Vikki Smith, Denise Thursfield, John Hamblett and Rick Holden
This chapter aims to develop our understanding of employee development (ED) in small and medium sized enterprises. ED programmes seek to encourage learning and development of employees through the workplace. Roughly speaking such programmes may be differentiated from the more traditional types of training initiatives in three ways. First, participation is on a voluntary basis. Second, individuals choose what they learn. Third, learning is undertaken in an individual’s own time.
ED initially achieved prominence through programmes in a number of large organisations, the most notable being the Employee Development and Assistance Programme (EDAP) established by the Ford Motor Company in 1988. Similar initiatives have been implemented by, for example, Lucas Varity, Peugeot, Rolls Royce Cars, Coats Viyella, Zeneca and the Rover Group (www.niace.org.uk). In this chapter we focus our attention on ED in SMEs. Our aim in this respect is twofold. First, we want to challenge the assumption that ED is not a suitable initiative for SMEs. Given the strength of such a belief within conventional wisdom, this is a worthwhile task. Our second, and related, task is to build a tentative, analytical framework adequate to the task of making sense of the empirical data we have generated while investigating the workings of ED in SMEs.
The chapter unfolds as follows. First, we offer a section comprising three distinct, though related, elements. Herein we give a necessarily schematic description of the orthodox account of ED. This is followed by the identification of a number of weaknesses which we consider characterise this orthodox account. We close this section with some comments on ED within the specific context of SMEs. The second section takes the form of a brief methodological discussion. We subsequently present three case studies. The case studies provide the data, the characteristics of ED practice in SMEs, from which our framework is drawn. By way of conclusion we revisit our critique of the orthodox account of ED and highlight how the framework assists a more plausible understanding of the practical diversity of ED within SMEs.
Although the need to encourage adults ‘back into learning’ has a long pedigree (see, for example, Field 2000; Hodgson 2000), throughout the 1990s the debate on