Changing Forms of Employment: Organisations, Skills, and Gender

Changing Forms of Employment: Organisations, Skills, and Gender

Changing Forms of Employment: Organisations, Skills, and Gender

Changing Forms of Employment: Organisations, Skills, and Gender


During the last two decades there has been widespread evidence of change in organizations, employment and employment related institutions. Changing Forms of Employment looks at the underlying trends which generate pressures towards a fundamental reshaping of social institutions in three ways: changes in the organisation of production, particularly those associated with the growth of service dominated economics; the effects of technology change, particularly those associated with information technology; the erosion of the 'male breadwinner' (or single earner) model of employment and household.


Jill Rubery

Institutional economists are accustomed to relying on the existence of stable, slow changing and fairly transparent institutions to provide the building blocks for their analysis of labour markets and employment systems. Much has been made of the role of social norms (Wootton 1955), custom and practice (Brown 1972), family organisation (Humphries 1977), collective bargaining institutions, rules and practices (Clegg 1970), customary skill divisions and differentials (Turner 1962; Routh 1980), training and education systems (Maurice et al. 1986) and company culture and history (Sisson and Purcell 1983) to explain how and why labour market structures are resistant to rapid change, embody values which extend outside the market or exchange nexus and cannot be reduced to crude notions of supply and demand.

Even the traditional market economists have been getting in on the act; Bob Solow, the growth theory Nobel prize winner, published a book which declares, perhaps a little late in the day, that the labour market is a social institution (Solow 1990). The proclamation comes a little late for two reasons; on the one hand most people always knew it to be so and find it somewhat surprising, except to those accustomed to economists’ modes of thought, that it has taken an eminent social scientist so long to recognise the pervasive importance of notions such as fairness in the employment relationship. It is late for another reason. Just as the neoclassical economists appear to be latching on to the notion of institutions, norms and values in labour markets, those very norms and values and associated institutions appear to be crumbling and fragmenting, perhaps heralding the final advent of that elusive competitive or market based labour market.

The problem for institutional economists, as has been hinted at already, is that these changes are taking away the customary tools of the trade, the known social values and customs through which the fusion of social and labour market structures can be readily analysed. Most institutional analyses of labour markets view the labour market as structured not only by

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