In company trainers: the key people in the dual professional learning model.
By Pablo Denis. Welcome to Pablo Apprenticeship Blog Contributor.
Yesterday we started here in Uruguay a new training body for company tutors, and this inspired this article. Company trainers are the key people in the dual professional learning model. Without them, the transmission of practical knowledge could not take place.
Become a trainer
According to the Swiss legal framework for example (Law and Ordinance on Vocational Training, ordinances by profession), access to this position is possible from 2 to 5 years of professional experience, however the average age of the people we met is between 35 and 55 years old. Most of the trainers are therefore recognized professionals in their profession and already have solid experience.
For some of them, becoming a corporate trainer can be part of a real career strategy, the position is then accompanied by a change in status and is part of an upward mobility. For others, it is rather a form of parallel career, with mobility within the profession. While the motivations are variable (from the “vocation” to train and pass on one’s trade to the desire to reorient one’s career, not to mention the desire to move away from the pressure of production), one’s own experience as an apprentice is often one of the determining factors in taking up the position.
Everyday life in the company (in all countries…)
The characteristics of companies (sector, size) strongly influence the activities of trainers. Since training companies are mainly small, they are strongly influenced by profitability and cost considerations, including in the area of vocational training. Unlike large companies, some of which have separate training facilities to keep apprentices out of the production process for long periods of time, SMEs organize their vocational training in such a way that it accompanies daily work or takes place during production downtime (when it exists). Thus, depending on the organizational context, trainers are subject to various constraints.
First of all, let us note the fragmented nature of their activity. Frequently occupying another function in the company (sector manager, manager, boss), these people constantly move from one task to another, interrupting the supervision of apprentices to respond to an imperative or emergency in another field of activity. This goes hand in hand with fragmented time. Thus, almost systematically, and even in large companies with training centers, the time to assume the training function is considered insufficient. Difficult to quantify for the people concerned, it is rarely formalised by companies and appears to be one of the major constraints of in-company training. Added to this, is the tension between two logics: producing and training. Constitutive of the dual system, this tension is particularly acute for in-company trainers, especially those working in micro-enterprises and SMEs. More surprisingly, the logic of production is increasingly breaking into the training centers of large companies (profitability objectives similar to those of “normal” branches, projects to develop products for the market, etc.).
The role in professional socialization
In the same way as school or work, the dual system of vocational training represents an instance of socialization, of professional socialization in particular, by transmitting to young people knowledge, norms, values, representations, relating to the world of work, a particular profession or a given company. In-company trainers play a central role in this process as socialization agents. The analysis of the interviews has made it possible to highlight what they focus on, i.e. cross-cutting skills.
These transversal skills appear in all the experiences of trainers as objects of socialization, inseparable from the learning of the profession. However, some people believe that they should already be acquired before starting an apprenticeship. They thus become selection criteria for apprentices. This apparent paradox raises a major issue for in-company training. It is not so much a question of companies reflecting on the transferable nature of certain skills, attitudes and values, as of making a real and symbolic investment in the employability of the young people they recruit. It is indeed a question of evaluating whether the apprentice chosen will be employable in the short term (as an apprentice in the company), but also in the medium and long term (as a professional on the labour market). Another important issue is to be highlighted: the emphasis placed on transversal skills, the use of the personal and social qualities that make up life skills, interpersonal skills and attitudes towards work represents a possible vector of inequality, since some of the transversal skills were acquired during primary socialization and are part of the cultural and social capital of individuals.
By way of synthesis, it is a question of underlining the ambiguity inherent to the function of trainer in the workplace. In addition to the lack of time mentioned and a strong pressure, they have to deplore an uncertain recognition. Nevertheless, these people say that they derive a great deal of satisfaction from their activity, particularly in relation to the training periods and the rewards relating to the development of the young people they accompany. The issues raised here underline the importance of recognizing and revaluing this function, in particular by allocating the necessary time to it. This would make it possible to underline their central role in the dual system, and above all to ensure its sustainability.