The Provision of Learning and Training in Chinese Organisations

By John Dudovskiy

learning and training There are no universal learning and training principles that relate to all work situations and environmental settings in the same manner. In other words, there is a wide range of economical, cultural, political, legal, environmental and other factors that affect the formation and utilisation of learning and training principles within individual work situations and environmental settings.

This paper is mainly concerned with the provision of learning and training in Chinese organisations in particular, taking into account a wide range of specific characteristics and circumstances associated with China and various forms of organisations operating in that country.

The following table represents the key characteristics of HR training and development in various forms of ownership in China and a range of factors that have contributed to the formation of these characteristics are discussed further below.

Government and civil service organisations State-owned enterprises Private enterprises Joint ventures and large multinational companies
Training and development is provided at relatively high levels with increased focus on political studies Training and development is provided mainly to managerial, professional and technical staff The lowest level of formal training and development opportunities for employees compared to other forms of ownership High level of training and development opportunities provided to employees

Table 1: Key characteristics of HR training and development in various forms of ownership in China

Source: Storey (2011)


The Economy of China and its Impact on Learning and Training

Today China is seen by many as an emerging economic superpower with GDP growth of 10.45 per cent in 2010 and forecasts for growth of 10-12 per cent yearly for the next several years to reach 9,982.08 billion USD in 2015 (Economywatch, 2012, online). The main drivers behind dramatic economic developments in China are perceived to be important economic reforms that have enabled the utilisation of advantages offered by the increasing forces of globalisation at a full extent.

However, the communist country has functioned under centrally-planned economic system for several decades, and this fact has had its implications on organisational processes within the country, including HR practices and the provision training and development programs for employees.

Nevertheless, the rapid economic development in China has increased demand for highly skilled employees for a wide range of sectors and industries and skills and competencies possessed by the majority of Chinese workforce have been found to be insufficient in order to contribute to competitive advantages of organisations operating in China (Chan et al, 2008).

Accordingly, the need for intensive and comprehensive training and development of workforce in China is urgent so that their knowledge can be updated to keep the pace with rapidly growing economy of the country.

In a theoretical level the task of updating the knowledge and skills of workforce in China seem to be straightforward i.e. according to HRM books systematic training and development programs can be organised in various forms of organisations in China so that Chinese employees can update their knowledge and acquire new skills.

However, in reality the implementation of this task in practice in China is associated with a range of substantial difficulties that directly relate to the impact of economic factors. Specifically, these factors include financial constraints and large regional disparities in China


Financial Constraints

One of the biggest challenges associated with upgrading the skills and knowledge of workforce in China relates to financial constraints. Heberer and Schubert (2009) convincingly argue that the issue of financial constrains associated with upgrading the skills and knowledge of workforce is even more complicated in China due to the large number of people whose skills and knowledge need to be updated.

In other words, due to large amount of expenses involved, organisations operating in China in general and public sector organisations in particular may not be able to sponsor necessary training and development initiatives in order to maintain the knowledge and skills of their employees at an updated level.


Large Regional Disparities in China

Another significant challenge associated with the provision of learning and training in Chinese workplaces relates to the large regional disparities within the country. According to Yu (2008) regional disparities in China relate to a wide range of prospects such as income levels, employment opportunities, and the quality of accessible education.

It has to be noted that “regional disparities in access to primary and secondary education also translated into opportunities to attain the higher educational credentials valued in China’s emerging market economy” (Tarling, 2009, p.196). Large economic and otherwise disparities in China has direct negative implications on the provision of learning and training of the workforce due to the large disparities in training and developmental needs among the workforce.

For instance, even though officially there are universal high school education standards throughout the China, in reality there are vast differences between the overall quality of education offered in Beijing schools and the quality of education offered in rural areas such as Danshan, Sichuan region.

Therefore, occasionally situations occur in China where even though employees from different regions of China have the same level of qualifications in their diplomas, there are vast differences among employee skills and knowledge, and this creates extra challenges in identifying learning and developmental needs of employees.


The Impact of Culture on the Provision of Learning and Training

National and organisational cultures have great impact on provision of learning and training for employees. Oxford Dictionaries (2012, online) define culture as “the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society”. Moreover, culture includes values, beliefs, traditions, attitudes, arts etc. and it defines the behaviour of individuals as parts of social groups.

Three layers of culture have been defined by Rosenhauer (2009) as values, beliefs and assumptions that are taken for granted. The characteristics of national culture in China define and impact the provision of learning and training for employees. This impact can be best studied with the use of cultural dimensions introduced by Geert Hofstede (1980).

Specifically, Hofstede (1980) makes distinctions between cultures on the basis of the following five dimensions: individualism, long-term orientation, masculinity, power distance, and uncertainty avoidance. All of these dimensions can be analysed in an individual manner in relation to China, and their implications on learning and training of employees can be highlighted.


The Collectivism Trait of Chinese Culture and its Implications on Employee Learning and Training

The cultural dimension of individualism versus collectivism relates to the level of integration of individuals into their relevant groups. In this perspective Chinese culture can be described as a highly collectivistic, and accordingly Chinese people are highly integrated into the society and their relevant organisations. The collectivism aspect of Chinese society places specific implications on learning and training of the workforce.

Namely, in China individuals have a high level of loyalty to their relatives greater in age such as elder brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts, parents, and grandparents, as well as to their superiors in the workplace (Sangren, 2000). Accordingly advices and recommendations offered by superiors, both in personal and professional lives are often perceived to be as highly useful information by Chinese people. In other words, employees in China can be described to be highly receptive towards advises and recommendations offered by superiors due to their culture.


Power Distance in Chinese Culture and Employee Learning and Training

Power distance is another cultural dimension proposed by Hofstede (1980) and it deals with the level of inequalities within a society and the attitude of members of society towards the distribution of power. The power distance cultural dimension in China is high and accordingly, inequalities in the distribution of power are accepted by Chinese people as a normal state of things.

The high power distance in China affects the ways in which employees learn, as well as training and development programs are developed and facilitated in that country. However, this effect is highly negative, because the high power distance limits the aspirations of employees to progress their careers beyond their ranks, and accordingly, they are less motivated to engage in individual learning and self-development.

Moreover, there is a high potential for power abuse by superiors in China, and this potential can be used by them to block the development opportunities of their subordinates in an intentional manner to enhance the security of their own positions, or for a wide range of other reasons.


Masculinity of Chinese Culture and Its Effects on Employee Learning and Training

The cultural dimension of masculinity vs. femininity relates to the level of orientation of society towards, competition, success and being the winner (Diller, 2010). China has a highly masculine society and culture. Accordingly, employees in China can be characterised as driven and success oriented. The implications of this cultural dimension on employee learning and training in China is that employees in China would be committing to extra efforts in order to learn and acquire new skills if it will contribute to the achievement of their aims and objectives.

Moreover, organisations operating in China can maximise the return on their investments on employee training and development if they manage to effectively communicate the benefits of training and development to employees in terms of achieving their personal and professional aims and objectives.


Uncertainty Avoidance and Employee Learning and Training in China

Uncertainty avoidance represents another cultural dimension that relates to the attitude of members of society towards the future. In other words, uncertainty avoidance “refers to the extend to which members of an organisation or society strive to avoid uncertainty by relying on social norms, rituals and bureaucratic practices to minimise the unpredictability of future happenings” (Aswathappa and Dash, 2007, p.30)

Chinese culture can be characterised as low on uncertainty avoidance. It means that employees in China are tolerant to ambiguity and uncertainty, and laws and rules at various levels can be flexible enough to be adjusted to the demands of circumstances. This specific aspect of Chinese culture has direct implications on employee learning and training practices.

Specifically, the high level of adaptability of Chinese workforce to unforeseen circumstances may signal about their enhanced abilities to learn and adjust. In other words, Chinese employees possess increased aptitude for learning, and therefore, any investments committed for the purposes of training and development of local workforce in China, can yield substantial positive results, given training and development programs are efficiently facilitated.


The Impacts of Long – Term Orientation of Chinese Culture on Employee Learning and Training

Long-term vs. short-term orientation cultural dimension has been described as “the degree to which people within a national culture expect immediate rather than delayed gratification of their needs and desires” (Guion, 2011, p.363)

As members of a highly long-term oriented society, local employees in China establish their relationships in accordance with status and observe established orders in a strict manner. Moreover, Chinese employees are comfortable with adapting traditions to meet the demands of changing circumstances.

The high level of long-term orientation of Chinese culture has positive implications on employee learning and training practices. This is because the formulation of long-term aims and objectives by employees in China would increase their awareness of their personal developmental needs, and their consequent engagement in various individual and collective training and development initiatives.


Chinese Legal Framework and its Implications on Learning and Training

The huge impact of legal framework in China on employee learning and training practices cannot be denied. Rapid economic development of China has necessitated the need for reforms of rules and regulations that relate to employee learning and training practices and accordingly, “in recent years, policy makers and academics in China have been exploring training models of other countries in an attempt to learn lessons from them” (Cooke, 2005, p.105).

At the same time it is important to note that “employment law in China theoretically mandates training for the workforce. However, as with so much of law in China, this is more aspirational than realistic” (Hunter et al, 2008, p.137)

The level of corruption within public and private sector organisations in China is another issue that has significant implications on employee learning and training practices. According to the Corruption Perception Index Conducted by Transparency International (2011, online) China is holds only 75th place in the world in terms of having the least level of corruption.

The negative impact of high levels of corruption in China on employee learning and training practices within organisations can be explained in a way that within specific organisations advancement opportunities through a career ladder may primarily depend on bribing or “knowing people”, thus demotivating employees to engage in learning and development initiatives in order to be promoted in the workplace.


Identification of Potentials for Improvement

As it has been discussed above in a detailed manner, economic, cultural, and legal frameworks in China have their specific implications on employee learning and training practices. However, whereas some of these implications are positive and contribute to effective provision of employee learning and training in organisations, others are negative, and accordingly serve as obstructions on the way of facilitation of employee learning and training in organisations in an effective level.

Nevertheless, taking into account above described economic, cultural, and legal frameworks in China a set of specific recommendations can be made for HR managers of organisations operating in China in terms of ensuring an effective facilitation of employee learning and training practices.

First of all, HR managers are recommended to organise mentoring in organisations that employ Chinese employees. The advantages of mentoring for organisations have been specified as development of managers, increased level of loyalty to organisation, cost effectiveness, and facilitation of communication; whereas advantages of employees being mentored include learning and development opportunities, increased level of self-confidence and personal support (Talwar, 2006).

The rationale behind the recommendation of mentoring to be cultivated in Chinese organisations relates to the cultural characteristics of Chinese society which promotes, respect and obedience to elders in age and management ranks.

Coaching is another method of employee training and development that should be facilitated and promoted in organisations in China in order to maintain the skills and knowledge of employees at an updated level. Bohlander and Snell (2009) draw differences between mentoring and coaching in a way that while mentoring focuses on the development of an individual in general, and usually no specific agenda is facilitated; coaching is focused on individual’s performance and the position of the coach is perceived to be the source of influence.

Likewise, the effectiveness of implementation of coaching method in local organisations in China is going to yield highly positive impacts in terms of employee training and development. This is because due to the cultural traits of Chinese employees they are more included to follow the recommendations of their coach and absorb information provided by coaches as facts compared to their counterparts from western countries.

Moreover, HR managers in charge of local workforce in China are recommended to rely on intangible motivational tools for the purposes of encouraging employees to engage in learning and training and development initiatives. Specifically, the most effective intangible motivational tools to be used include verbal and written acknowledgement of contribution and appreciation letters.



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Category: HRM