Workers workplaces and the working class lifelong learning in south wales
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Workers, Workplaces and the Working Class: lifelong learning in South Wales. Gareth Rees Cardiff School of Social Sciences Cardiff University. Agenda. I want to use historical and contemporary research to raise questions about adult learning My lecture has three parts:

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Workers workplaces and the working class lifelong learning in south wales

Workers, Workplaces and the Working Class: lifelong learning in South Wales

Gareth Rees

Cardiff School of Social Sciences

Cardiff University


Agenda

Agenda

  • I want to use historical and contemporary research to raise questions about adult learning

  • My lecture has three parts:

    • The distinctive contribution of South Wales to the development of provision for adult learning is understood in particular ways

    • The role of learning in the workplace has been neglected

    • This omission is important now, because of the significance of such learning for policies for the ‘knowledge-based economy’


The historiography of adult learning in south wales

The Historiography of Adult Learning in South Wales

  • There is a well-established historiography of workers’ education in South Wales

  • Provision through organisations such as the National Labour College and the WEA, as well as independent classes, aimed at learning for social and political transformation

  • This played a significant role during the first half of the 20th. century, especially during the 1920s and 1930s


The historiography of adult learning in south wales1

The Historiography of Adult Learning in South Wales

  • This provision was supported by the extensive educational infrastructure of the Miners’ Institutes

  • Archie Lush (Aneurin Bevan’s agent):

    ‘I went up and this tutor fellow saw me about June [1927] … and he gave me a long list of books, you know, to read before I came up [in October] and when I told him I had read so and so, he just didn’t believe me! And he said “Well, where would you get these books?” And I said “Tredegar Workmen’s Library”’.


The historiography of adult learning in south wales2

The Historiography of Adult Learning in South Wales

  • Workers’ education played a particular role, especially in creating a cadre who went on to play leading parts within the Welsh and UK labour movement

  • However, its impact was limited, not least by the relatively small numbers who participated. As Richard Lewis puts it, workers’ education:

    ‘ …sought to raise the working class in general, not to assist those of ability to leave their class background. Yet, despite the rhetoric … it was the activist, the bright energetic and visionary elements amongst the working classes that were to be the main targets of workers’ education.’


The historiography of adult learning in south wales3

The Historiography of Adult Learning in South Wales

  • ‘Liberal adult education’ was also provided through university extension, local authority provision, WEA

  • Again, supported by the Miners’ Institutes. W.J. Edwards recalls a librarian guiding his reading:

    ‘“Here, boy, are two volumes of a book I want you to take…” … I read the title, Don Quixote of la Mancha. “You see, boy” continued the librarian “I want you to read these for the pleasure I know they will give you; but also … because the translation … can give you a knowledge of good English.’


The historiography of adult learning in south wales4

The Historiography of Adult Learning in South Wales

  • Again, however, the impacts of this form of adult learning were limited by the numbers participating

  • Confined to what the Board of Education (in 1931) described as ‘…the reflective minority, with comparatively small groups of interested people.’

  • Importantly, unlike workers’ education, these ‘small groups’ did include significant proportions of women.


Work place and work related learning

Work-place and Work-related Learning

  • My argument is NOT that workers’ education and liberal adult education were insignificant.

  • Rather, I want to suggest that they comprise only one part of a much wider story

  • My key argument is that, for many people, the most significant arena in which systematic learning takes place is the work-place (and this includes comparison with schools and other formal educational institutions)


Work place and work related learning1

Work-place and Work-related Learning

  • A necessary preliminary to my account of workplace learning in South Wales is to distinguish between:

    • Formal learning: through dedicated educational organisations (schools, colleges, etc.)

    • Non-formal learning: through bodies whose main purpose is something other than education (employers, trade unions, voluntary associations)

    • Informal learning: through experience, interaction with others, self-teaching


Work place and work related learning2

Work-place and Work-related Learning

  • In ‘modern’ South Wales, these types of learning have combined in different ways during different periods.

  • Distinguish 3 distinctive regimes of work-related learning:

    • Familial: late 19th. Century to the inter-war years

    • Bureaucratic: 1940s to the 1970s

    • Fragmented: 1980s to the present


Work related learning in south wales familial regime

Work-related Learning in South Wales: Familial Regime

  • Recruitment into employment and processes of learning within it operated through families

  • This is especially well illustrated in the overwhelmingly dominant industry of the period, coal mining

  • Boys would start work assisting a family member (father, brother, uncle) for an extended period (up to 7 years)

  • Informal learning underground reinforced by the authority relationships of the family


Work related learning in south wales familial regime1

Work-related Learning in South Wales: Familial Regime

  • As B.L.Coombes put it:

    ‘…miners took their sons to work with them, leading them carefully through the dangers of the mine and teaching them all the skill with hand and head that many years in the darkness had given them.’

  • Lee Hutchinson explained how his brother told him:

    ‘“Oh, you will be coming to work with me.” … I remained with him for seven years, which was your allotted span before you could go into a place of your own.’


Work related learning in south wales familial regime2

Work-related Learning in South Wales: Familial Regime

  • Formal and non-formal learning was correspondingly limited.

  • However, participation in classes was essential for those who aspired to progress into colliery management (certification was a legal requirement after 1911).

  • They were also a means of escaping from the coal industry altogether.

  • All forms of learning were pretty much confined to men.


Work related learning in south wales bureaucratic regime

Work-related Learning in South Wales: Bureaucratic Regime

  • Nationalisation and the increasing mechanisation of collieries provided the basis for a new regime of work-related learning.

  • Traditional skills were replaced by new ones related to machine cutting and transport; growth of craft-work underground

  • Concerns over shortages of ‘technical competences’ resulted in the growth of formal and non-formal learning (for men)


Work related learning in south wales bureaucratic regime1

Work-related Learning in South Wales: Bureaucratic Regime

  • These changes were necessary, as early efforts to accommodate mechanisation had been haphazard.

  • B.L.Coombes again provides insights:

    ‘The American gave me a booklet, explained the workings of the machine and the electric circuit, then I had a trial run.’ Following this, ‘I was given a blue paper vesting authority for the handling of machinery and electricity and found myself a coal-cutter operator.’


Work related learning in south wales bureaucratic regime2

Work-related Learning in South Wales: Bureaucratic Regime

  • All recruits were required to undertake a period of apprenticeship (from 1960s), not just craftsmen.

  • Sophisticated programmes of further training.

  • ‘Ladder Plan’ provided for day-release to local FE colleges to enable individuals to progress to colliery management.

  • However, informal learning remained important, as was illustrated during disputes over colliery closures.


Work related learning in south wales fragmented regime

Work-related Learning in South Wales: Fragmented Regime

  • The collapse of the traditional regional economy and characteristic patterns of re-industrialisation provided the basis for the emergence of a new regime of work-related learning.

  • Of particular significance was the growth of employment in the services (especially in the public sector) and the associated entry of women into the labour market.

  • This increased diversity in the industrial structure is mirrored by a fragmented regime of work-related learning.


Work related learning in south wales fragmented regime1

Work-related Learning in South Wales: Fragmented Regime

  • Since the 1990s, the significance of work-related learning has increased dramatically, at least in terms of the rhetoric of the ‘knowledge-based economy’.

  • However, in reality, it is formal provision which has borne the brunt of actual transformations (schools, colleges, universities, adult education).

  • Non-formal provision – especially that by employers – has become highly fragmented.


Work related learning in south wales fragmented regime2

Work-related Learning in South Wales: Fragmented Regime

  • High-quality, non-formal provision exists, but it is confined to particular sectors/firms and occupational groups.

  • Some large, often multi-national manufacturing plants, for example, provide excellent opportunities.

  • A female respondent (from Bridgend) describes the situation in her local hospital:

    ‘You had a funny situation there. If you went is a clerk with 5 O-levels, then you could do further training. But if you were a shorthand typist, you tended to stay.’


Work related learning in south wales fragmented regime3

Work-related Learning in South Wales: Fragmented Regime

  • In very many jobs, non-formal provision is non-existent or almost so.

  • The characteristic forms which such minimal provision takes are:

    • Short-term induction training

    • ‘sitting by Nellie’

    • Health and Safety-related training

  • In contrast to previous regimes, workers appear not to recognise the skills which they do acquire, albeit through informal learning.


Work related learning in south wales fragmented regime4

Work-related Learning in South Wales: Fragmented Regime

  • People attribute their capacity to do their job to ‘common-sense’.

  • A man in his sixties describes this clearly:

    ‘You learn as you get along … You got to train yourself and you use your hands and ears. No-one came along and said “You mustn’t do this or you mustn’t do that” … I mean, common-sense will tell you not to do certain things … I can pick up most things purely by watching someone else doing it ….’

  • This may be explained by changes in the nature of occupations; but also be the gender recomposition of the work-force.


Concluding comments

Concluding Comments

  • My most basic conclusion is that we need to understand work-related learning better than we currently do.

  • Given the limited impacts of formal provision on many people, the learning that is gained at work is likely to be their most valued educational experience.

  • Informal learning is of crucial importance here; properly recognised it provides a crucial resource in a world dominated by the rhetoric of the knowledge-based economy

  • Those who are concerned with adult education should not abandon work-related learning by creating false antagonisms with other forms of adult provision.


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