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PDF summaries on
individual case studies:
(for brief paragraphs scroll down screen in right column)

Organizational Change and Worker Learning in Biotechnology and Pharmaceuticals
Paul Bélanger (Université de Québec à Montréal), with Pharmabio Developpement

Skill Acquisition and Labour Market Experience of At Risk Workers in Steel, Light Manufacturing and Nursing Homes
Anil Verma (University of Toronto), with Jorge Garcia-Orgales (United Steel Workers of America Canada)

Technological Change and Worker Learning in the Public Sector
Peter H. Sawchuk (OISE/UT), with the Canadian Union of Public Employees
Click here for publications related to this group

The Effects of Changing Working Conditions and Government Policy on Canadian Teachers Formal and Informal Learning Practices
Harry Smaller (York University), Rosemary Clark (Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation), and David Livingstone (OISE/UT), with the Nova Scotia Teachers Union, the Alberta Teachers Association, and the Canadian Teachers Federation

Doing Disability at the Bank: Discovering the Work and Informal Learning/Teaching Done by Disabled Bank Employees
Kathryn Church, Melanie Panitch, and Catherine Frazee (Ryerson University), with the Royal Bank of Canada

Women’s Alternative and Informal Learning Pathways to Jobs in Information Technology
Jen Liptrot (Advocates for Community-Based Training and Education for Women, or ACTEW), and Shauna Butterwick (University of British Columbia)

Immigrant Workers Learning to Labour in Canada: Rights and organizing Strategies
Eric Shragge (Concordia University), with the Immigrant Workers Centre (Montreal)

Housework and Care Work: Sites for Lifelong Learning
Margrit Eichler (OISE/UT), with Mothers Are Women (MAW)

The Informal Learning of Volunteer Workers
Daniel Schugurensky (OISE/UT), with Advocates for Community-Based Training and Education for Women (ACTEW), the Ontario Healthy Communities Coalition (OHCC), and the Ontario Region of the Cooperative Housing Federation of Canada (OCHFC)

The School-to-Work Youth Transition Process
Alison Taylor (University of Alberta), Sandra Clifford (Ontario Federation of Labour), and David Livingstone (OISE/UT), with the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation, the Alberta Teachers Association, and the Alberta Federation of Labour

Critical Transitions Between Work and Learning Projects throughout the Life Course
Pierre Doray and Paul Bélanger (Université de Québec à Montréal)

Labour Education: Action Research from an Equality Perspective
Nancy Jackson (OISE/UT), and Winnie Ng (Canadian Labour Congress) 

 

 

 

Writing the Realities of the Working Life in a Changing World

"Its all about SOCIAL RESEARCH!"

 

A Survey and a Case Study Approach
to Assessing Learning

Today, workers have to be dynamic and open to evolution in the workplace, and change in the workplace means learning. Unfortunately, a major element of workplace evolution goes unseen: the worker's creative and personal contribution to making change possible. The worker cooperates to ensure a smooth integration of new methods to maintain workplace stability and productivity, but demands on the worker fluctuate along the way. Changes in the workplace have impacts beyond the workplace, and the challenges of workers are an indicator of pressures that affect all of us. Our expectations and treatment of workers (the people who "do everything" for us and are never acknowledged for it*) says a lot about how balanced our social and cultural vision is as a nation.

In the spirit of documenting the learning of workers, the WALL National Survey team began an examination from a survey angle. Through The Institute for Social Research at York University, our investigators were able to complete over 9,000 interviews with Canadians, from east to west coast (maybe you were one of the respondents). While the 1/2 hour questionnaire (otherwise known as the "National Survey of Learning and Work") may be the survey-statistical team's creation, it was informed by the WALL Case Study investigators, as a result of the 2003 WALL annual meeting. Statistical data from this survey are being evaluated now, and results will be available in the months ahead.

There are 12 case study groups taking on the task of a deepened examination of working life in Canada. These involve interviews with workers in 12 specific work environments. The challenge of these case study researchers is to describe personal experiences more fully, to ensure that individual views of work environment dynamics do not get lost in the more general evaluation of the statistical analysis, which cannot provide this kind of detail.

Thus, two research inroads: one "speaking through numbers", the other "speaking through testimonial", both uncovering our experiences as working Canadians and putting them to print. In these two ways, the social research of WALL provides a voice for the telling of the stories of working people, asserting the potential of this new voice to inform public policy.

You may wonder "are there yet other ways than these two to voice sociological realities?" Of course there are! Other organizations promoting social awareness and action have websites that you can access from our links page.

SURVEY DATA: gathered by the National Survey Team
CASE STUDY DATA: gathered by the
12 Case Study Teams


National Survey

The principal investigators of the general national survey on learning and work are David Livingstone, John Myles (University of Toronto), and Pierre Doray (University of Quebec at Montreal), in partnership with Larry Hubich (Saskatchewan Federation of Labour) and Monica Collins (Scotiabank). To see a copy of the survey, available in both English and French, click here.

Conducted in winter 2003-2004, the survey documents paid and unpaid work conditions over the past five years and is generating the first systematic empirical assessments of changing work conditions in relation to the full array of adult learning practices, schooling, further education courses, informal training, non-taught informal learning). It is also providing profiles of workers' perceptions of changes in key dimensions of paid and unpaid work.

In addition to contributing to the general survey, Pierre Doray (Université de Québec à Montréal), is conducting secondary analyses using data from other relevant national surveys being conducted by Statistics Canada. Using limited but valuable measures of learning and work contained in such surveys, these secondary analyses will provide reliability tests for some of the measures contained in the WALL general national survey.

Evidence generated by our survey work is providing specific insights into the extent and rate of emergence of a "new economy," as well as the impact of such changes on adult learning activities. Our survey will also serve to validate the 1998 NALL survey, permit the first national trend inferences about changes in patterns of informal learning, supplement the narrower conventional surveys of education and employment with much greater attention to informal learning and unpaid work, and provide fuller understanding of the general dynamics of change in learning and work relations.

Latest Survey Version


Case Studies

The 12 case study groups are examining learning and work relations in varying work contexts in greater depth, within the following work environments: biotechnology; steel/light manufacturing/nursing homes; public sector work; the teaching profession; disabled bank workers; women information technology workers; immigrant workers; housework; volunteer community workers; school-work youth transition; critical transitions through the life course; and labour education programs.

In each case study, a linked survey will provide comparative profiles to the national survey and will be supplemented by focus groups and other in-depth research methods. Through both survey and case study methods, we are comparing changing learning and work relations across regions and sectors, as well as among "at-risk" and more secure populations.

Case study briefs:
(For more detailed summaries in PDF, click on project title)

1. Organizational Change and Worker Learning in Biotechnology and Pharmaceuticals
Paul Bélanger (Université de Québec à Montréal), with Pharmabio Developpement


Building on a current exploratory study of adult learning in firms in this new sector characterized by continual technological innovation, comparative case-studies is being conducted at two large biotech and pharmaceutical enterprises in Montreal area. This study is documenting the ways high tech employees produce, acquire, transfer and use new knowledge and skills. The changing organizational policies of these firms on lifelong learning are being studied (Doray, 1999; OECD 2000), as well as the micro-mediation processes taking place between external production related learning demand and the subjective learning experience and aspirations of employees (Bélanger, 2000; Chatigny 2001). The research design includes direct observation, semi-structured preliminary interviews (N=100), focus groups, and selected follow-up interviews. Special attention is being given to aging and immigrants workers, as well as to the participation of women.

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2. Skill Acquisition and Labour Market Experience of At-Risk Workers in Steel, Light Manufacturing and Nursing Homes
Anil Verma (University of Toronto), with Jorge Garcia-Orgales (United Steel Workers of America Canada)


Building on Verma’s (1992; 1998) extensive case study and survey research in both the steel industry and comparative sectoral terms, this study is focusing on little-studied workers with limited formal education in manual and low-skill occupations who are most vulnerable in terms of wages and employment. Primary interest is in their skill upgrading experiences and consequent labour market outcomes. There are three target groups: steelworkers from the USWA Local 1005 in Hamilton; workers from mid-size light manufacturing plants in the Toronto; and Nursing Home/Retirement Home workers. Research methods include interviews with employers and union leaders to obtain basic organizational information on the changing nature of work, technology and markets in their industries, focus groups with workers, and a large-scale survey (N=2000) administered in each of these sites. Special attention is being paid to women, recent immigrants, ethnic minorities, first nation peoples, and disabled people.

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3. Technological Change and Worker Learning in the Public Sector
Peter H. Sawchuk (OISE/UT), with the Canadian Union of Public Employees


The study addresses the lack of careful attention to everyday communication and interaction within work/learning/information technology design processes, particularly in public sector organizations. Building on prior broader studies of workplace learning (Sawchuk, 2003; Livingstone and Sawchuk, 2000, 2003). the main focus here is on a massive current technological change - the introduction of Service Delivery Model Technology (SDMT), a web-based management/delivery software system for social assistance (i.e. welfare). The study explores activities at three inter-related organizational levels of the design and implementation process: 1) three front-line service delivery sites); 2) one technical and training support services site); 3) one IT design activity site). Semi-structured interviews (N=75) and direct observation of key organizational activities in each research site are being conducted. A survey of a representative sample of Ontario front-line service delivery workers will be administered (N=500). Special attention is being given to organizational size, urban-rural region, gender, educational level, union activism and disability.

Click here for publications related to this group.

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4. The Effects of Changing Working Conditions and Government Policy on Canadian Teachers' Formal and Informal Learning Practices
Harry Smaller (York University), Rosemary Clark (Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation), and David Livingstone (OISE/UT), with the Nova Scotia Teachers Union, the Alberta Teachers Association, and the Canadian Teachers Federation


This project builds on the first national study of the formal and informal learning activities of Canadian school teachers undertaken by NALL in 1999 (Smaller et al. 2000). It is providing further and more in-depth documentation of the ways teachers engage in their own informal and formal learning, and the ways in which recent government policies and changes in working conditions have influenced these learning patterns and their views of professional knowledge. The first stage will again involve a national survey (N=2000) of randomly sampled teachers drawn from the lists of the Canadian Teachers' Federation, in the spring of 2004. The second, case study part of this study will involve semi-structured interviews and focus groups with teachers from three provinces in which governments have mandated distinctly contrasting professional learning regimes for publicly employed teachers since 1999. Ontario’s government-imposed mandatory recertification regime; Alberta’s employer-managed annual professional growth plans, and Nova Scotia’s teacher union-administered model with a minimum criterion of formal and informal learning time. Special attention is being devoted to gender, age, race, ethnicity, family status, dis/ability, and region.

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5. Doing Disability at the Bank: Discovering the Work and Informal Learning/Teaching Done by Disabled Bank Employees
Kathryn Church, Melanie Panitch, and Catherine Frazee (Ryerson University), with the Royal Bank of Canada


The study is exploring the work-learning relations that shape and are shaped by “disabled” employees within a major Canadian bank, one of the most rapidly changing organizational and training environments (Livingstone and Mitchell, 1999). We know virtually nothing about work-learning relations as lived out by disabled people in the unmediated world of regular jobs, and particularly within a bank. There may be particular challenges for disabled employees to become competent in this sector in terms of informal acculturation into social networks (Church, 2001; Church et al, forthcoming). On the bases of feminist standpoint theory (Smith, 1987) and a social model of disability (Barnes et al, 1999), this project will investigate the work of informal learning that people with disabilities do in order to get and keep a job. We are making use of individual semi-structured interviews (N=100), focus groups and participant observation in the context of bank environments in three regions, speaking to both disabled and non-disabled employees. In addition, we are drawing on the general analysis of self-reported disabled workers in the general national survey (N=about 1000) to compare the learning and work relations of disabled bank employees.

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6. Women’s Alternative and Informal Learning Pathways to Jobs in Information Technology
Jen Liptrot (Advocates for Community-Based Training and Education for Women, or ACTEW), and Shauna Butterwick (University of British Columbia)


We know that women are relatively absent in the information technology (IT) sector, in distinct minorities in formal educational access routes (engineering, mathematics and computer sciences, and that many women have misconceptions regarding the industry (AAUW 2000; Moran, 2002).We have little understanding of how women in the IT sector learn skills and knowledge about and subsequently access careers through alternative educational pathways and informal or nonformal learning, including on-the-job learning, self-directed learning, and formal education in other fields such as graphic arts. This study is conducting a critical analysis of key state IT policy documents, secondary analyses of Statistics Canada data bases, semi-structured interviews in B.C. and Ontario with key informants in the IT sector and informal IT networks, focus groups in both provinces, and an online survey (N=200), as well as online discussion groups. Our participatory action research approach is grounded in attention to the operation of gender, race, class and “disability” differences within learning and work regimes.

Click here
for publications related to this group.

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7. Immigrant Workers Learning to Labour in Canada: Rights and Organizing Strategies
Eric Shragge (Concordia University), with the Immigrant Workers Centre (Montreal)


This project is examining the work and learning experience of recent immigrants to Canada. Four representative groups will be examined: a textile factory with workers from many different countries; a support group of women laid-off from a factory; live-in care givers; and highly accredited, underemployed Fillipino nurses. The approach used, growing out of a similar NALL project (Church, Shragge and Bascia, forthcoming), understands learning as growing out of the very specific social experiences of immigrant workers. Special attention is given to exploring how immigrant workers learn to organize themselves and respond to the pressures of the economy to negotiate means of self-protection in the current economy. Research methods include in-depth interviews with key informants and those active in each specific sector (N=30 in each of the 4 groups). A team of community researchers and activists will be formed through the Immigrant Workers’ Centre to assist in conducting the interviews , analyzing the results and comparing the situations of different immigrant workers.Since these groups include a very high proportion of women workers, the study will especially focus on questions of gender in relation to immigrants’ work-related learning processes.

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8. Housework and Care Work: Sites for Lifelong Learning
Margrit Eichler (OISE/UT), with Mothers Are Women (MAW)


There are no well-grounded prior studies of the relations between housework and learning. This study is focusing on household work and the learning that occurs through performing it. We are exploringwhat counts as work and why (Esterik 2002; Knaak 2002), and how the nature of paid and unpaid household work and the learning associated with each shifts over time. Informed by Eichler’s (1997) prior policy research, a new, expanded definition of household work is being developed by a grounded empirical analysis with members of different organizations concerned with household work. The major objective is to examine the learning associated with the performance of household work by women, men and teenaged children in different circumstances. We are exploring how household work has changed (a) over the past five years, and (b) over the life course of individuals, and how these changes have affected learning practices. We are examining the household work and the learning attached to it of several vulnerable groups, including single mothers and recently separated people. We are using focus groups to develop the expanded definition of housework. We are analyzing the data from the national survey on learning in relation to types of households and incidence of housework. A sub-sample of people (N=100) in different types of households will be drawn from the Toronto respondents to the national survey and an additional semi-structured interview will be administered. Further focus groups and analysis of related discussion on the MAW website may also be used.

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9. The Informal Learning of Volunteer Workers
Daniel Schugurensky (OISE/UT), with Advocates for Community-Based Training and Education for Women (ACTEW), the Ontario Healthy Communities Coalition (OHCC), and the Ontario Region of the Cooperative Housing Federation of Canada (OCHFC)


This study is looking at the connections between informal learning and volunteer work among those who volunteer to improve access to the labour market, and those who volunteer for other reasons, with a focus on immigrants and women. We are exploring in more depth the original general finding in the 1998 NALL survey of a much stronger association between informal learning and community volunteer work time than between informal learning and paid employment time (Livingstone 1999). Although there are many studies on voluntary work in Canada (e.g. Hall, McKeown and Roberts 2001), little is known yet about the extent, modes and effectiveness of volunteers’ acquisition of new skills, knowledge, attitudes and values, and the relationship between formal, nonformal and informal learning in this process. The case of recent immigrants is particularly relevant for this study, given analyses suggesting that lack of recognition of their credentials and prior learning now costs Canadian society about $15 billion annually (Reitz 2001). This study is suggesting policies and programs to improve the connection between volunteering and relevant job acquisition. The methodology includes a survey questionnaire similar to the national survey (N=200), semi-structured interviews with 30 volunteers in each of the three organizations, and six focus groups (6-8 participants per group).

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10. The School-to-Work Youth Transition Process
Alison Taylor (University of Alberta), Sandra Clifford (Ontario Federation of Labour), and David Livingstone (OISE/UT), with the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation, the Alberta Teachers Association, and the Alberta Federation of Labour


Our objective is to learn more about how school-work transition (SWT) programs work through comparative examination of relevant policies and practices within the K-12 education systems in Ontario and Alberta. Using our expanded conception of work and learning should deepen debate in this area. For example, a focus on work experience courses should raise questions about the extent to which schools and employers recognize and value informal learning and unpaid work experience. Similarly, more attention should be paid to the actual learning processes in work experience to help students relate formal and informal learning, promote the valuing of such knowledge, and promote the radical educative possibilities of work experience (Guile and Griffiths, 2001; Kincheloe, 1999). We specifically address the lack of information in research literature about the transition experiences of historically disadvantaged students (cf. Levin, 1999) and the perspectives of organized labour and community groups (Taylor, 2002). We first examine why and how SWT policies developed, how they are conceptualized, and how they are evaluated through an analysis of policy documents and interviews with government representatives. Then we will explore different interpretations of labour market “realities” through focus groups with representatives from employer organizations, organized labour, and business-education foundations. The most intensive part of the research involves an in-depth analysis of work experience programs (cooperative education, work study, apprenticeship) through observations, and interviews (N=80) with students, parents, educators, employers, labour representatives, and other relevant participants within 4 different communities.

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11. Critical Transitions Between Work and Learning Projects throughout the Life Course
Pierre Doray and Paul Bélanger (Université de Québec à Montréal)


This biographical study examines how the relation between perceptions of working situations and learning practices changes throughout the occupational life course of employees. Changes in economic structures and techniques of production, linked to the new economy, are posited to generate critical transition points in both the occupational life-course and in the learning biography of individuals. These transition moments are heuristic periods (Alheit, 1994) to grasp meanings that people give to different learning practices, and to understand how people, according to their cultural backgrounds and conditions of living tend to resort to learning in order to cope with these changes. The central issue is to see how individuals in different social conditions and in a segmented labour market, cope with the “incertitude” (Beck and al., 1994) of these transition periods and what meanings (Street, 1995) they give to these learning experiences in their life projects. To document relationships between changing work conditions and learning activities (formal and informal) in life course perspective, we will select 96 male and female respondents from the general survey according to the following criteria: reported significant transition in the last five years of their working life and residence in two areas, Greater Toronto and Greater Montreal. General learning and work profiles will be generated from the national survey data followed by more detailed biographical analysis (Lahire,2002). A short event-centred questionnaire will be used to establish a biographical sequence of work and learning practices and events. Semi-structured interviews then will be used to probe the meanings given by the subject to the way s/he has coped with the last transition in relation to his or her work and learning history, previous critical transitions and general accessibility to learning resources.

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12. Labour Education: Action Research from an Equality Perspective
Nancy Jackson (OISE/UT), and Winnie Ng (Canadian Labour Congress)


Changing employment conditions and growing social diversity of the labour force are having a profound impact on unions, with vast implications for both formal and informal elements of union-based education. This case study explores how diversity and equality issues are being addressed by labour education in the Canadian Labour Congress, the national labour body with the leading role for labour education across English Canada. While equality goals have had a growing place in CLC labour education policy and practice (CLC 2002), major gaps remain in overcoming the marginalisation of many groups on the basis of colour, ethnicity, language, region of origin, sexual orientation, ability issues, age, etc. (see Ng, 2002; Martin, 1995; Briskin and McDermott, 1993). This program-oriented project is drawing on data from the national survey and other case studies to identify current best practices to address equality issues in Ontario and nationally, explore their adaptation for wider use, and develop labour education for equality and inclusiveness more fully. This study uses a participatory action research methodology. Methods of data collection include direct observation, key informant interviews, focus groups, and administration of portions of the national survey instrument (N=200). Five key groups will be central to this process: union leadership, labour educators, members of equality-seeking groups, adult education researchers specialized in labour education and participants in CLC courses generally. Year 1 will focus on gathering and evaluating data on current practices relating to equality in both formal and informal aspects of CLC labour education. Year 2 will focus on development, administration and evaluation of two pilot initiatives in the Ontario Region. Year 3 will focus on a second round of pilots (implementation and evaluation) in another region of Canada. Year 4 will focus on hosting a seminar to present outcomes of this research as well as producing written products for dissemination in labour and academic publications and for use in ongoing labour education.

Footnote:

* Tam Gallagher (President of Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada Local 200-0) in a speech at "Hidden Knowledge" book launch at OISE/UT, December, 2003.


All research funded by the Social Sciences
and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).

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252 Bloor Street West, Office 12-254,
Toronto, Ontario M5S 1V6

Tel. 416.978.0015 Fax. 416.926.4751
E-mail: wallnetwork@oise.utoronto.ca

 

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