Academic journal article China: An International Journal

The Choices and Effects of Institutional Embeddedness: Evidence from China's Highly Transitional Graduate Labour Market

Academic journal article China: An International Journal

The Choices and Effects of Institutional Embeddedness: Evidence from China's Highly Transitional Graduate Labour Market

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Before the 1990s, whenever embeddedness was mentioned, it usually meant an intermediary between Individual A and Individual B and was specified as social embeddedness. There are two variants of social embeddedness: strong and weak ties. (1) Strong social ties include family, kin and close friends, while "strong" also means that the relationship is direct and obligatory. Weak social ties include relationships such as those with colleagues, neighbours and friends of friends, while "weak" also means that the relationship is indirect and non-obligatory. Many empirical studies have been carried out to test hypotheses of strong or weak ties and these provided mixed findings. It seems that weak ties are more applicable in Occidental or Western countries (2) while empirical findings in Oriental or Asian countries provide evidence of strong ties. (3) It is suggested that this is explained by either institutional differences or by cultural differences. (4)

However, since the 1990s, more and more studies have focused on another important issue: "institutional embeddedness". Brinton and Kariya (5) carried out pioneering research on the relationship between institutional embeddedness and job search in the Japanese labour market. They categorised job search according to three patterns:

(i) Non-embeddedness or atomistic job search, which means applying for jobs directly to employers and without an intermediary, whether a person or an organisation. It is assumed that, in the labour market, each individual as a "rational person" behaves like an independent atom. The most important thing is the human capital that one owns; in other words, "what you know" mainly determines the status of your employment.

(ii) Social embeddedness, or job search through interpersonal ties, is described as "private social capital" in some studies. (6) Here, there is a personal intermediary between the buyer and the seller in the job market. This may be a relative, a classmate, a friend or others. Such a personal intermediary has a bridging function, providing transactional information between the employer and the job-seeker. It means that in the job market, "who you know" and "the relationship between those you know" are very important. As mentioned above, social embeddedness includes strong and weak ties.

(iii) Institutional embeddedness, or job search through organisations to which applicants belong, e.g., connections between the schools of new graduates and potential employers, is known as "institutional social capital" in order to distinguish this from "private social capital". (7) It is different from social embeddedness in that the intermediary is not a person. Instead, it is the organisation to which the job-seeker belongs, and which shares a tie with the potential employer. The main thrust here is not "who you know" but "how you know who you know".

Brinton and Kariya (8) argued that when employers, who are essentially buyers of labour, seek high-quality employees, they are more willing to establish an institutional relationship with higher education institutions as suppliers of labour, as employers could benefit from this type of investment by attracting or recruiting high-quality candidates. The same logic could also be applied to the higher education institutions. As they wish to enhance their reputation as providers of "quality education", they are motivated to introduce their graduates to potential employers and seek to build links with firms. In short, institutional embeddedness is likely to predominate as a recruitment or job-search pattern when employers pay more attention to getting high-quality employees and higher education institutions pay more attention to their reputation for educational quality.

Brinton and Kariya (9) found that in Japan: (i) the higher the employee's educational level as a proxy for high-quality labour, the greater the probability was of job search through institutional embeddedness; (ii) the younger the cohort, the greater the probability was of job search through institutional embeddedness; (iii) institutional ties were the most likely channels through which graduates joined large firms. …

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