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The term workplace learning generally refers to the process of acquiring, integrating, distributing and creating information and knowledge among members of an organization. This process comprises of various components which support knowledge productivity process and involves searching of information, assimilation, development and creation of new knowledge on processes, products and services, (Wang & Ellinger, 2011, p. 512). The essence of workplace learning in generating organizational knowledge helps in sustenance of competitive advantage and leads to creation of new markets and niches. Globally, the diverse workforce environment and the use of information technology have made organizations to increasingly become aware of the competitive environment in which they are thriving in and hence, pursue the competitive advantage that lies in learning and knowledge. Organizational knowledge is an asset which can be managed to contribute to a firm’s innovation performance. According to As Wang & Ellinger (2011, p. 512), workplace training is a key process which contributes to successful innovation in an organization and hence, it determines and supports and organization’s performance. In view of this, this paper gives a detailed account of how the concept of ‘workplace learning’ can help in improving an organization’s performance, drawing examples from Mad About Plants Company. To understand this better, it will be worthy to give a brief account of concept of workplace learning and its relationship with innovation performance
Panagiotakopoulos (2011, p. 351) notes that there are a variety of definitions to the ‘concept of workplace leaning’, which are not always consistent with each other. In this context, the focus is on the acquisition of knowledge or skills by formal or informal means that occurs at workplace. This includes both informal workplace learning and formal on-the-job training. As Panagiotakopoulos points out, workplace learning is a practical approach to developing relevant knowledge and skills for the benefits of individuals and organization. It has a merit of being a corroborative model in which employers and employees can jointly address skills development through the process of social dialogue.
Ideally, as Panagiotakopoulos notes, workplace learning links industry, employer and individual learning in ways which encourage and support lifelong learning. In it’s fully development form, workplace learning implies carrying out training needs analysis and development of individual development plans from the training needs analysis. Then, the employee development can meaningfully be aligned with organizational development. This explains the reason for adopting Wang and Ellinger’s definition for the concept of workplace learning in this context. Wang and Ellinger’s note that the concept of workplace learning refers to the process of acquiring, integrating, distributing and creating information and knowledge among members of an organization. This implies that, workplace learning is ideally not the correction of short-term job-performance problems. Instead, as Malloch (2010, p. 348) asserts the real benefits of workplace learning come aligning workers’ skills development with organizational goals and helps to achieve a sustainable learning organization and a continuous improvement culture. According to Malloch (2010, p. 348), this leads to significant improvement an organization’s performance.
According to Kuo (2011, p. 581), effective workplace learning requires efficient Strategic human resource management (HRM) practices. This involves optimizing learning, development and performance improvement at individual, group and organizational levels. As Kuo, explains, this enables an organization to keep pace with changing environment. Generally, for organization’s performance to improve, it requires competent people to learn and interpret new information and technology changes from external environment so as to create new knowledge faster than the competitors. In other words, workplace learning has to be coherent with organization’s design, strategy, strategic HRM practices, structures and context. According to Kuo, the most efficient way to improving organizational performance is through innovation.
The term innovation has been broadly defined as “an idea, a product, or process, system or device that is perceived to be new to an individual, a group of people or firms, an individual sector or a society as a whole” (Kuo, 2011, p. 582). Innovation has also been understood as a method which leads to sustenance of competitive advantage through exploration of new products or services or through exploitation of the existing ones. Thus, innovation if generally focused on learning, acquisition of new knowledge and recognition. According to Kuo an organizations innovations performance is rooted in human capital and cannot be replicated or transferred. Better put, an organization that has the most advanced technology but which is lacking talented employees still cannot perform or conduct innovative projects. Thus, the concept of workplace learning maintains that for organizations to be successful, they should have systems which support learning and improvement in performance at all levels. With individual focus towards innovative information new opportunities, it becomes easier for an organization to initiate and achieve entrepreneurial opportunities. Though individuals’ sum of innovative behaviour might not be equal to organizational-level innovation performance, organizational-level performance is usually based on its members’ innovative behaviours (Kuo, 2011, p. 582). This means that organizational performance takes place under conditions that organizational members’ innovation can be transferred to organizational level.
There are various human resource issues related to workplace learning, which help in improving organizational performance. First, workplace learning helps to improve the quality of skills of the workforce, (Eraut, 2010, p. 8). This further leads to improvement in service delivery performance. According to Eraut, learning leads to increased sense of professionalism of the workforce and greater likelihood of employee’s career progression. This increases efficiency in service delivery which leads to more effective use of resources. On top of this, learning enhances workplace relationships which lead to improved team corporation, co-ordination and performance. This can well be illustrated by the performance of the Mad About Plants Company, based in Australia (The Conference Board of Canada, 2009). Mad About Plants is a 15 person horticultural company which supplies a variety of materials and plants such as palms, trees, indoor plants, shrubs and ground cover to local councils,, landscapers retail nurseries and large department stores . When the company started in 1998, a lack of skills made it impossible for the company to grow quality plants and to run profitable business. The two leaders of the company, Darryl and Katherine Madder, recognized the critical shortfall in skills and took the responsibility to introduce the relevant training.
As a result, this company has performed tremendously in improvement of sales, increasing customer satisfaction and in lowering of operational costs. In fact, According to The Conference Board of Canada (2009), Mad About Plants was crowned the Prime Minister’s Small Business of the Year at the Australian Training Awards in 2004. A study conducted by the Conference Board of Canada in 2009 found that, since training of workers of Mad About Plants had been put in place, incident reporting had increased, providing greater safety for both employees and clients. Further, there was considerable improvement in the quality assurance system in the company as well as increased focus on root causes in incident investigations due to greater amount of data available. On top of that, training contributed significantly to employees’ self-esteem resulting in them being treated with greater respect and contributing to an improved since of morale amongst the workers and the clients, (The Conference Board of Canada, 2009)
Generally, employees gain a more in-depth understanding of their role as well as a greater level of awareness of client needs and what they should or should not do in relation to these needs. For example, in Mad About Plants, managers reported that employees who had participated in training were more likely to identify issues that may need attending to such as deterioration in client’s ability to maintain independence and environmental conditions that may threaten the client or the worker. In addition, it was reported that service delivery of employees who had undergone training was higher and they had a greater sense of professionalism, which raised their expectations of their own behaviour, (The Conference Board of Canada, 2009).
Ryan (2009, p. 34) further asserts that workplace training leads to better matching of employee’s skills to client needs. This is due to the fact that employees gain a wider range of skills which enhances their ability to work with clients with more challenging or complex service needs. Further, learning results in a better understanding of the rights of clients as consumers and thus, gives a higher level of protection for them. Also, training helps to reduce the gap between expectations of the workers and the reality of the job. This leads the workers to have a better appreciation of their duties and better preparedness to perform the required tasks. At Mad About Plants Company, a willingness to participate in training is now a basic requirements for new employees leading to perception of the job as one career progression is possible, (The Conference Board of Canada, 2009). Cavaleri (2004, p. 159) adds that, workplace training helps to improve indirect service delivery of an organization. For instance, workplace training leads to improved community sustainability, as it gives individuals opportunity to work and achieve qualification in communities which do not have formal training establishments.
Another benefit of workplace learning is that, it helps to increase the quantity o.............
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