An Investigation into Informal Learning Dynamics that Provide the Context for Learning Non-Technical Skills for Undirected Workers

Open Access
Elliott, Franklin Eugene
Graduate Program:
Workforce Education and Development
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
April 10, 2008
Committee Members:
  • Judith Ann Kolb, Committee Chair
  • Edgar Paul Yoder, Committee Member
  • Richard Allen Walter, Committee Chair
  • Ian E Baptiste, Committee Member
  • Workforce Education
  • Non-technical Skills
  • Informal Learning
  • Soft Skills
  • Career and Technical
Abstract To bolster performance, many privately owned businesses direct their employee training efforts toward improving non-technical skills. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2006-07, however, shows that not all workers receive employer directed training. According to BLS data, as the size of businesses decrease the likelihood of employer directed training also decreases. Following this data, approximately 53 million Americans do not receive employer directed training (undirected workers). This study explored the problem of how undirected workers learn these critical non-technical skills when employee directed training is not forthcoming. A qualitative, grounded study methodology was used. Eleven cosmetologists employed by independently owned salons located in various cities and towns in Pennsylvania composed the study sample. Data consisted of participant interviews with a focus on career development and experiences, salon industry learning artifacts and national statistics, and the investigator’s extensive experience as a cosmetologist. Researcher bias was an ongoing concern throughout the investigation and steps were taken accordingly. Findings show undirected workers learn non-technical skills in the same way they learn technical skills, through informal learning experiences afforded them via social practices and activities that are common to the workers both inside and outside of the work situation. However, although participants were keenly aware of how they were learning technical skills, they did not connect this same process with learning non-technical skills. The findings suggest that these professionals have devalued non-technical skills to the point of disavowing them as learnable professional tools. These same participants unanimously identified advanced non-technical skills as more important than advanced technical skills for success in their industry. The importance of non-technical skills must be communicated to all workers, not just those who receive employer-directed training. New methods to communicate this information are needed as well as new methods for delivery that can accommodate the situation of non-directing businesses. These new methods would positively affect, according to the BLS (2006-07), at least half of the American workforce employed by privately owned businesses, making them more productive, increasing their potential income, and improving their lives and the lives of their families.