Livslang læring for alle? En arbejdslivshistorisk undersøgelse af det ufaglærte arbejdsliv som betingelse for livslang læring og opkvalificering

Sissel Kondrup

    Publikation: Bog/antologi/afhandling/rapportPh.d.-afhandling


    This dissertation examines unskilled work-life as a condition for participating in lifelong learning.

    The point of departure for this research is the widespread consensus that lifelong learning is necessary in order to ensure both societal and individual welfare and wellbeing. This consensus is rooted in the assumption that a more intensive competitive global economy and advancements in technology as well as new models of organisation have made certain skills obsolete. Accordingly, the labour market develops with a bias toward skills, as demand for an unskilled workforce falls, while demand for skilled and highly educated labour increases. Concurrently, research examining adult education reveals a Matthew Effect, whereby those possessing the highest education are most likely to participate in vocational and educational training. The identification of these challenges formed the impetus for the formulation of a Danish Strategy on Lifelong Learning and Training in 2007.

    The research question is:
    How does an unskilled work-life condition the workers’ establishment and reproduction of a learner identity that fulfils the demand to engage in lifelong learning formulated by the national strategy for lifelong learning and training?

    In order to answer this it is necessary, first, to identify the requirements formulated in the strategy, and the assumptions and premises on which these are based. Next, is it imperative to understand what constitutes the establishment of a learner identity, which enables the fulfilment of the requirements.
    By taking the perspective of the employee, the dissertation focuses on how specific experiences from an unskilled work-life constitute one’s perception toward participating in various learning activities. It is assumed that the work-life must be perceived as a specific learning space, which give rise to immediate experiences, which determines how the employee perceive participation in different learning activities, and their own possibilities to engage in lifelong learning and training.

    The dissertations second section focuses on lifelong learning as a political strategy. This section accounts, primarily based on secondary literature, for the tendencies in transnational and Danish policies on lifelong learning and the rationale on which these are based. One possible reason why lifelong learning has become central in welfare politics is then presented. This section concludes with a summary of the premises upon which the National Strategy is formed and the preconditions for its fulfilment. The section reveals that the Strategy on Lifelong learning builds on the assumption that the use of lifelong learning and education is optimised when driven by demand, and employability is improved by formal education. Additionally the National Strategy requires that the individual take responsibility for future employability by continuously improving skills to meet the demands of the future labour market. The Strategy demands everybody need develop a proactive learner identity.

    The third section is an introduction to existing research on participation of unskilled labour in lifelong learning. First, five research traditions concerned with recruitment and participation are reviewed. The research interests and concepts of the various traditions are discussed, including implications for understanding engagement in different, but primarily formal learning activities in relation to work-life. Next, research concerning learning opportunities in the workplace are presented, including how companies use formal vocational and educational training with a focus on unskilled labour. This section points to a series of tendencies in current research into participation and recruitment: a widespread optimism for education, a focus on individual motivation and a lack of focus on ambivalence and lack of focus on the specific work. It is argued that research on participation and recruitment should be more attentive toward research concerning learning in work-life in order to understand how unskilled workers perceive engagement in different learning activities. Through a discussion of the different perspectives, of their strengths and weaknesses concerning the field of study, it is ultimately argued that it is necessary to conceptualise the learner identity to encapsulate how the perception of needs and possibilities for engaging different learning activities are embedded in a particular work-life.

    In section four a theoretical concept of learner identity is developed. First it is assessed how a critical realist perspective, based on Archer’s concepts of concern, inner conversation, modus vivendi and personal and social identity, contributes to an understanding of the relation between work and identity, and how this perspective enables a particular understanding of learner identity. Next, it is assessed how a life-historical-perspective rooted in critical theory, primarily inspired by Salling Olesen, contributes to an understanding of the relation between work and identity, and contributes to an understanding of learner identity. In the section identity - one concept two perspectives it is discussed how the two perspectives contributes to an understanding of the unskilled work-life as a condition for the establishment of a learner identity. It is argued that it is necessary to employ a perspective that exposes how a learner identity is established and reproduced in a specific process of experience. And experience must be seen as a phenomenon with three modalities, relatively independent but mediated through each other: immediate experiences, life (historical) experiences and cultural knowledge. This implies that learner identity as a dialectic phenomenon is established, maintained and transformed by subjects continuously and actively engaged in specific situations giving rise to immediate experiences and concerns. At the same time the argument is made for the necessity to employ a perspective sensitive to how engagement can contribute to contrasting and conflicting experiences, as well as experiences not possible to articulate. Furthermore the perspective must be sensitive to ambivalence and the possibility of a contradictory identity process.

    The empirical study conducted in the dissertation examines how the subjects specific experiences from an unskilled work-life constitutes their establishment of a learner identity, including their experiences of possibilities and needs to engage in different learning activities. The empirical study is based on work-life history interviews with workers employed in unskilled jobs in small and medium-sized private factories. As part of the dissertation 24 interviews with employees in six different companies were conducted. Three of these form the basis of the empirical analyses. The methodology is explained and reasoned in the fifth section about the conduction of the empirical research.

    The sixth part contains the first empirical analysis. Three histories from an unskilled work-life are assessed through narrative analysis of the stories of their entry into the labour market, their work-life history with different jobs and tasks, and how they became suited to perform their jobs and finally how they perceive their future work-life. After every work-life history it is summarised how the specific work-life experiences constitutes their learner identity.

    The seventh part assesses the establishment of learner identity in an unskilled work-life. First it is examined what specific concerns the unskilled work-life gives rise to. This reveals a number of concerns: a) the natural concerns are the physical strain related to the work, b) the practical concerns is the quality of their work, the quality in their work and the possibilities to employ knowledge and qualifications in the work, and c) the social concerns relate to sustaining employment, retaining wage labour, recognition from superiors, good relations to their colleagues and the balance between work and private life. The analysis shows how involvement in unskilled work gives rise to different and contradictory concerns that need to be taken into account.
    In part 7.4 the focus is on how the subjects experience their possibilities to handle their concerns. It reveals how sustaining employment is the ultimate concern, while other concerns are subordinated. At the same time it reveals how they only experience limited control over the factors determining if they can keep their employment, both in their current and possible future jobs.
    Part 7.5 assesses how experiences from the unskilled work life and the perception of possibilities to meet these concerns conditions the establishment of a learner identity. The analysis reveals how they experience continuous learning as a necessity, and their learner identity is characterised by an orientation towards the indispensability of knowledge and skills. Further it reveals how the perceived needs and possibilities to improve formal skills related to the current job are restricted by the specific content and organisation of the work. The analysis of the experienced needs and possibility to improve formal skills related to alternative employment shows how these are also restricted due to the changes in the labour market and the organisation of their current work. The changes make the future demand for labour unclear and uncertain. And the current work conditions make it impossible to claim their formal right for education, established by the agreements between labour and management. The analysis reveals how both need for and possibilities to participate in formal education are perceived as other-determined, and the subjects are oriented toward the present because the future is too uncertain to provide orientation. Thus, it is crucial to emphasise that the orientation towards the present is not grounded in reluctance towards change or lack of flexibility. These work-life experiences are the reason why the subjects today have what can be described as a primarily adaptive learner identity. Based on the analysis it is emphasised how the establishment and maintenance of the specific learner identity must be understood as stretched between past, present and future, since it is constituted by the subject’s specific life historical experiences, their immediate experiences and their concerns in their current situation in addition to their imagined future work-life.

    Section eight concludes on the research question by comparing the assumptions in the national strategy on lifelong learning and the experiences from an unskilled work-life revealed in the empirical analysis.
    The first assumption was that the use of adult education and training is optimised if more demand driven. The work life story reveals that the correspondence between the societal, individual and workplace-centred short and long term needs for skills should not be taken for granted. The second assumption is that employability is strengthened through formal education. The work life stories show how the employees only experience a limited possibility to employ formal skills in their work and how the content and organisation of the work limits their possibilities to participate in formal education. The strategy demands everyone form a proactive learner identity oriented toward future demands for labour. The work life history reveals how the subjects develop an adaptive learner identity because they perceive their possibilities and need to participate as other-determined, because the future is not perceived as a possible horizon for orientation in their current situation.
    Thus, the dissertation reveals how the rationale in the Danish educational policy - that everybody should take responsibility for staying employed and maintain one’s employability through formal education towards future demand for labour - conflicts with the work-life experience of unskilled workers. They share the ultimate goal of employment and the perception that everybody has to be flexible and adapt to the need of the workplace. But the situation on the labour market and the uncertainty of the future means that their concern of staying employed becomes counter-productive for developing a proactive learner identity and for their claim to their formal right for education and training.
    In the end the dissertation reflects how the dialectic concept of learner identity provides certain sensitivity able to comprehend what constitutes unskilled workers’ orientation toward different learning activities. Furthermore how the findings should be taken into account by further research and policy development if we want to understand and increase the participation in lifelong learning for all.
    ForlagRoskilde Universitet
    Antal sider317
    ISBN (Trykt)9788791387593
    StatusUdgivet - 2012
    NavnAfhandlinger fra Forskerskolen i livslang læring


    • Læringsidentitet
    • arbejdslivserfaring
    • læring i arbejdslivet
    • livshistorie
    • kritisk teori
    • Kritisk realisme
    • livslang læring
    • ufaglærte og kortuddannede

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