Vocations and Learning

, Volume 8, Issue 2, pp 117–133 | Cite as

Sales Assistants in the Making: Learning Through Responsibility

Original Paper


The paper investigates how learning and processes of becoming are shaped and enacted in retail apprenticeship in Norway. The analysis draws upon a qualitative study of managers and apprentices in different retail sub-sectors. The empirical point of departure is managers who, more or less deliberately, throw apprentices into tasks from day one. Thus, the apprentices have to handle tasks with limited instruction and guidance. The paper argues that the level of trust the apprentices are shown, and the responsibility they assume, fosters emotional engagement conducive to learning. The concept of learning environment is applied to understand the relationship between affordances and engagement. In linking the organisation of work to learning processes, emphasis is placed on how ‘being responsible’ is not merely a capacity residing within the individual, but embedded in and constituted by institutionalised work roles, task allocation and trust relations. The paper aims to nuance prevailing accounts of lack of guidance as purely detrimental to workplace learning. However, the weakly established tradition of vocational training in Norwegian retail requires a critical look into the kind of learning this practice implies. Contentious issues of throwing apprentices into the deep end are discussed.


Apprenticeship Retail sector Learner responsibility Vocational education and training Learning as becoming 



The author would like to thank members of the PhD-group at the Department of Sociology at the University of Bergen, the research group at Fafo, and supervisors Ole Johnny Olsen and Lars Gjelstad. The anonymous reviewers and the Editorial Team contributed with valuable comments. The project is funded by the Norwegian Directorate for Education and Training.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of BergenBergenNorway
  2. 2.Fafo Institute for Labour and Social ResearchOsloNorway

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