The reconstruction of the identity of police trainers in a changing work environment
This study set out to determine how trainers construct their professional identities in a changing work environment in a training academy of the South African Police Service (SAPS) in the context of a police-university partnership. The study differentiates between three professional identities (academic, police and trainer) and builds on the notion that the construction of professional identity is a conscious and dynamic process, which is formed in social contexts and settings where individuals participate in communities of practice or act on affordances to participate in organisational activities. Following a constructivist methodological approach, the study involved face-to-face interviews with trainers of the SAPS Academy and an analysis of police documents in the Academy. The study portrays trainers’ professional identity construction as relational and ongoing. Trainers perceive their changing roles in the SAPS Academy as a form of progression in their professional identity where one aspires to become an academic as a form of achievement. While the SAPS Academy attempts toregulate the construction of professional identity through enforcement of policies, it strengthens police trainer identities rather than enabling the construction of the needed new academic identities. Trainers therefore have to navigate the tensions between the institutional culture and construction of professional identity. Trainers negotiate their professional identities when they become part of the trainer pool, where they join smaller communities of practice, and when they make use of affordances for learning and development. The practice of multi-skilling of trainers, an authoritarian institutional culture and challenges to academic freedom and autonomy hamper their attempts to construct academic identities at both institutional and disciplinary level. The study suggests that organisations need to understand how policies contribute to employees’ construction of professional identities, particularly when new and unfamiliar professional identities are to be constructed. Development of higher academic qualifications is not enough. Workplaces need to apply organisational policies consistently and without ambiguity. A holistic approach should be followed when organisations embark on the construction of professional academic identities as employees construct professional identities through their lived experiences. Finally, the study showed that workplaces should provide a suitable environment that would stimulate professional and academic identity construction.