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The Sociology of Job Training

ISBN: 978-0-76230-886-6, eISBN: 978-1-84950-156-9

Publication date: 16 October 2003


Research on employee training has largely focused on either the employer or employees, and has investigated the likelihood or amount of training rather than the content of training. Our understanding about how organizations decide to focus on different skills therefore remains constrained. To address this issue, the current study examines what affects training consulting organizations’ focus on different types of training, and in particular, their focus on personal development training, a highly popular type of training in recent years. Training organizations have become an increasingly important supplier in the training field. Building on the neo-institutional perspective of organizations, I propose an institutional analysis of training organizations. I argue that at a fundamental level, the kinds of skills organizations consider useful (such as specific-technical, general-technical, human relations, and personal development skills), are affected by the shared organizing principles of their time, and I draw on the research on managerial ideology to understand how such shared frameworks evolved over time. Training organizations try to conform to the dominant organizational model at their founding in order to gain legitimacy for their product offerings and convince their clients of the efficacy of their services. The focus of training is thus shaped by the dominant organizational model at founding and tends to stay with training organizations. Specifically, I argue that training organizations founded later in time, when the participatory citizenship model of organization became dominant, are more likely to focus on personal development. I analyze a 10% random sample (N=269) of the population of training organizations in 1994 with logistic models. Empirical results are consistent with the proposed link between the skills trained and the dominant organizational model at the training organizations’ founding. Characteristics of training organizations focused on personal development are also compared with those focused on other types of training. The implication of this study for the classic question, “why do employers provide general-skill training?” is discussed.


Luo, X. (2003), "WHAT SKILLS TO TRAIN?: AN INSTITUTIONAL ANALYSIS OF TRAINING CONSULTING ORGANIZATIONS", Bills, D.B. (Ed.) The Sociology of Job Training (Research in the Sociology of Work, Vol. 12), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 73-102.



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