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EPALE - Plataforma eletrónica para a educação de adultos na Europa


Who trains in small and medium-sized enterprises?

por Simon BROEK
Idioma: EN
Document available also in: DE ES FR IT PL ET HU NL

In 2013 99.8% of the work force of all companies are small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), employing around three-fourths of the overall workforce. As adults spend a large share of their time in the workplace, the workplace is considered an important learning environment. This is emphasised by many European level documents (such as the Riga Declaration). The workplace is not only the place to develop job-related skills but also transversal competences, making people more resilient to changes in their career and life.

Learning in the workplace can take place in different ways; it can be self-initiated or achieved by doing. However, in SMEs there are also more structured approaches to learning which involve in-service trainers. But…. who are these trainers?

Recently an interesting study was published by Cedefop – Who trains in small and medium-sized enterprises: Characteristics, needs and ways of support. The study sheds some light on the still fragmented but evolving knowledge base on training and learning that take place in enterprises. The study consisted of policy and practice analysis in all Member States, and a survey that gathered responses from 254 SMEs from eight countries (Belgium-Flanders, Bulgaria, Denmark, Germany, Spain, Lithuania, Poland and Portugal) in four sectors (automotive, construction, computing services, and hotels and restaurants).


Who are the in-service trainers?

For the purposes of this study, in-company trainers are defined as:

Internal trainers (employed by the company) who provide internal training (training organised and carried out in and/or by the company for their staff) and support learning of adults (CVET) in non-formal and informal learning environments within the company. (Source: CEDEFOP (SME) 2015, Europe)

The study proposes the following groups of in-company trainers:

  1. in-company trainers in the narrower sense typically assume a broad range of activities, including organisational activities related to training (for example, designing, planning, supervising, organising, or evaluating training);
  2. employees with training functions mainly focus on one-to-one instruction and facilitating small group trainings without being involved in managing training tasks;
  3. managers with training functions perform a broad range of training-related activities; alongside their management tasks, they spend less time on the delivery of one-to-one group training.

The higher the skill level (in terms of ISCO occupational-skill profiles) the higher the likelihood of being engaged in learning facilitation and training: managers or supervisors are more likely to fulfil training functions than professional or skilled workers, while a small number of unskilled workers do so.


What type of training do they provide?

In-company trainers differ in terms of their profile, socio-demographic characteristics, and time allocation to in-service training. There are also differences in terms of the type of activities they conduct in relation to in-service training. It concentrates on:

  • Induction of new employees. This is mainly organised as on-the-job-training or in one-to-one situations.
  • Health and/or safety training sessions or brief instructions.
  • Short technical trainings lasting between a few hours and one to two days.

Providing feedback and advice to others in the work process, and one-to-one training or demonstrations, were identified as the most frequent training activities undertaken by the in-company trainers in the study.


Why did they become an in-service trainer?

The study also highlights that willingness to share one’s knowledge and skills with others and to train are more important than instrumental aspects, such as the expected economic benefit. One in five trainers assumed learning facilitation responsibilities on their own initiative (followed by employers’ designation). The potential for career advancement does, however, play an important role. The majority of in-company trainers consider their work as trainer attractive.


How do they develop their own competences?

In-service trainers themselves indicate that they have received a lot of training throughout their career. At the same time, only one third of trainers participated in training aimed at improving training-related competences. The study also suggest a clear dichotomy between formal education or studying for a formal qualification and more informal learning activities directly embedded in the trainers’ professional work; namely learning from colleagues, learning from supervisors or senior professionals, learning by doing one’s professional tasks, and self-directed learning, and relatively formal or organised activities such as training courses, workshops, guided on-the-job learning.


What is next?

In-service trainers are considered important for skills formation and lifelong learning. This role is in many Member States not sufficiently recognized, acknowledged or supported. In addition, insufficient data is available of what is actually taking place in SMEs with regard to learning and establishing effective learning environments.

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  • Retrato de Stephane Roquet

    Bonjour Simon,

    merci beaucoup pour cet article d'actualité qui reprend un enjeu majeur pour les entreprises aujourd'hui. 

    Je suis basé en France et pour contribuer à la formation des managers et formateurs dans les TPE et PME, je reprends une méthode pédagogique américaine abandonnée depuis plusieurs années. Elle se dénomme Training Within Industry - TWI - Elle a été développée durant la seconde guerre mondiale et répond parfaitement aux besoins des PME et TPE - Voici une documentation (en anglais) qui reprend l'histoire du TWI, des origines aux résultats obtenus -

    Je suis un passionné de l'apprentissage et de la formation en entreprise - Learning by doing - et depuis nombreuses années oeuvre sur le terrain pour développer les compétences des formateurs et des managers. Au plaisir de continuer nos échanges sur le TWI et sur la construction d'organisation apprenante. 


  • Retrato de Elżbieta Tomaszewska

    Bardzo ciekawe materiały edukacyjne na temat kierunku i formy szkoleń w małych i średnich przedsiębiorstwach eduropejskich. Uważam, że taką szczegółową analizę polityk i praktyk w zakresie kształcenia dorosłych w miejscu pracy należałoby przeprowadzić we wszystkich krajach członkowskich UE. W pełni zgadzam się również ze stwierdzeniem, że miejsce pracy powinno służyć nie tylko rozwijaniu umiejętności zawodowych, ale także kompetencji przekrojowych, dzięki, którym pracownicy będą lepiej przygotowani na zmiany w swojej karierze zawodowej oraz w życiu prywatnym.

    Istotną rolę w w kontekście kształtowania umiejętności i uczenia się przez całe życie w każdym przedsiębiorstwie powinni odgrywać terenerzy wewnętrzni, którzy różnią się w zakresie poziomu kwalifikacji oraz prowadzonej tematyki szkoleń. Bardzo chciałabym, żeby taki poszerzony model uczenia sie w miejscu pracy, przyjął się również w naszym kraju i w mojej branży zawodowej.


  • Retrato de Graciela Sbertoli

    Thank you for a very interesting blog, Simon, and thank you for your insightful comments, Andrew and David! (BTW: I came to this blog through a direct link, and could not see who the author was... :-) )

    Simon, since you mention that "the workplace is not only the place to develop job-related skills but also transversal competences, making people more resilient to changes in their career and life", I'd like to complicate your picture of the in-service trainer.

    Norway has now ten years of experience from a national program that funds basic skills training at the work place. The training is normally organized by external providers, but always in close cooperation with both the employers and the employees. In-house union representatives have proved to be invaluable assistants both for outreach (motivating those employees most in need of training) and to ensure the relevance of the training (facilitating the access to in-house training materials).

    Tandem cooperation between external trainers and in-house training assistants has also facilitated the implementation of schemes for embedded learning at the workplace. Through acquiring a higher level of basic skills (literacy, numeracy and digital competence), workers have been able to both increase their vocational skills and acquire the necessary theoretical knowledge, and in many cases this has led to the acquisition of higher vocational qualifications. I know that we at the Norwegian NSS have uploaded a video here about these experiences. I'll find it and post it in an additional comment.

    Another area where this kind of dual approach is proving very helpful is the language training of new immigrants to the country. Some Norwegian municipalities are experimenting with partial work placement of immigrants long before they have acquired a working level in the language. The newly arrived immigrants attend ordinary language classes but are also employed part-time and can practice the language with the help of in-house mentors, who should also in that context be considered in-service trainers.

    As I said, just to complicate the picture... :-)


  • Retrato de Graciela Sbertoli

    This is the video I referred to in my comment above: /en/resource-centre/content/video-value-workplace-training


  • Retrato de Simon BROEK

    Dear David, I agree completely. Learning at the workplace is not only about being involved in learning trajectories, courses or the like.

    Establishing a learning culture depends even more on the organisation of work: do employees conduct a variety of tasks? Can different tasks cross-fertilise their understanding and sense for improvement? Can what they learn be directly used in practice?

    Another factor is the organisational culture in terms of whether there is time to have exchanges with colleagues; whether personal/professional development is promoted and valued.

    Learning in the workplace should be seen in relation to these two factors at least, but I am sure there are others as well.

  • Retrato de David Mallows

    A very useful review Simon - thank you.

    It's very interesting to think about how the trainers themselves learn to become better trainers. You make a distinction between formal / non-formal learning opportunities and informal learning opportunities

    "...learning from colleagues, learning from supervisors or senior professionals, learning by doing one’s professional tasks, and self-directed learning."

    My guess is that the latter is by far the most common way in which we all learn in the workplace and yet it receives very little attention. If workplaces were reconfigured to facillitate the type of interpersonal engagement that leads to learning and, importantly, employers (and employees) valued it more highly (and explicitly), perhaps we would all (realise that we) learn in the workplace.





  • Retrato de Andrew McCoshan

    Thanks for the useful review of this interesting report, Simon.

    It's always amazed me how little we know about the learning that goes on in the workplace compared to initial vocational education and training given it is so significant in scale and in adding to the competences of adults.

    I'm intrigued to know what sort of support already exists for in-company trainers–it's quite a challenge given the nature of SMEs. In other fields like innovation, a popular model is to develop networks or hubs where SMEs can collaborate.

    I wonder how common these are in adult learning?