Training and coaching in SMEs - Work Integration Companies in Spain
This paper presents part of the fieldwork developed within two different projects, a national research (EDU2013-45919-R) as well as an Erasmus+ (Jobcoach+). Several universities and work integration associations are involved in both. We focus our analysis upon the training and coaching processes we have identified in the companies: we describe them using Eraut’s approach on learning trajectories (2000, 2007, 2009, 2012) and we interpret them in relation to recent studies conducted on workplace learning in Europe (Evans, 2006; Malloch et al., 2011, Poell and Woerkom, 2011, Froehlich et al, 2014, Filliettaz and Billet, 2015), with a particular emphasis to that happening in SMEs (Ashton et al., 2008, Rubio et al., 2011, Cedefop, 2015) as well as in Third Sector organizations and the social economy (Huyse et al, 2012; Quintao, 2016) or with precarious and/or routinary work (Evans et al., 2004, Evans et al., 2010).
We want to find out the training and coaching processes happening in Work Integration Companies, the profesional competences and behaviors of their trainers and coaches, to identify the intentional learning processes as well as the content of such learning. We want to reflect to what extent these companies are expansive learning environments (Evans, 2006) and we want to point to their social and educational value.
Several assumptions underlie our research and have been dealt with elsewhere (Stenström and Tynäla, 2009; Marhuenda et al., 2010, Córdoba and Martínez, 2011, Seifried and Wuttke, 2013): WISE employ people in transition out of exclusionary processes, they hire coaches and trainers to train them and equip them with the appropriate social and personal skills, their aim is to facilitate entry into the ordinary labor market and therefore their contracts last up to three years for people with integration contracts, they foster their employability through the enactment of individual learning plans.
Therefore, we may assume that most of the learning that happens in WISEs as SME is informal but yet purposeful, that there are written documents entailing the plans and the evaluation of the progress of workers in transition, that most of the knowledge is shared with other workers in different stages. Most workers are active agents of these processes and have a relevant say in agreeing with the steps set by their coaches. The organization of the companies is arranged in order to maximize the facilitation of learning. Most trainers and coachers (Aeress and Faedei, 2014; Quintao, 2016) share a set of common values and competencies, an expertise that has been applied, discussed and reflected, that go beyond their personal style or approach. This expertise should allow trainers and coaches to behave differently according to the stage of each integration worker, even perhaps establish with them changing pedagogical relations along the whole duration of their contract, in order to increase both their demands as well as their autonomy and accountability.
Not only learning is informal, but assessment practice is often informal as well, most of the feedback provided is verbal and punctual, and only in a few cases (industrial laundry, catering services) it can be checked against an accredited qualification that serves as a curriculum guideline. As Ashton et al. put it, ‘in small enterprises, assessing skill needs or training needs analysis is done in a number of ways, with ‘observation’ being the most commonly used method. Employers and managers often work in close contact with employees, and in the process, they can observe how jobs are executed. Where they notice deviations from set standards of work practices, corrective action can be implemented (…) If relationships are more formal, then counseling may be provided and/or disciplinary action taken (…)(2008, 20-21).
We have visited twice a total of 12 companies in 8 Spanish regions. In every visit we have observed workers during the whole working day/shift, following Steadman's advice (2005). After the observation, we have interviewed the workers, as well as their coaches. All workers are in a different stage in their contract and in their transition into the ordinary labor market.
Prior to the observation, we have gathered updated information on the company, the consent to use the information for research purposes by all workers involved, the learning and integration contract of these workers as well as the individual learning plan guiding the coaching processes in the company.
Interviews are semi-structured, following a pattern that changes according to the stage in the transition process of the worker, as well as taking into account questions that come out of the observation process.
The information gathered allow us to write individual reports of each worker observed/interviewed in each visit, and these reports are assessed by a different researcher in the team, to validate the appropriate use of information as well as the interpretation provided in the report. These reports are a first analysis that is then interpreted and contrasted with other reports in the same and in other companies.
The main obstacles in our methodological strategy have been:
- Delay or cancellation of visits due to unforeseen motives. Delay in submitting relevant information to prepare the visit.
- Adjusting visits to moments in which the workload of the company would allow us to observe and interview workers.
- In one ocassion, one worker denied the chance to be interviewed, even if she had already been observed.
Our results are presented differentiated by companies, stages in the transition process, type of integration contact, occupational sector (recycling and catering). These results help us construct a typology of trainers and coaches, allowing us to present criteria against which to identify examples of good practice in work integration companies. These comprise not only tasks, but also role performance, and particular attention will be paid in our paper to training and coaching processes employed in the companies.
Our findings provide hints on the evaluation practices, that are more informal than we might expect, but both trainers and coaches are able to provide evidence of the acquisition of knowledge and of the progress of integration employees.
We are also able to identify the different weight of each of the learning trajectories that we have analyzed, out of which work performance and personal development provide good examples in our fieldwork, while other trajectories, like role performance, seem to be not so relevant in term of transition and integration.
We have also been able to differentiate among the typologies of exclusion and to report on possible trajectories according to variables like age, sex and ethnic origin, although these are moderated by the effect of the occupation these workers are learning and acquiring.
We discuss our results contrasting them with the findings shown in the literature we have handled, in order to review our assumptions, to discuss how average are WISEs in relation ot other SMEs, and to assess to what extent we can consider them expansive learning environments.
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