Translation (French-English) : EPALE France
Author : Patrick Mayen
Arising from a study stay to meet researchers and young researchers, this series of articles seeks to develop some surprises and considerations to be taken into account in vocational training issues and questions of professional learning, in and out of the workplace. In the perspective begun by the philosopher François Jullien, we start from the idea that it is sometimes useful to make a detour, to be able to see more clearly what actually concerns us. If we make a detour to another country, its practices and belief fall within this type of beneficial detour: stepping back from our own beliefs, convictions, concerns and practices lets us return to them with a clearer vision. The purpose here is not to claim to describe and analyse the Portuguese training system, nor their practices and beliefs, but to develop the effects of surprise, amazement and difference of approach that a French observer may or could experience…
In future blogs, these reflections will continue to be linked to the issue of training in the workplace, which constitutes our general theme.
Are French butchers all qualified, then?
For a Portuguese researcher whose field of research is labour and vocational training, a stay in France may be full of surprises. Natalia Alves explains her memory of complete amazement during a conversation with a butcher when she was simply doing her shopping. She had discovered that in France, butchers hold qualifications, and that most of them have followed a training course leading to qualification and certification. From that, she discovered that the case of butchers is not alone, and that many of the trades are the subject of organised and compulsory training courses and the subject of recognised certifications, which is not the case in Portugal.
These differences raise questions, or should raise questions, on the convictions we have about what happens in our own world. This reflects the relationship with training, with the importance of trades, and with the various types of knowledge and skill, which are sometimes completely different. It also reflects the differences in beliefs as regards training: how do we learn a profession? How do we become competent professionals? What part does experience play? What is the status and the importance of formal learning in the construction of professional knowledge and expertise?
A comprehensive study should be able to provide information on this type of question: if we observed experienced butchers in different countries, might we be able to identify differences? Differences in practices, differences in performance, differences in quality for the customers, for example, and ultimately, differences in the quality of taste or hygiene in the meat or dishes prepared by one or the other? Can we observe differences in the duration of the training courses, the time taken to learn the job, resolving specific learning difficulties?
The concepts of qualification and certification systems and their development or establishment may also have a relationship with social or economic issues. In addition, in France the system of recruitment, classification and remuneration remains linked to the system of certification, even if this relationship has relaxed over recent years. In Portugal, all the trades which can be exercised without training and certification leave the field open to employers. They did not see the need to recognise these trades as requiring standardised knowledge and expertise, accessible by training, and recognised and validated by generally accepted qualifications.
What is the nature of the profession, the work involved and the appropriate method of training in the skills required?
Activity in the workplace, on the method of learning on the job, is therefore an important way of training in Portugal. But is it so different in France, when it can be seen that a significant proportion of people at work are occupying a job which does not correspond to the initial training that they undertook?
To speak of learning on the job does not mean that people have learned on their own, simply by being confronted with the action. The concept of learning on the job covers highly diversified and contrasting configurations of learning, according to the situation. All forms of tutoring or support can find themselves within the businesses, as for example in butchery. Employers have an interest in organising the training of new personnel, regardless of the way they choose to do it, or what the results may be. As for beginners, it is up to them to find the necessary means to respond to what the psychology of work calls the requirements of the task, but in an environment where professional training certification does not exist, it may be that the efforts made by the employers to train on the job may tend to be greater since they can only rely on themselves to ensure an increase in the skills of their staff.
Finally, there may be a question here on the concept which society develops and maintains about work, the different forms of work, the nature and value of this work, or even of the level of complexity and expertise that it requires to be well done (and not merely carried out). In France, it is the case that many trades or jobs are assumed to be capable of being exercised without training or certification. This may vary from one era to another. For example, the work of the maternal assistant formerly known as a nanny, and exercised for a long time without control or supervision, is first standardised with the need for training to obtain a licence. After that, numerous other qualifying certifications are put in place before many experienced nannies can proceed with the validation of their acquired professional skills. The value and complexity of the work, as well as the issues of the quality of their work for the children they have in their charge were not the only factors in the development of certification. It was also to ensure the standardisation of these occupations to make them into jobs and occupations which would also confer social rights on their holders and act globally on the work.
Where certifications and the formal training do not exist, the question of belief in the quality and uniformity of the goods or services offered arises. We have to postulate that most of the people who are seeking to occupy these functions or jobs are, and will be, able to do so through their more or less long experience of the constituent situations of these functions or professions, and from their own past experience of life or work. In this way, 'Learning from experience, or learning on the job' becomes a social belief made up about what is typical of an occupation or job in any given society at any given time. This is also accompanied by another belief, the one according to which an acceptable level of quality and competence is capable of being built on by this experience. In this case, what we observe again, is the idea that the practices would be more or less identical, and that, by experience, any person would eventually arrive at almost the same practices, the same knowledge and the same level of expertise.
This would imply that at the very heart of the interaction between a person and any given working situation, in a certain category of circumstances, lie factors which determine a particular way of directing the learning process. in addition, by interacting with the same type of subject, almost identical patterns of action and use are constructed, this being due to the fundamental properties of these objects and the possible actions that a human being can carry out with them.
This question has always concerned anthropologists. It should also be of interest to trainers, especially if it is assumed that in most of types of work, there are key factors or critical points, and that therefore some objects and issues of learning are more important than others. So what importance should be given to training courses, and the time and effort needed to organise learning?
Patrick Mayen is Professor of Educational Social Sciences at the University of Bourgogne Franche Comté / Agrosup Dijon and an EPALE France thematic expert.