK) report (Stewart and Tansley, 2002) has reviewed new roles and tasks for trainers in such an...
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