The uniqueness of knowledge management in small companies : Managing knowledge as an employer strategy for lifelong learning

Abstract: The present study explores the relationship between the ‘knowledge-enabling environment’ and the demand for training using a sample of 18 small private companies providing educational and consultancy services in Sweden. In this way, the dissertation is an exploration of the ways Swedish knowledge-intensive companies manage their knowledge. The 18 companies have participated in a European program for developing employee competence, financed by the European Social Fund. As part of this European-financed program companies have evaluated their business activity and determined their training needs in order to remain competitive. The 18 companies, thus, provide a rare opportunity to explore aspects of the demand for training in small enterprises. Knowledge is understood here as both the structure and the content of mental schemas. It is embodied in individuals; it differs from information and data; and it can be tacit or explicit. When looking at organizational processes for managing knowledge, it is important to consider formal organized activities for learning, but also informal learning activities, which constitute the main source for tacit knowledge as well as the conditions in place for knowledge creation, what is here called the ‘knowledge-enabling environment’. It is argued that through knowledge management, companies are indeed implementing strategies for the promotion of lifelong learning.Each company in the sample is rather unique in their ‘knowledge-enabling environment’. The exploration of the demand for training shows that the selected companies invest only less than half their perceived training needs. In both sectors the working-environment characteristics that according to the theories reviewed, should promote learning, do not necessarily foster a higher demand for learning, with the exception of information technology. Finally, Also interesting is that employees demand more training if their engagement in informal learning is low.