Are Skills the Answer? The Political Economy of Skill Creation in Advanced Industrial Countries

Are Skills the Answer? The Political Economy of Skill Creation in Advanced Industrial Countries

Are Skills the Answer? The Political Economy of Skill Creation in Advanced Industrial Countries

Are Skills the Answer? The Political Economy of Skill Creation in Advanced Industrial Countries

Synopsis

This study of the problems confronting institutions for the creation of occupational skills in seven advanced industrialized countries contributes to two different areas of debate. The first is the study of the diversity of institutional forms taken by modern capitalism, and the difficulties currently surrounding the survival of that diversity. Most discussions of this theme analyse economic institutions and governance in general. The authors of this book are more specific, focusing on the key area of skill creation. The second theme is that of vocational education and training in its own right. While sharing the consensus that the advanced countries must secure competitive advantage in a global economy by developing highly skilled work-forces, the authors draw attention to certain awkward aspects of this approach that are often glossed over in general debate: The employment-generating power of improvements in skill levels is limited: employment policy cannot depend fully on education policies While the acquisition of skills has become a major public need, there is increasing dependence for their provision on individual firms, which can have no responsibility for general needs, with government action being restricted to residual care for the unemployed rather than contributing at the leading edge of advanced skills policy. The authors argue that public agencies must find new ways of working with the business sector, acquiring expertise and authority through such means as supporting skills standards and taking the lead in the certification of employers as trainers. There must also be reconsideration of the former role of public-service employment as a provider of secure if poorly paid employment for low-productivity workers. The countries covered are France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Sweden, the UK and the USA.

Excerpt

This study focuses on the problems confronting institutions for the creation of occupational skills in seven advanced industrial countries (AICs). We hope that it will contribute to two different areas of debate in contemporary political economy. The first concerns the diversity of institutional forms taken by modern capitalism, and the difficulties currently surrounding the survival of that diversity. Most discussions of this theme (for example, Albert 1991; Crouch and Streeck 1997; Hollingsworth, Schmitter, and Streeck 1994) analyse economic institutions and governance in general. Here we try to be more specific and illustrate the general theoretical debates by considering one specific topic. Skill creation is a useful area for such concentration, since it brings together public policy ambitions and the market economy.

The second focus is on vocational education and training (VET) in its own right. Our concern here is with those levels of the VET system dealing with foundation and intermediate, not the higher levels of academic, training. This does not mean that we are limiting our attention to manual skills; the distinction between manual and non-manual is in any case one which is breaking down. Therefore, when we speak of 'skills', this is not to be understood to mean only 'skilled manual' work. Similarly, the term 'vocational' education is intended to be equally applicable to the preparation of banking staffs and bricklayers. In at least Germany and the USA several intermediate vocational skills are offered in parts of the higher education system. What we do leave out of consideration is the university provision of advanced professional and academic skills at masters and doctoral level, including MBAs. These last are of considerable vocational importance for key managerial and professional roles, but our principal interest is in the use of VET policy to advance and safeguard the economic position of the mass of the working population. The importance of this theme for general economic welfare and employment opportunities is today recognized by policymakers in both government and business. It is widely viewed as essential that the advanced countries secure competitive advantage in a global economy by moving into product markets requiring highly skilled and highly productive workforces if standards of living are to advance. We in no way wish to undermine this consensus, and share the universal view of its importance. Our analysis, however, draws attention to certain problematic aspects of relying too heavily on improvements in the supply of skills to solve economic and social problems.

First, the employment-generating power of improvements in skill levels is limited. The internationally traded sectors which use truly advanced skills are small in size and number and become even less labour intensive as their skill levels increase. Employment policy cannot depend fully on education policies.

Second, while the acquisition of skills has become a major public need and a fundamental issue for governments, we are increasingly dependent for their . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.