From the minute one leaves Changi airport one appreciates Singapore’s reputation as a sophisticated metropolis. It is a buzzing city and it hosted the 9th Researching Work and Learning (RWL) Conference on 9-12 December 2015.

The RWL conference is the leading international research conference in the field of work and learning. Established in 1999, the conference has proven to provide a critical platform for researchers and professionals to share research in work and learning, engage in dialogue with colleagues and experts from around the world, and deepen their knowledge in the areas of work and learning.

The Institute for Adult Learning in Singapore hosted RWL9 and it attracted around 400 work and learning researchers from 17 countries. RWL9 was organised with Singaporean precision and was a very productive conference.

Some key ideas and themes at RWL 2015 that would be useful for the green skills community to contemplate:

  •  There was a lot of interest in workplace-based identity – professional identity negotiation and agency and professional identity through promoting professional agency were concepts that highlighted the need to consider issues of professional identity formation and work – power/ professional agency in learning at, for and through work.
  • The use of practices as a unit of analysis for work – broadening of ideas on what we perceive as work – to integrate framings of paid and unpaid work
  • Open learning and the need to engage critically with open learning educational resources within workplace learning discourses. This emphasized the need for research that challenges the powerful and persuasive ‘network rhetorics’ of openness, connectedness and knowledge exchange; and the need to critically examine the ways in which openness and connectedness are understood, enacted and regulated in work practice.
  • Some important research questions that emerged around open-learning that need to be engaged with were:
  • What kinds of dilemmas and possibilities in using open learning are navigated in different professional practices?
  • Boundaries – how are they enacted and navigated online?
  • Identities – What practitioner (and partner) selves are enacted through everyday online learning interactions?
  • Knowledge Practices – what knowledge is produced and circulated? What becomes valued/undervalued? What processes become most powerful?
  • There was active deliberation on the multiple meanings of workplace learning. This raises questions on how employers and policymakers engage with multiplicity in framing workplace learning, how we name learning at work and the translations of learning as it moves from workplaces and localised sites of practice. The importance of interdisciplinary knowledge work in the contexts of both professional and technical occupations was thus raised as an important area for further work and research.
  • Related to the previous point, much importance was placed on researching forms of knowledge. Consequently there was a lot of interest in how systems (workplace learning; qualifications, occupational) can recognise and aid in surfacing invisible forms of knowing; in breaking the barriers between informal and formal learning in workplaces; and in surfacing mechanisms that upfront and recognize informal learning.
  • Cultural Historical Activity Theory; Socio-Materiality Perspectives and Actor Network Theory (across fields of practice such as universities as well as business/work environments) were the most significant used theoretical frames – green skills researchers in South Africa need to consider engaging with these theories.
  • Livingston shared a typology of under-employment which would be useful in the local context and helps to build this concept theoretically.
  • Theorisation of agency – critique of the under-theorisation and naïve constructions within practices of work.
  • Use of occupational life histories as a critical methodology, in which narratives must be as concrete as possible, with a focus on critical incidents, and a mind-in-political-economy approach  Looking at ‘ethics in practice’ in particular occupations.
  • David Guile did an impressive review of traditions in work research  and ended with his suggestion of three key books for us to read:
    • The Rise of the Robot by Martin Ford (2015)
    • Cognitive Capitalism by Yarun Moulier Boutang (2010)
    • The Zero Marginal Cost Society by Jeremy Rifkin (2014)

Finally, there was a very good reception of the proposal to host RWL 10 in South Africa in December 2017.