AN IMPORTANT ROLE FOR CONTINUING HIGHER EDUCATION
ACHE REGION II CONFERENCE
"ECONOMICS, EDUCATION, AND TRAINING:
GROWING CHALLENGES IN CONTINUING HIGHER EDUCATION"
APRIL 6-7, 1998
PROFESSOR, ADULT EDUCATION, ELMIRA COLLEGE
AN IMPORTANT ROLE FOR CONTINUING HIGHER EDUCATION
I am delighted to be here today. I probably have more material than can be covered during my allotted time, especially if we take time for dialogue. Thus, the full text of this presentation will be on my web page by the end of this week. This transparency provides my web page URL. I also would be happy to send you a copy of my remarks electronically as an email attachment or via snail mail (normal paper mail) if you care to contact me via one of the other means listed on this transparency.
Perhaps the aspect of all our lives undergoing the most transition in current times is the workplace. Gone seemingly forever is the time when you started working for an organization, company, or business and had an excellent chance of working there for 30, 40, or more years if you so chose. Most people today will change jobs, companies, and even careers several times in their lifetime, with the typical young person starting out in a career or on a job likely to stay with that situation only two to five years.
All transitions, whether they are positive or negative, can create stress for the individual undergoing them. Perhaps the most well known model or system for dealing with such stress is what has been referred to as the 4 S System, situation, self, support, and strategies (Schlossberg, Waters, & Goodman, 1995). "Situation" refers to identifying the particular situation of the person in transition in terms of past experience or personal ability to adapt to any needed changes. "Self" involves identifying personal characteristics or resources that might help or impede needed changes. "Support" refers to the various support systems a person undergoing change can utilize. "Strategies" deal with the various responses a person can make when dealing with change (Merriam, 1998, pp. 12-13). Continuing educators can play an important role in using such a system to help bring about orderly transitions.
In fact, some transitions have great potential in leading to positive personal development. Bee (1966) even suggests that the more unique or sudden a transition, the more likely the person is to go through an internal process of self-reflection and a questioning of personal assumptions or values that can lead to real perspective change. Obviously, this can be positive or negative in nature.
Unfortunately, workplace transitions today are such that people are in transition increasingly more often and it continues right up to and even beyond retirement. Thus, this paper has three parts to it. The first part is concerned primarily with the transition and change being faced by people in their twenties up through about their mid-fifties. The second part deals with some of the transitions facing people from about their late fifties on up through the normal retirement ages of early to mid sixties. Obviously, those people who are teenagers and entering the job market or those beyond their late sixties, who are still struggling to earn a portion of their livelihoods, face various transitions, too. However, their particular needs are not specifically addressed in this paper. In the final part I will talk about the role continuing higher education can play in dealing with workplace transitions and make several recommendations for action or research that we can dialogue about during this session or that you can consider later.
The constancy of change and transition for those struggling to start or maintain a career is very real. Richard Deems (1995) who frequently writes and teaches others about transition or change, says it this way regarding what is happening in many workplaces today:
Increasingly, instead of having a "career," a worker essentially contracts with a company to perform a set of tasks. Once those tasks--and the worker's assignment--are completed, the worker negotiates another contract with perhaps a different company for a new set of tasks. What will the eventual impact be? We can't know for sure, but what we do know is that the way work gets done is changing. (p. 23)
Increasing numbers of individuals are even choosing to earn their livelihoods though self-employment, working out of their home, in partnership with other self-employed colleagues, for "temp" agencies, or as sub-contractors for the larger organizations as Deems noted above. Terri Deems (1998) recently completed research that suggests successful workplace transitions involve proactive employees who feel empowered to make any change a successful experience. What this trend will mean for the way we even plan for continuing education, training, and the various transitions in adulthood also is unclear, but it certainly means we must rethink much about the education of adults in the future and employ strategies that do empower people. Dolence and Norris (1995) suggest that higher education must be transformed by involving both community and campus constituents in the process and I suggest this means continuing higher education, too.
Much of the change in today"s workplace has been fueled by a need for U. S. companies to remain competitive within a global economy. Even in the so-called bull market of the past year or so, behind the scenes of reported increasing financial success has been transitions not always friendly to the average worker. In my own community, Syracuse, only two weeks ago a local bank completed a merger with a bigger bank and a reported 200-300 people will loose their jobs over the next several weeks. Just last week on the same day two large companies, an automobile parts manufacturing company and an air conditioning manufacturer threatened moves, sales, and loss of jobs. The day before that a union threatened a walkout from a beer producing company because of perceived damage to workers that has taken place during the past several months.
For many organizations around the country as they go through their own transitions this has involved mergers, "take-overs," layoffs, reengineering, and downsizing. Other terms used for firings or reducing the workforce have included "assisted resignation" (that was the one used to help move me out of one university workforce), "involuntary force reductions," "involuntary methodologies," "shrinking to excellence," "focussed reductions," "streamlining," and "reshaping." As Nunberg (1996) notes, all of these relate to what Mr. Dithers would say, "Bumstead, you're fired!"
One of the current "innovations" or strategies in the workplace instituted by some managers and related to the change Deems described is making people reapply for their positions, even if they have been successful in such positions for many years. In terms of transitions and change, it is not yet clear what the resulting costs of such strategies are or will be in terms of morale and even further disempowerment of some workers (Filipczak, 1995), but many of us can surmise that there are hidden costs in terms of human discomfort that go unreported during annual stock meetings.
There also has been a push to obtain the highest quality product or service at the lowest possible cost. Total quality management remains one of the most active workplace trend, with transitions to team-based structures close behind (Weber, 1992; Workplace Trends, 1995). Total quality improvements, while on the surface benefiting consumers, often have been at the cost of considerable extra training, increased workloads for many employees, and a general attitude of making do or even doing better with less. Friel (1997) talks about the downside of downsizing and TQM efforts: "Although the principles and processes of TQM, downsizing, and reengineering are reminiscent merely of commonly prescribed good management practice, a majority of organizations that embark on these change efforts do not accomplish their objectives" (p. 1). Frequently, such efforts have been "lip-service" in nature with top management not really buying in and the results usually less than desirable. I can speak from personal experience here with a family member who worked for a company that invested thousands of dollars and work time in a quality management program that now, two years after its implementation, has been forgotten and the corresponding documents, guidelines, and training materials lie dormant gathering dust. Davis (1998) urges us to look carefully at the ethics of reengineer and related efforts so that we don't leave "a remnant of employees too shocked, frightened, and embittered to be of much use"(p. 3).
The notion of more for less has even impacted the way some managers think about which employees are trained for what areas: "To stay successful, you need value-added services, so everything needs to be evaluated. . . . Management wants to know what value training adds to the business equation" (Gyrus Systems, 1996, p. 1). However, "PeopleWise Organizations" talk about the need to understand values that establish the relationship between an organization's culture, people, and processes (Spitzer, 1996). They urge the use of social contracts between an organization and employees to establish mutual roles, rights, and responsibilities in thinking about such issues as value-added services and training needs.
There is some hope that such fundamental changes in the way we approach work, training, and earning a living may provide windows of opportunity regarding the way we think about jobs, organizational structures, and corresponding education of adults. Training remains very big business for most organizations. More than 52 billion dollars were spent in 1995 for the various forms of training in business and industry, a significant increase over the 43 billion spent only four years earlier (Training Budgets, 1995). Unfortunately, the "doing more with less" theme that seems prevalent today in the workplace has meant employing some training techniques that may be problematic in the long run, such as large numbers in training sessions, shorter training periods, and more technology-directed training packages (Hequet, 1995).
Certainly there have been some positive benefits from the total quality management and other workplace initiatives during the past few years. Self-directed work teams and efforts to give employees a greater say in the management or operation of companies have been successful in some instances. (Orsburn, Moran, Musselwhite, and Zenger, 1990). Companies like Xerox, Procter & Gamble, Ben & Jerry Ice Cream, Motorola, L. L. Bean, and Domino's pizza have won awards or received numerous accolades in the popular press for their efforts in excellence, quality, and learner empowerment. Richard Durr, a manager of training for Motorola, notes that the success of implementing self-directed learning at his company has been very valuable in moving each employee toward "becoming an empowered lifelong learner" (1995, p. 343).
Thus, those of us interested in continuing higher education, training, and various human resource development issues can revel in notions that many employees, by choice or even by necessity, may be assuming new views about learning. There are other positive results that can materialize from transitions in the workplace. Some people will have opportunities for personal or professional growth as organizations restructure. Others may take pleasure in learning about new technology, moving to a new community, or having opportunities to meet and work with new colleagues.
The educational implications of such new views and attitudes about learning are many. Some organizations will find new markets for existing continuing education and training programs. Many continuing higher education units, for example, can redesign existing programs to meet emerging educational needs related to transitions in the workplace. This will range from bringing certain programs into the actual workplace setting to tailoring ongoing programs for specific audiences. Opportunities also exist for new partnerships between various employers and education providers that can result in the creation of training programs. Continuing educators can provide help in creating effective learning environments (Hiemstra, 1991; Stamps, 1998). There even will be increasing opportunities for continuing education programs to build programs for specialized needs, such as total quality management and train the trainer workshops.
However, there are many potential problems associated with troublesome economic issues, such as layoffs, forced relocations, and loss of benefits that also need to be addressed by continuing higher education initiatives. Some fit within the following framework:
* Reduced feelings of self-worth - Many adults tie much of their identity to a career or job. An unexpected workplace transition may cause for some people a loss of morale, lowered confidence, diminished self-concept, and altered employer-employee relationships.
* Less organizational cohesiveness - Some people remaining in a workplace during times of reorganization will experience confusion, loss of friendships, and reduced confidence in central management. A "protect your own little turf" attitude may develop.
* Loss of service to clients or customers - Frequently, in any reorganization or downsizing, the client or customer experiences disruptions or inconveniences. This, in turn, can create feelings of helplessness or remorse among employees and they may even experience feelings of hostility from consumers with whom they had past good relationships.
* Less trust of management - It is not unusual for employees to develop cynical views of or a lack of trust in managers because of the stress associated with workplace changes. This can feed on itself to the point that even supportive managers are suspected of ulterior motives in any decision they make.
* Increased incidence of dysfunctional employees - There have been horror stories in the popular press of disgruntled former employees coming back to the workplace and creating violent acts after some action that affected them (postal workers often seem to lead the way). Other employees during times of change may require special counseling or medical support.
* Increased estrangement between employer and employee - There have been incidences where employees are laid off without advance warning and literally escorted from a building by security out of management's fear that they could do damage to computer systems, assembly lines, or paper files. Remaining employees experience declining morale, distrust in management, and fear of losing a job with no advance warning.
Such issues usually do not lead to positive results for those in the middle of workplace transitions, at least not initially. The human spirit and those inner resources most people carry around with them usually help in their rebounding and even eventually counting their blessings when they look back later on the stressful situation that had existed in their workplace. But there are implications for continuing educators in terms of helping make such change easier both on the individual and on those organizations involved.
The traditional route to retirement for many people is working for an employer, or even various employers, until some traditional retirement age. This on-time transition can often be anticipated and appropriate educational programs chosen or selected in preparation, such as pre-retirement planning, means for developing new interests, information about travel opportunities, and special training for paid or volunteer activities in various community settings.
However, one of the difficult results of many of the layoffs and reengineering efforts described above is that often the people being affected are those in their mid-fifties and older:
The rate of work participation for men from age 50 to 64 went down from 86.9 percent in 1950 to 67.2 percent in 1989. . . . It appears then that the overwhelming majority of both men and women have voluntarily or involuntarily left full-time employment before they have even reached age 65. (Monk, 1994, p. 5).
For those who leave involuntarily, finding a job at this age is increasingly more difficult: "Unemployment and layoffs force people to look for new jobs generally at lower wages and tend to encourage older workers to elect to withdraw from the labor force rather than remaining unemployed and continuing to search for a new job" (Clark, 1994, p. 33). Bass and Oka (1995) also talk about the resistance of some employers to hiring older workers. Deems and Harper (1997) describe a process of job search that can work for older workers. Obviously, some people enter the retirement stage with an economic capability of meeting all their needs. However, the United States is going through some fundamental changes in the way we think about income, employment, health care costs and insurance, and even life style.
A variety of losses can accompany transitions in the workplace or out of the workplace for many older workers. When asked what are the changes or losses expected to be the most troublesome, a large group of corporate middle-management employees answered as follows:
Employees consistently state that they will miss their friends and co-workers, the substance of their work, the contribution they are making, the opportunity to learn and travel, new challenges, being part of a respected company, working as a team member, and helping the company grow. (Dennis, 1994, p. 46).
Thus, losses are a part of any such transition. For many people in jobs that pay lower than corporate middle management, reduced income will be additional important losses. Social security obviously will not replace full-time employment income, regardless of the age at which it is initiated. There are many people concerned with even the long-term viability of social security as we now know it, as well as other entitlements as the country struggles with balanced budget issues (Whalen, 1995). Pension plans, if they are available or viable, often fall short of actual retirement needs (Boxer, 1997). These days it is not unusual to hear about some company that has found a way to remove all or part of a person's expected pension. Retirement planning programs, assistance supplied by companies or community agencies, and other support available through such organizations as churches can make many of the transitions positive. However, the bottom line is that many people in this age range will experience difficult times during periods of transition, whether it be forced change such as an unexpected career interruption or the normal on-time transitions of planned retirement or residential relocation. Such people may need educational support of various types to facilitate the change (Hiemstra, 1994).
The Role for Continuing Higher Education
Dealing with the many transitions workers of any age face today is not easy. Often just the threat or perceived threat of a layoff or downsizing of an organization can cause some employees to add undue stress to their lives. So how do we cope with such change or even perceptions that changes might occur? I have several ideas regarding the role continuing higher educators can play in facilitating positive change in times of transition. However, I look forward to dialogue with you both today and in the future regarding what can and should be done.
There are various strategies related to workplace transitions that can be employed. For example, the whole area of how employees are trained has implications for continuing higher education. We can learn from what some organizations have already discovered. The Motorola Corporation frequently earns recognition for how it goes about training its employees (Durr, 1995). Its highly publicized policy of guaranteeing 40 hours of training annually has dubbed it an exemplar learning organization. However, as Stamps (1998) points out, other companies exceed that total. Saturn Corporation, for instance, provides employees with about 100 hours each year for learning and training. The Education Development Center from Boston has carried out research that suggests that every hour of formal training in which an employee is engaged yields four hours of additional informal learning, in essence a beneficial multiplier effect. Davenport and Prusak (1998), Imel and Kerka (1992), and Rowden (1996) urge us to think about how informal knowledge is measured or understood. Marsick and Watkins (1990) believe that informal and incidental learning in the workplace represent a neglected but crucial area of practice for all of us to consider better understanding and responding to in terms of determining strategies for best serving employees.
Those employees in transition should be encouraged to take advantage of existing organizational services whether they are within business and industry settings or some other setting such as in a higher education institution. Employee assistance programs, counseling services, especially in times of publicized downsizing, training centers, and technological support mechanisms often are readily available. Such individuals also can be encouraged to participate in various support groups that exist in any community. Family members also can provide support in various ways.
There are a number of educational strategies the practitioner can utilize, too. Senge (1990) has made the notion of an organization as a learning community popular in the past few years. He talks about the core disciplines needed in building the learning organization, such as personal mastery efforts, the use of mental models, efforts at shared vision, and team learning. Such disciplines are seen as necessary to facilitate employees being a part of the process of change required for organizations to survive in today's global economy and information age.
Asselborn and Jans (1995) add information about the importance of continuous adaptation to the changing environment, itself. Any of these strategies could be used to help people build mutual support groups for dealing with transition. Waitley (1995) also talks about the importance of autonomy and individual empowerment for employees. These, too, can be fostered by a skilled practitioner who understands how to increase an employee's self-directed learning ability. Brockett and Hiemstra (1991) and Durr (1995) describe some of the techniques for fostering such ability.
Foster and Heling (1995) talk about the value of coaching, counseling, and mentoring in any sort of organizational development or change. They also suggest using third party people who can provide help with organizational change or make consultation interventions to promote a process conducive to successful transitions.
Deems (1995) suggests that in any workplace transition employees must be helped to keep a positive attitude and to know when to ask for any help they need. He suggests various proactive strategies that an adult education practitioner can focus on in helping managers in any organization learn to deal with change and transition work in a conducive manner or, in some cases, in helping employees become better equipped to deal with change:
* Anticipate workplace change and be ready for it.
* View change as an opportunity for growth, advancement, and the acquisition of new knowledge.
* Practice ahead of time effective stress-management strategies.
* Find out what needs to be done that is not getting done and take appropriate corrective ideas to the right decision-maker.
* Make sure that necessary work is being done accurately and on time.
* Build bridges of communication and support with any people involved in a transition.
* Look for ways to increase activity and productivity.
* Help people who may be affected to be positive and enjoyable to be around.
* Help people not only be productive during times of transition but to let others know about their efforts.
I urge all of you to think about such strategies in terms of what your continuing education unit could do to provide appropriate programs, training opportunities, or support mechanisms.
As I reflect on what I have presented thus far, a few more recommendations come to mind. I recognize that some of them will require more than just a course or program but I present them for your consideration and our possible dialogue:
* Determine ways to dynamically link formal education with informal learning so the multiplier effect can be further enhanced.
* Work more closely with business and industry leaders to share research information and success stories from around the world regarding workplace transitions.
* Bring together as many different points of view as possible and create a setting that is conducive to sharing ideas and information, perhaps through a discussion series or the formation of a community advisory council.
* Help employees and companies understand the need to interface humans with digital resources. In essence, this means create programs or training opportunities on learning efficiency in the use of resources like the World Wide Web.
* Many aspects of the corporate model, including training and education, still hew to rigid methodologies that sometimes ignore the human dimension of learning. Continuing higher educators can work with corporate officials to incorporate more humanistic viewpoints.
* Many people in the workplace going through a transition will see value in working toward future college degrees. Thus, Sisco (1998) notes, "a final suggestion is in order to help colleges and universities better serve adults in educational transitions: provide a reasonable means of assessing prior learning that may be counted toward degree requirements."
Some of these strategies can become the focal point for training workshops or individualized study modules continuing higher educators can create. Others can become topics for discussion in employee-employer talk sessions organized by higher educators. Still others can become topics that receive attention from researchers. There will even be times when the most effective strategy is to help people exit from the change process by providing job counseling or retraining programs.
Transitions in the workplace will proceed for the foreseeable future as the country continues its fundamental changes in the nature of employment. Motivation to grow from such a change and to see it as a life experience that can lead to positive results often takes the understanding of a skilled educator of adults who understands much about adult development and learning. Thus, it is imperative that continuing higher educators play a significant role in facilitating such change and in helping employees cope with their personal transitions.
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(1)Portions of this paper have been adapted from Hiemstra, 1998.