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Learning following computerisation

This illustration of workplace learning in practice and the value of the Accreditation of Prior Learning (APL) is actually drawn from a Dutch bakery in the Netherlands. The study was originally part of a European EQUAL project (ACORN), but the video material has been re-edited to demonstrate how APL can build on substantive learning achievements generated in the course of workplace activity, particularly as in this case if there is a major change that highlights the value of what workers know and can do.

This case study of a Dutch bakery demonstrates different aspects of the organisation of work before and after the introduction of computerised control of one of the company's bread-making lines and how the company's modernisation strategy also includes recognising the skills, knowledge and experience that workers have developed through work.

Before computerisation:

The relationship between suppliers and retailers

This clip discusses the relationship between bakery suppliers and the bakery retailers; transport, location, timing, network and power issues are all considered.

The value of network suppliers

Google Site 1 min 7 sec
This clip discusses the response of the Small-Medium-Sized Enterprise (SMEs) bakery suppliers to the power of the large retail chains: strength in numbers. Also considered is how the response is in fact a symbiotic one, and what other benefits there are to the formation of this network, such as improved purchasing and marketing for the suppliers.

The first phase of the bread manufacturing process - dough making

Google Site 1 min 30 sec
This clip provides a detailed description and demonstration of the first phase of the bread manufacturing process: dough making. Particular reference is made to the variety of dough, the necessarily small scale and the automation of aspects of the process.

The second phase of the bread manufacturing process - bread making

Google Site 42 sec
This clip provides a detailed description and demonstration of the second phase of the bread manufacturing process: bread making. Particular reference is made to the humidity and temperature, the repeated raising and knocking down of the dough, the holing of the bread and the size of the bread.

The third phase of the bread manufacturing process - baking process

Google Site 2 min 20 sec
This clip provides a detailed description and demonstration of the third phase of the bread manufacturing process: the baking. Particular reference is made to the time and temperature of the baking, the unavoidable length of cooling, the removal of the loaves, the packaging, the labelling, the slicing, the crating, the order picking, the scale of customer assortment, the specialisation to individual customers, the loading, the transport, and the total time and scale of the whole production.

After computerisation:

Computerised robot on a bunline in action

Google Site 32 sec
This clip hopefully provides a relatively interesting and entertaining interlude; showing robots from the bakery in action set to stirring music.

Introduction to the computerisation of a bun line in a bakery

Google Site 1 min 37 sec
This clip provides an overview of the computerisation of the bakery's bunline. Particular reference is made to the increased capacity and reduced workforce, the same basic principles of bread-making being utilised, its rarity in Holland, and its limitations (usually works below capacity because need to change the variety of bread being produced). A worker is then interviewed who expresses his contentment at the changes because it has made his work easier: in principle he no longer has to touch the trays and has fewer jams with which to deal.

Explanation of the operation of computerised bun line in a bakery

Google Site 2 min 30 sec
This clip explains aspects of the computerised bread manufacturing process (the phases following the dough making) in great detail. How different machinery and products are represented on the computer, the different robots, the procedure the different robots follow and spatio-temporal hierachies/priorities that the robots respect are all expanded upon. The explanation is interspersed with footage of the robots in action.

Rationale for introduction of, and issues surrounding, computerisation

Google Site 1 min 42 sec
This clip describes the bakery's motivation for computerising their bun line. It is explained that they were competing in a very difficult market and thus unable to change their prices. Instead they were forced to address their costs by improving the line's "capacity per hourly employee cost"; they achieved this by computerisation which both improved the line's capacity and reduced the number of workers required on the line. Although in the short term this increased costs (in terms of money and time of implementation), in the long term they have reduced their average costs. They remain convinced it was the right idea not only in terms of costs but also because of an improved product.
There is also an interview with an employee who, once he had "learnt bit by bit" both by trial and error and from two employes that had been on a course, prefers the computerisation because it is more advanced, faster and more flexible.

Changes to work responsibilites

Google Site 2 min 7 sec
This clip describes the changes to workers' responsibility as a consequence of the computerisation of the bakery's bun line. For example if the dough is not patterned correctly, according to the comuterised settings, on the trays, the product does not look for the customers and it slows the packaging of the bread. This slowing of packaging slows the line, and while there are buffers (resulting from the variable cooling times of the different products) which can absorb this slowing without stopping the line, they cannot do so indefinitely. At this point, production has to be halted. If it is not stopped, the ovens become overfilled and the bread burnt, and/or the proofing persists for too long and the bread is bloated. So the bakery now has workers with the responsibility of preventing this from happening, both in terms of ensuring the dough patterning is correct and watching the buffers and halting production if the buffers are too full. A worker is briefly interviewed about what the changed responsibilities are.

Investing in people too

Google Site 3 min 42 sec
This clip explains why, in spite of the computerisation of its bun line, the difficulties that brought, and its bid to cut costs in a competitive market, the bakery retained its goverment rewarded policy of promoting the Accreditation of Prior Learning (APL). The answer lies in the bakery's belief that people are its most important commodity and so should be motivated and trained all the time: 'untrained people cause a lot of waste and trouble, which results in unsatisified, and therefore the loss of, customers', whilst trained workers have a better attitude, take more pride in, and are more aware of, their work. There are also comments from the workers about how the APL is a little more generic than the learning they undertake in their own workplace and how they also receive many benefits from the accreditation. The clip also notes that some workers are a little hesitant to apply and that some who one would expect to be able to achieve an accreditation extremely easily have to in fact work hard to verbalise and structure the knowledge that makes them so able in the workplace. A worker notes that this is a result of the hectic production process which affords them little time to reflect and order whatever knowledge it is that they are learning.

More on the value of the Accreditation of Prior Learning

Google Site 1 min 9 sec
This clip describes some of the criteira candidates have to meet to be accredited under the APL scheme. For example, they must demonstrate a good knowledge of computers through a show of competency in both regular, everyday programs, and programs specific to the computerised bun line. The underlying principles behind the specialist programs are also tested to probe their understanding of the programs and the role the programs fulfil in ensuring the efficient functioning of the line. Applicants' problem solving is also evaluated: they will be presented with equipment from the line with which they are not overly familiar, and then some aspects of it are tampered with so that when they begin production everything is not as it should be, and they have to find out what's going wrong and why. They must also perform one practical, on the job, task.

The need for support

Google Site 1 min 48 sec
This clip explains how dependent the bakery is on its newly acquired and complex hardware and software, and how they try to temper this dependency. The bakery is so dependent on its hardware and software not breaking down because their line is almost completely serial and there is almost no room for delay within their production; their product must be fresh for every single day (in contrast with the motor industry where time can be made up with overtime over several weeks). Consequently, they require an excellent maintenance service. However, when the maintenance service is unavailable (for example holidays) or unable to help sufficiently quickly, the bakery has another contingency: it is a member of a bakery support network. This network's members are all own family-owned SME bakeries, and have agreed that whenever one of the member bakeries has a failure in its production line to the extent it is unable to produce a significant amount of its desired quantity for a given day that all the other members will step in and make good the short-fall.

Benefits of Accreditation of Prior Learning

Google Site 1 min 32 sec
This clip explains further benefits of the APL scheme to the bakery. It argues that it is important for the workers to be able to understand the underlying principles of the software and the machines. This is achieved by the APL scheme together with keeping the software's logic relatively simple. By having workers that understand these principles this affords the bakery workers that can overview their production line with the insight to make predictions and judgements to prevent problems from even beginning to happen. It is very difficult to get a machine to perform like this. Meanwhile, the workers believe the bakery benefits from the reassurance, to both themselves and their customers, that the machines are operated and products made by well-trained workers who can cope with their work. They also believe it improves attention, communication and consultation (for example separating the waste more thoroughly) which improves the efficiency of the line.

Value of the Accreditation of Prior Learning

Google Site 53 sec
This clip briefly describes the change in the employees' attitudes as a consequence of the APL scheme. They are more willing and able to learn new things and to adapt themselves to changes that occur in the workplace. Equally, they are now at ease with being assessed and being asked to think about their job and why they are doing it. Finally, they are more aware of the consequences of their actions/job to their workplace and are more appreciative of, and receptive to, co-operation and communication within their workplace.

Summary: Value of APL


Reasons for introducing APL in this case are related to employer's view of level of expertise of his workers - need to look at what they currently have and then see whether could develop a tailor made programme as a way to 'give my people something': wanted to implement APL. 3 partners are involved in the success of an APL implementation. In the identification stage vocational training experts (in this case from STOAS) assess what people really need to do their work well: what makes them display enthusiasm and commitment. Is it then possible to design a custom-built system to recognise the skills that people have, bearing in mind the various standards defined by government

Summary: Value of APL

Google Site 3 min 38 sec
The interviewee is an APL consultant explaining how APL works. APL (Assessment of Prior Learning) could also stand for a piori learning, which he describes as 'pre-education'. In co-operation with individual companies, his organisation uses APL to determine the level of expertise that each employee already has and then comes up with a personalized learning programme to develop this expertise.
He goes on to describe what he believes to be the first instance of APL implementation in a SME (small and medium sized enterprise) in the Netherlands - a bakery. The consultant states that three parties must work collaboratively in any successful APL implementation: the company, the APL consultants and the local vocational/agricultural school.
The consultants begin by finding out everything they possibly can about the firm, what motivates its employees, what they need and what skills they already have, on the shop floor, in middle management and at the top of the company. This is called the identification phase. The second phase involves the employees showing the consultants what they do on a daily basis in the factory. This is the company's input into the process. The local school's contribution is to provide national standards, which the consultants and the company together adapt to the company's specific needs.