Learning Working Knowledge: Implications for Training
by Dorothy MacKeracher and Joan McFarland
What women learn on the job, as opposed to through formal training programs, can be considered as part of their "working knowledge." In a study conducted in cooperation with CCLOW and through funding provided by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, we conducted in-depth, open-ended interviews with over forty women to hear what knowledge and skills they felt they had to learn to be effective at their jobs and how and where they learned these things.
All the women interviewed lived in or near Fredericton, New Brunswick. The sample was selected for convenience and included women who worked in traditionally female occupations (dietitian, nurse, secretary, kindergarten teacher), non-traditional occupations (police officer, stationary engineer, carpenter), and gender neutral occupations (office manager, non-profit agency coordinator, counsellor). The women were employed in public and private organizations, businesses and industries, in part- and full-time, temporary and permanent positions. Different educational backgrounds, age groups, and life-styles were also represented. Each woman was interviewed at least once and twenty were interviewed five or six times over an eight-month period. They were asked to talk about the knowledge and skills they use in their work and to describe how they had learned these things.
Based on these interviews, we developed a concept of working knowledge which includes five basic components: what it takes to do the job (technical knowledge); the social relationships within which the job is done (social knowledge); the context and exchange relationships within which work is exchanged for goods or remuneration (contextual knowledge); knowledge of one's self as a competent worker (personal knowledge); and how other forms of working knowledge are integrated and how work is organized (integrated knowledge).
Technical working knowledge includes: the materials and equipment essential to the work, the language of the work, the skills and techniques necessary, and the rules and expectations which regulate workplace relationships. A secretary reported: "I taught myself to use all the equipment [the company sold] because it made it easier if I had to show a customer how to operate them." She also learned, on her own, all the software packages brought in for the company's computer system so she could help reorganize the work done in her office.