Teaching for the 'New Work Order': Empowerment or Exploitation?

Year: 2003

Author: Santoro, Ninetta

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Vocational Education and Training (VET) programs addressing the needs of workers in the 'New Work Order' have increasingly emphasised the development of communication, analytical, negotiation and decision- making skills over technical skills. Education for work has often been seen as a means of empowering workers to take up the opportunities available to them in the new 'democratic' workplaces of the last twenty years by developing the skills to contribute to workplace change through participation in collaborative decision- making processes.

This paper is based on the findings of a study that explored the ways in which trainers take up and work within the current discourses of VET. Data from interviews with trainers as well as observations of them at work are analysed and presented in this paper to highlight the ways in which they inadvertently position their students as compliant and powerless workers, despite the rhetoric that learning- for-work will prepare them to become active agents of change in democratic workplaces. I argue that this contradiction is due, in part, to the ways in which the trainers' classed identities intersect with discourses of VET in powerful and complex ways. Their understanding of work, learning- for-work and teaching- for-work is constructed and mediated through their social class positionings and is enacted through classroom practices.