Lifelong learning is essential to consolidate the personal resources which determine employability and promote the development of the individual within a partnership-oriented corporate culture.
"Lifelong learning" is becoming increasingly important, and not just for the individual. Organisations too are unable to survive in the marketplace without undergoing a constant process of change and improvement. In order to do so they must be capable of learning, that is to say, they must be able to generate, absorb and deploy knowledge in the interests of creating health-conscious work and organisational structures. The task of "knowledge management" is to set targets for the levels of knowledge required and take action to attain these levels.
"Knowledge management" and "lifelong learning" are indicative of the increasing importance accorded to the production and dissemination of knowledge in the developed economies.
Production processes in our economies have changed radically: Traditional production factors such as natural resources, labour and financial capital have declined in importance, whereas intangible factors such as knowledge and information are steadily gaining in significance.
What does knowledge management mean in practice?
Chief among the intangible assets of an organisation is its intellectual capital. In business practice there are three areas in which knowledge management and lifelong learning can offer useful concepts:
These three areas of activity will in future determine the ability of a business enterprise to compete, both in economic terms and from a business management perspective.
There is no uniformity apparent in the effects on the quality of working conditions resulting from the introduction of new information technologies in the world of work. While the general level of competence among employees has on average shown an improvement, there are some fields in which existing skills and competences have declined or depreciated in value. High-quality workplace conditions are in many cases restricted to highly qualified workers. And there is also the fact that new forms of work are becoming increasingly widespread, coupled frequently with greater social risks in terms of qualification, health, income and retirement security. The growing importance of the skills and competences possessed by employees is reflected also in the efforts and approaches to the development of a lifelong learning culture.
Lifelong learning: concept and implementation
The concept of lifelong learning encompasses the totality of all formal, non-formal and informal learning experienced over the entire human lifecycle. Ideally, lifelong learning should follow open and interlinked paths which form a pattern of autonomous education: Lifelong learning may be regarded as an individual, entrepreneurial and social investment.
Lifelong learning in an operational environment begins with the first stages of vocational training, includes further occupational training and development and embraces informal learning processes in the context of day to day work structures. In practice wide variations are apparent in terms of the conceptional bases of further training and the modalities by which it is financed. Involvement in training varies from one sector of industry to another and is dependent on the size of the business operation – the smaller the workforce, the weaker the participatory involvement in education and training.
Employment rates are strongly influenced by individual levels of education: progressively higher educational qualifications are paralleled by similarly higher rates of employment.
For knowledge and learning to develop effectively and efficiently in an occupational environment, they must be integral to the general management process. Their development is then oriented toward corporate objectives and promoted through a partnership-based, health-conscious organisational culture.
Knowledge management and lifelong learning create value
The recognition of the role of intangible factors in creating value calls for new thinking in strategy development and management, at both operational and supra-operational level. From a management perspective, new methods of measurement and analysis are needed which are fully capable of reflecting the actual and potential assets available to an organisation. Procedures of this kind have already been developed and in future it will be a matter of deploying them with much greater intensity. Moves to increase value through the planned maintenance of intellectual capital in line with corporate objectives could well be based on the existing methods applied in structuring a partnership-based, health conscious corporate culture.
In the view of EfH members it is highly important to create and develop conditions conducive to the promotion of "lifelong learning" and "knowledge management" within organisations. An exchange of experiences within the EfH network revealed the following ramifications for future action:
"One major challenge is to shape the balance between intelligence and ignorance. We concern ourselves almost exclusively with what we know, and not with what we don't know. Companies should, in an intelligent way, exploit concealed or unknown resources and abilities. This is something different from traditional knowledge management; I call it knowledge navigation."
Prof. Dr. Gerhard Bosch, Institut Arbeit und Technik, Germany
(Keynote Speaker, EfH Business Meeting "Knowledge Management and Lifelong Learning", April 18 - 19, 2005, Torun, Poland)