The Sociology of Job Training: Volume 12


Table of contents

(14 chapters)
click here to view access options


click here to view access options

Contemporary labor economics has a ready explanation for the role of job training in the labor market. The human capital framework pioneered by Becker (1962, 1993) and Mincer (1962) and now extended by many, many others sees training as an investment in productive capacity that benefits both workers and employers. Employers enhance the productivity of their firms by investing in the skills of their workers, and these productivity gains are passed on to workers in the form of higher wages. Key to all of this is the distinction between general and specific skill. According to the theory, employers will not pay for or provide general skills (i.e. those that are transferable and hence valuable to other employers), because they are averse to being “poached” by more high-wage employers. They will, however, invest in workplace-specific skills, which assure them a return on their training investments.

Human capital theory hypothesizes that no firm rationally invests in general job skills training because its competitors might hire the trained employees away before the firm could recoup its costs through higher worker productivity. Drawing from four explanatory perspectives, we developed several research hypotheses about the organizational and environmental sources of variation in company-provided job skills training for core employees, which we tested with a national sample of U.S. work establishments. Contrary to human capital theory expectations, the large majority of employers with core training programs reported providing skills that were either “to a great deal” or “to some extent” useful to other employers. Our general skills training analysis supported only one hypothesis, suggesting the inadequacy of human capital theory for explaining company training investments. We found evidence that the substantive contents of company job skills training programs differentiated into technical skills and social skills dimensions. Multivariate equations supported several hypothesized effects of organizational and environmental factors on the social and technical skills contents of company core training investments. We conclude with a reassessment of the classic general-specific job skills hypothesis and speculate about future directions for job skills training theory and research.

This study examines how employers’ various hiring behaviors affect the formal training in Korean establishments for newly employed college graduates. I use data from the 2000 “Employer Survey on College to Work,” collected by the Korea Research Institute for Vocational Education and Training (KRIVET). The results suggest some important implications about employers’ decisions to “buy and/or make.” On the one hand, the relationships between hiring and training are far from simple. There is a substitution of skills in hiring for training after hiring, but worker training tends to be provided more by those employers who concentrate highly on employee searches. In particular, the content of additional training programs reinforces the screening criteria. On the other hand, the results suggest the persistence of conventional organizational practices in hiring and training. Training provided by employers may be somewhere in the middle of economic rationality and simple conventionality, i.e. less-than-rational behaviors.

This paper assesses the significance of a communication skills training program at a hospital in New York City. Qualitative data – including interviews and observations – are taken from an evaluation of the training program. Rather than focus on outcomes, we analyze the political and economic context that produced this course and how the instructor, curriculum, and participants enacted and transformed it. The course took ubiquitous training strategies – such as flexibility, responsibility, and teamwork – and applied them to the specific process of health care work; a process that our evidence suggests is better understood using the concept of affective labor, as opposed to skills, knowledge work, or emotional labor. The course was, we conclude, an attempt to regulate affective labor, in the sense that regulation simultaneously responds to and produces instability.

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.

Job training, as traditionally conceptualized, is intended to improve the employment and earnings of disadvantaged individuals. Both theory and practice have approached the problem by segmenting the roles and responsibilities of the key stakeholders: the individual, the employer, and civil society. Such segmentation is problematic because it removes stakeholders from their contexts, and ignores the holistic and complex nature of the underlying problems and their remedies. Reframed as a form of business and community development, job training can focus on capacity building, stakeholder involvement, and expanded notions of skill achievement and geographic scope, thereby addressing stakeholder interests in context. The three cases presented in this chapter describe such reframing: from increasing human capital to building human capacity; from a partnership or individual business focus to a multi-stakeholder approach; and from job and employer-specific skill development to that which is multi-phased and geographically dispersed. Complexity theory will be used to explain these developments.

We analyze the relationship between initial vocational education and training (VET) and training policies by looking at the ways and extent to which different approaches foster the acquisition of general and transferable skills. The factors that particularly affect the investment in training and the investment in transferable skills are analyzed both from the point of view of the individual and the employer. We argue that with the reform of their national training systems, Spain and the United Kingdom have followed different routes in order to foster precisely an increase in the investment on transferable skills. Those pathways differ in the extent to which policy strategies have aimed at reducing either individual worker or firms’ constraints to receive or invest in transferable training, and in the extent to which the emphasis for certification focused on “demonstrated learning outcomes” as opposed to “particular learning processes or places.” The paper concludes with the presentation of some policy implications.

The German institutional setting of skill formation is supposed to enable young people smooth and structured transitions into the labor market. For decades, the large majority of graduates of the “dual system” of vocational education experienced good chances to immediately access appropriate job positions. However, labor market entry has become less stable in the last two decades. In this paper, we examine the changing transition from vocational training to the first job in Germany. We analyze the consequences of inter-firm mobility and unemployment after finishing vocational education for the transition to the first job. Our results show that leaving the training firm, and especially unemployment, strongly enhance occupational shifts at labor market entry. In addition, not keeping one’s trained occupation negatively affects the chances to enter skilled job positions.

In this paper I utilize ethnographic data from the construction industry to demonstrate that occupational safety must be interpreted as having two different forms: the official policies and the actual operating procedures. This distinction is significant because it highlights the difference between rules that are stated – and may even be formally trained – and the rules that actually govern the workplace. It is this latter set of rules, a complex set of decision-making practices balancing the speed of work against acceptable loss, that actually shapes the worker’s individual decision-making. By illuminating the distinctions between these two forms of training, and the structures in which they occur, I challenge a common assumption of much safety-related research in construction, that worker behaviors and worker cultures are the most common causes of policy violations (e.g. Dedobbeleer & German, 1987; Hoyos, 1995; Hsiao & Simeonov, 2001; Lewis, 1999; Lingard, 2002; Personick, 1990; Ringen, Seegal & Englund, 1995; Rivara & Thompson, 2000; Smith, 1993). I argue here that what is often construed as “worker culture” is actually a structurally determined response to the unwritten rules of the construction industry. This is meaningful because the assumption that workers “choose” to forgo occupational safety protections as a cultural choice (generally construed as an enactment of working-class masculinity) is then used to assume or prove workers’ consent to the larger capitalist exchange of wages for work (e.g. Burawoy, 1979; Marx, 1867, 1977). By drawing on the media coverage of the workplace fatality, I highlight the costs and legal ramifications of such a dual system.

This chapter explores the types and quality of jobs welfare recipients train for and mechanisms by which occupational gender segregation among low-wage workers persists. We report results from in-depth interviews with sixty-seven welfare case managers, employment service vocational counselors, job training administrators, and job training instructors in seven cities nationwide and short telephone interviews with one hundred and sixty-three students drawn from community colleges and other job training organizations where staff participated in the study. We look at gender-segregated patterns of referral to and enrollment in job training programs, female job training students’ interest in non-traditional training, and factors related to interest in non-traditional training. The results indicate that, while a minority of women in the sample are interested in any single non-traditional blue-collar job, a majority expressed interest in at least one non-traditional job, and 35% expressed interest in at least three non-traditional jobs. While women’s interest in non-traditional jobs seems limited, it is greater than that suggested by caseworkers’ perceptions and the pattern of caseworker recommendations and implies that reforms are needed in the welfare system to better tap women’s interest in non-traditional jobs and increase their enrollment in non-traditional training programs. Training is embedded in a larger system of gender-segregated labor markets that relegates women disproportionately to low-paying service and retail jobs. Improving opportunities for self-sufficiency for low-income women requires questioning and breaking down traditional gender norms that make women secondary economic actors.

Because job training is so consequential for the success of individual workers, firms, and national economies, understanding the determinants of training differentials is crucial. This study investigates whether PT (professional/technical) workers receive more training than do manual workers and how the training gap varies under different organizational contexts. I contend that the occupational impact on job training is contingent upon organization bureaucratization and institutionalization. Using the 1996 National Organizational Survey, I find that PT core organizations are more likely to supply formal training to their PT core workers than are manual core organizations to manual core workers. The gap in obtaining formal training between PT core workers and manual core workers expanded when I compared highly bureaucratized PT core organizations with highly bureaucratized manual core organizations. PT core organizations also invested much more money in the training of PT core workers than manual core organizations did to manual core workers, provided that the comparison was among organizations with high levels of bureaucratization or low levels of institutionalization. I conclude that researchers need to investigate organizational contexts to fully explain training differentials among workers.

Utilizing the 1995 Adult Education Interview compiled by the National Center for Education Statistics, this study examined the determinants of training participation among adult female employees. Drawing on Sterns’s (1986) model of individual decision-making about training, we hypothesized that baby boomer cohorts of women would have higher rates of training participation than younger and older cohorts of women. This hypothesis was confirmed by results on age group variables. We also confirmed that both mandatory continuing education requirements and technological innovation in clerical occupations increased the likelihood of overall training participation among baby boomers, while only mandatory continuing education requirements significantly affected the overall training likelihoods of older and younger cohorts. Findings for disaggregated categories of training suggest that employer-support may be critical to female training participation, especially in lower wage occupations.

Publication date
Book series
Research in the Sociology of Work
Series copyright holder
Emerald Publishing Limited
Book series ISSN