NSM Focus | Peter Kruyen: “A lot of specialist knowledge is still unused, we want to change this”

Employees of waste services, city cleaning and urban green spaces carry out their work in the public domain but are to a certain extent invisible. University lecturer in Public Administration Peter Kruyen: “In research into career development and sustainable employability we mainly look at people with a theoretical education. But what do people with a practical training need to get the best out of themselves and their work?” Teacher trainer and research lecturer Jan-Willem Noom (Aeres Hogeschool) takes a look at this issue.

Noom: “Public servants are increasingly coming into contact with interested parties other than their employer. They come into contact with those living in the neighbourhood, passers-by and entrepreneurs in the area, sometimes they are even called to account by them. Communication has become an increasingly important part of what they do. For some this is a heavy weight. They have chosen the job they do because they want to work with their hands, not per se because they also to talk about it. But this skill has now become part of their job.”

Peter KruyenKruyen: “By their work in the public sphere these specialists are both the visiting card of the municipality and its eyes and ears. They know what’s going on at street level, in neighbourhoods and districts, see what works and doesn’t work, where maintenance and attention are needed. Moreover, they often come up with creative solutions for practical problems that need addressing now. This is very important input for improving the service of the organisation. But often no one asks these employees.” Noom: “Take the green spaces. The planners and policy makers make the design, the skilled workers implement it. With this division a lot of specialist knowledge is still unused; there’s hardly any collective learning. In our courses we try to change this. Our teacher trainers – who teach HBO students who want to work as lecturers at the VMBO and MBO – underline the importance of, for example, the skill of ‘working together’ and teaching the teachers of tomorrow how they can support the competence development of people with a practical training.”

Kruyen: “I think that everyone needs a certain degree of autonomy. But not everyone performs best in interdisciplinary collaboration or consultation with others. Whereas people with a theoretical education generally value some free space, a lot of people with a practical training like to do clearly defined tasks. So, what we know from studying one group of employees can’t be transferred automatically to another group. We mustn’t fall into the trap of thinking like this too: the idea that a career always has to follow an upwards line. No, not everyone wants to work their way up. You can also get the best out of yourself and your work by developing sideways.”

Noom: “There’s still a lack of recognition for practical skills. This while all specialist employees in the public domain perform very important work. Just imagine what would happen if they didn’t do their job for a month. We also have a negative view of a lot of occupations. When we see street cleaners at work we think: what dirty work. How different sounds: ‘How great that you keep our environment clean for us’?”

Kruyen: “What do these public servants really think? Which insights from research among people with a theoretical education are applicable to these professional groups and which are not? What do these employees need to improve their performance, wellbeing and health? And how can we better value and apply their practical, creative insights? I intend to study this together with colleagues Hester Paanakker and Lianne Visser. We’ll set up a practical network, talk to managers and spend time with specialist people. We want to do this study not about them but with them.”

Noom: “Very relevant. I intend to follow this closely.”