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Why Do Companies Provide Workplace Education Programs?

Volume 4: Chapter Three
Alec Levenson

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In this chapter, Alec Levenson reviews what is known and unknown about company-provided training and notes implications for future practice and research. After defining related terminology, Levenson provides an overview of human capital theory as it relates to companies' motivation for providing basic skills training and notes instances where theory and current economic realities do and do not coincide. After providing theoretical arguments that help explain why companies are willing to pay for basic skills training, the author offers evidence of firms' willingness to do so. Levenson notes evidence of the increased demands being placed on frontline workers and cites a limited number of studies that provide data on the incidence and characteristics of company-provided workplace education. He also discusses access to such programs and their financing. 

In the next part of the chapter, Levenson reviews the available research on the impact of workplace education programs. As he notes, the positive impacts of these programs take a variety of forms including wage growth, job upgrades, skill building, teamwork, reduced absenteeism, safety-related behavior, identification of quality defects, and the ability to comprehend and follow directions. While, as the author points out, most studies are not able to firmly establish a causal link between the workplace education program and outcomes, one study noted did employ a random assignment and experimental design and thus suggests that the positive impacts found in other studies are worth noting. 

Levenson concludes the chapter with suggestions for policy, practice and research to support expanded workplace education. In addition to public subsidies to assist with program design and set-up, he calls for public funding to establish a workplace education infrastructure designed to maximize knowledge-sharing among, and professional development, of practitioners.

With respect to practice, he notes a number of elements of successful program design including on-site administration of programs, scheduling classes at the end of one shift and beginning of another, and using pilot programs to demonstrate success and build long-term support for programs. Levenson recommends future research on the true cost-benefit trade-off of workplace literacy programs and the spillover societal effects of these programs; the effectiveness of different forms of grant and subsidy programs at promoting workplace education; the limitations of viable on-site programs; and the role played by individual decision- makers within companies and unions in starting and maintaining workplace education programs. 

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Updated 7/27/07 :: Copyright © 2005 NCSALL