While company-based “training” within the dual system is a rather precisely defined activity, the “trainer” as person can hardly be conceptualised. We rather have to speak of a function than of a defined occupational group. The training function as a whole is a function shared by several categories of persons in the enterprise depending on the nature of the activities, the size and the hierarchic structure of the enterprise. It covers several levels of responsibility in the enterprise and different professional qualifications (Gérard 2000).
In large companies there is a wide differentiation of roles. ”Training managers” (Ausbildungsleiter) are responsible for the whole process of steering initial training in all occupations offered by the company. “Full-time trainers” (Ausbilder) are primarily found in the industrial manufacturing sector and have an advanced qualification as master craftsman. They mostly work in training workshops set up by the company. “Part-time trainers” (ausbildende Fachkräfte / Ausbildungsbeauftragte) engage in training as a part-time activity directly at the workplace. They are of particular importance as they are skilled workers who, in addition to their specialised tasks, take on training tasks in the enterprise’s departments, on assembly lines, in commercial and engineering offices or in the service sector. As trainees pass through the enterprise, these trainers provide them with hands-on experience in actual work processes. Apprentices probably spend the majority of their training time in the company with this type of trainer, although this group is usually the least formally trained pedagogically. Most of them do not even consider themselves as trainers but as technical experts with an additional educational function.
The practice of workplace training as a research issue
While there exists advanced and detailed knowledge about the work of teachers, the actual training practice in work processes is still “an unresearched black box of vocational education throughout Europe”, as Attwell, Grollmann & Lübcke have noted. Furthermore the training of trainer provision is not only inconsistent and fragmentary across sectors, national boundaries and on the European level, but also “fails to take account of people who may have a responsibility as experts for coaching novices or for peer coaching as an add-on part of their ordinary work” (ibid, p.2). Pointing at an observed “diffusion of the training process, with increased numbers of people taking some role in training as part of their occupational profile” they claim a lack of knowledge about the “extent to which the training function is spread especially within the workplace”.
Starting to cope for this deficit, the authors dedicated a substantial part of a European project funded by the Leonardo programme () to researching trainer practices in their company-based contexts. They developed a new comparative methodology in order to come up with a flexible European framework of pathways of professional development and carried out some first case studies in six European countries (Grollmann). Inevitably the individual national case studies (two for Germany) could only be based on a thin empirical basis (a minimum of one learner, one trainer and one person officially in charge of training matters per company were interviewed), but they point at an important triangle of protagonists in the context of workplace learning.
There are few models of apprenticeship and workplace learning that explicitly acknowledge the function of a trainer for the learning process of apprentices or fellow colleagues (Gamble 2001; Maurines 1997) and do not go as far as the theory of situated learning with its ‘community of practice’ concept by decentering common notions of mastery and pedagogy altogether (Lave, Wenger 1991, p. 94). None of these theories broaches the issue of the wider organisational setting where this training takes place.
With the workplace generally having been rediscovered as a learning environment in the mid 1990ies however, the relationships among learning, work and organisations have started to be systematically explored in a multitude of ways (cf. Eraut, Hirsh 2007). Although the concept of the learning organisation “has remained elusive amid the multitude of