The Weapons Defence Establishment is a weapons manufacturer with three and a half thousand employees. The company was approached by Basingstoke College to run basic literacy and ICT courses through funding from the South East England Development Agency (SEEDA). The ICT and English classes consist of one and a half hour sessions over 22 weeks with approximately seven learners in each class. The courses take place at the company’s impressive training centre which is located several miles from the main site amidst pleasant parkland. Each learner was assigned a computer from the beginning of the course. According to the course tutor, the goal of these courses is to “learn basic computer skills and brush up on English”. The training manager at BGV saw the ICT and English courses as a useful opportunity to address an imbalance in the distribution of training within the company:
“At the end of the day, we’re in a competitive market place for some very clever physicists, mathematicians, engineers, metalogists, so inevitably if we end up getting our hands on those individuals we often give them all the development within reason that they need, and we need to develop them in the job that they’re doing, possibly at the expense of some of the people at the lower end. As a result, this program has given us the opportunity to give those individuals some development as well.”
Most importantly, the running of the ICT and English courses have facilitated the company’s bid to encourage employees to take on more responsibility within their existing job roles as part of an overall trend towards the “leveling out” of management structures.
“There are fewer people within our organisation than there were 10 years ago. As a result of that we have been asking those people to take on more, but er… because we weren’t developing them often they’ve said “I want to stay where I’m comfortable” “No I’m not prepared to take on more”. But in light of us giving some of this additional development to them we have seen more of a… “I’ll have a go at that” attitude from them. You’ve given me something so… yeah I’ve got that little bit more confidence to have a go at it.”
All the learners remarked that they had taken on increasing responsibility in recent years, including such tasks as filling in selfappraisals, dealing with contractors, sending emails and writing risk assessments, all of which also increased their exposure to technology. The process of delegating responsibility to lower-level employees has entailed an increased emphasis on both formal and informal learning opportunities within the organization. Employees are encouraged to sign up for courses through their appraisal meetings which are also tied to pay and promotion prospects. For example, the undertaking of a “risk assessors” course allows lower-level employees to undertake risk assessments which have previously been the remit of more senior colleagues. Equally, employees are encouraged to show initiative in taking on more responsibility in the form of more challenging tasks that depend on informal learning “on the job”.