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Workplace learning with coaching and mentoring
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2.1 From skills to skilfulness

There has been increased emphasis within HRD strategy on the need to be more agile and responsive in the face of the rapidly changing environment of work and organisations, especially with the advent of new technologies. Specific skills can quickly become out of date, sometimes becoming obsolete even by the time a formal training programme has been defined, approved and implemented. This has led many learning experts to call for a shift ‘from skills to skilfulness’ (Bigelow, 1995).

Such a shift in emphasis represents a change in our understandings of the agency or responsibility for learning, too. Scholars and practitioners are increasingly focusing on the need for learners to develop a sense of ownership of their own learning objectives, methods and outcomes, rather than relying on these being assessed, defined or mandated by their employer. One of the most crucial aspects of an individual employee’s skilfulness (rather than skills) is a proactive attitude and a willingness to take charge of at least some elements of their own development. This mirrors developments in other aspects of organisational strategy, such as leadership and change management approaches, with their increasing emphasis on facilitating and enabling, rather than directing and mandating.

One of the motivations for these developments is a heightened focus on the ethics of organisational and institutional life, especially in the wake of recent corporate scandals. As Vince (2011, p. 344) puts it, instructional designers now think that ‘passive approaches to learning reinforce passive approaches to managing’. So, if we want our leaders, managers and other employees to question wrongdoing, we need to encourage such questioning in the development programmes we design for them, including enabling them to take responsibility for their own learning by questioning whether a particular programme is right for them.