Collective Skill Formation in Liberal Market Economies?

The Politics of Training Reforms in Australia, Ireland and the United Kingdom

by Janis Vossiek (Author)
©2018 Thesis 230 Pages


The book captures the development and variety of vocational training institutions in Australia, Ireland and the United Kingdom since World War II from a comparative perspective. While all three countries have undertaken several attempts to reform training from classical craft apprenticeships towards modern dual apprenticeships, their reform processes have yielded divergent results: In the United Kingdom training became largely organized around a publicly financed "training market" with little influence for employers and unions in training politics. Conversely, the social partners were included in reform processes and the provision of training in Ireland and Australia, which enabled the development of dual apprenticeships. These differences, which have been largely neglected in political science and education studies alike, are explained by the interaction between partisan governments and organized interests. Only non-right governments managed to bring together employers and unions in training reforms, which was the main political prerequisite for the development of dual apprenticeships.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Preface and acknowledgements
  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. Collective skill formation in liberal market economies? The role of political parties, industrial relations and path dependence
  • 3. United Kingdom – much ado about nothing and the persistence of voluntarism?
  • 4. Ireland – apprenticeships and social partnership as a sustainable model?
  • 5. Australia – joint economic restructuring and a slow shift to marketization
  • 6. Conclusion
  • References
  • Appendix A: List of interviews by code and date
  • Appendix B: List of abbreviations
  • Series index

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Preface and acknowledgements

This book and its author have come a long way. Thus, I would like to thank the many individuals without whose generous support this book would not have been possible. It is fair to say that the long road to the publication of this monograph, which is based on the dissertation that I wrote in Konstanz from 2011 to 2015, started early on in my undergraduate studies at the University of Bremen. In 2004 I met Herbert Obinger, who spurred my interest in comparative welfare state research and gave me the opportunity to work as his research assistant until 2009. Just when I had almost given up hope to find my place in the academic market for doctoral positions, his extremely generous letter of recommendation supported the invitation for a job interview with Marius Busemeyer in 2010, who then hired me as a doctoral researcher for his new research group on the ‘The Politics of Education and Training Reforms in Western Welfare States’. I gratefully acknowledge the German Research Foundation’s funding for that project (Grant BU 1852/4-1), without which this book probably had never seen the light of day. Words cannot express how lucky I feel to have worked with Marius, whose intellectual rigour, prudence and kind-heartedness still strike me as a scarce combination in academia.

When I started my position at the University of Konstanz in 2011, I was very happy to find a stimulating and intellectually challenging work environment at the Fachbereich Politik- und Verwaltungswissenschaft, and I wish to thank its whole administration, but especially Michael Schumacher, Werner Palz and Ulrike Haas-Spohn, for supporting us busy researchers with whatever queries we brought forward to them. In my six years at the University of Konstanz, I had the pleasure of working and conversing with my colleagues at the chair of Marius and I profited from the intellectual input and support of Julian L. Garritzmann, Raphaela Schlicht-Schmaelzle, Michael Dobbins, Susanne Münn, Erik Neimanns, Aurélien Abrassart, Roula Nezi, Ulrich Glassmann, Susanne Haastert, Dominik Lober, Nona Bledow, Philip Rathgeb, Margot Beier, Yvonne Aymar and our ‘adjunct chair member’, Sophia Timmermann. ← 7 | 8 → Moreover, I gratefully acknowledge the work of Anne-Sophie Fendrich, Lina Seitzl, Dana Behrens, Marie-Louise Zeller, Friederike Strub, Tobias Tober, Maximilian Gahntz, Teuta Kallco and Charlotte Kurz who worked with me as student assistants and who superbly carried out the tasks, both complicated and menial, that I gave them. I am also indebted to the brilliant Silja Häusermann for agreeing to become my second supervisor and to Sven Jochem, who chaired my dissertation committee on 12 May 2015.

Of course the preface to a book such as this one would be incomplete if it did not mention all the wonderful people, who supported me in my fieldwork in England, Ireland and Australia. Paul Ryan from King’s College Cambridge kindly hosted my stay in England from September to December 2012 and I benefited massively from his insightfulness and deep understanding of the intricacies of British post-war vocational education and training development. Len O’Conner gave me a second home in Ireland in October 2012 and supported me in manifold ways and I wish him all the best for the future. Finally, the management of the National Centre for Vocational Education Research, but especially Josie Misko and her partner Michael, made Adelaide a splendid experience for me, and Craig Robertson and Phillip Toner made getting in touch with Australian VET experts much easier than I had expected. I feel deeply indebted to all of them. Finally, I wish to thank all my interviewees for sharing their invaluable insights, which made my research possible in the first place.

I am also grateful for the opportunity to present my work on various workshops and conferences in Paris, Bern, Konstanz, Zurich, Milan, Bremen, Cambridge (MA), Berkeley (CA), Berlin, Rotterdam and Dublin and for the insightful feedback, encouragement and – sometimes harsh – criticism from which this book has profited enormously. For supporting me in my intellectual ventures, I want to thank Ben Ansell, Fabienne-Agnes Baumann, Chiara Benassi, Robert J. Bennett, Lorenzo Bonoli, Christian Breunig, Tracy Burns, Remi Castioni, Ute Clement, Pepper D. Culpepper, Thomas Deissinger, Camilla Devitt, Philipp Eigenmann, Patrick Emmenegger, Dietmar Frommberger, Leonard Geyer, Howard Gospel, Lukas Graf, Anton Hemerijck, Jens Jungblut, Florian G. Kern, Dirk Leuffen, Guilherme Magalhães, Jörg Markowitsch, David Marsden, Cathie Jo Martin, Rita Nikolai, Barry ← 8 | 9 → Nyhan, Kerstin Rothe, David Rueda, Lisa Rustico, Detlef Sack, Erica Smith, Christine Trampusch and Tim Vlandas. Of course, the usual disclaimer applies: all those named in this preface bear no responsibility for any remaining errors and this book might be more lucid had I heeded all their advice. I would also like to thank Anja Heikkinen and Philipp Gonon for generously accepting my work into their series, and especially Johanna Lüder of Peter Lang, whose patience I have stretched more than I wished. Thanks are also due to David Michael for improving the style of the manuscript from its original Teutonic English into the current version.

Last, but most important, this book would not have been imaginable without the unwavering support of my friends and family. Niels Borgmann comes closest to being the brother that I will never have, and Jan Neugebauer was a congenial company during my stay in Australia. Günter Vossiek will always inspire me to be creative. My aunts and uncles, Doro, Irmi, Ronny, Julia, Anna, Dagmar, Wigbert, Stefan and Georg, always had kind words for me. I am always happy to enjoy the company and kindness of my grandfather Henry and his partner Helene, and, and I cannot express the gratitude to my mother Ulla enough – I am truly proud to be the son of such a wonderful, warm-hearted person.

Finally, I dedicate this book to my father, Heri, who passed away far before his time and to my grandmother, Irmgard Roecken, who passed away at the point of writing. Having lived through the Second World War and its aftermath, she managed to raise ten fine children and I am certain that thinking of her will always keep me humble and remind me how privileged I am to be an academic.

On a final personal note, I hope that this book will be heavily criticised if this leads to more intellectual exchange between political economists and vocational training scholars as both would profit from a more careful reading of each other’s work. I attempted to make this book accessible to both ‘camps’ to the best of my abilities.

Janis Vossiek

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1.  Introduction

In the last two decades, debates on skill formation have gained the attention of politicians and political economist alike. Elaborate typologies of different skill-formation regimes have been established but there remains a large and unresolved debate on how far different models of producing skills are transferable from one institutional context to another. There is a closely related question: under which domestic politico-economic conditions will vocational education and training (VET) regimes converge on a common model of training (Busemeyer & Vossiek 2016). This pertains to the institutions underpinning different systems of skill formation, but especially to the political conditions under which such transformations might occur. The present book contributes to this debate by analysing the trajectory of dual apprenticeships in three countries, which are commonly assumed to offer little institutional support for this type of training: Ireland, Australia and the United Kingdom.

Dual apprenticeships are the prevalent form of VET in collective skill-formation regimes (Busemeyer & Trampusch 2012a), which are based on intensive cooperation between multiple actors in the design of VET policies and the politics of VET reform. The two main characteristics of collective skill formation are that responsibilities for training provision and governance are shared between employers, trade unions and governments and that firms are strongly involved in the financing of training, which offers young workers certified and portable skills (ibid). Initial VET in the form of dual apprenticeships can provide young workers and companies with skills that are viable for a large number of occupations and thus contribute to the overall skill stock of an economy. Today, among policy circles and political scientists, it is conventional wisdom that dual apprenticeships are important for economic competitiveness in coordinated market economies (CMEs), whereas they have languished in liberal market economies (LMEs), which instead relied on higher education as the principal mode of post-secondary education. One crucial, potentially pivotal, difference between these countries is the role of strategic coordination between firms, their associations and ← 11 | 12 → unions, which can be supported by governments in various ways not only in direct VET-provision, but also in the institutions of industrial relations that embed skill-formation systems (Hall & Soskice 2001a). Whereas CMEs are replete with institutions that facilitate multiple-actor cooperation in VET, these institutions are usually deemed to be absent in LMEs (Bosch & Charest 2008, Finegold & Soskice 1988), which are characterized by liberal labour market institutions and ‘voluntarist principles’ of training provision and regulation (King 1997).

Nevertheless, historically, apprenticeships were a viable way of skill formation cutting across different configurations of Western European industrial democracies and only started to diverge heavily in their development in the post-war period (Ansell 2010, Busemeyer 2015: 3). Conventional wisdom holds that apprenticeships faced a strong decline across all LMEs (Bosch & Charest 2008), as these countries failed to establish institutions that could have underpinned collective approaches to VET. In their absence, firms are bereft of incentives to invest in the skills of their employees due to coordination and poaching problems (Estévez-Abe et al. 2001, Finegold & Soskice 1988, Hall & Soskice 2001a).


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2018 (August)
Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2018. 230 pp., 1 table

Biographical notes

Janis Vossiek (Author)

Janis Vossiek holds a Doctor of Social Sciences from the University of Konstanz and currently works as a senior researcher at the University of Osnabrück. His main fields of research are comparative political economy.and policy analysis. A major focus of his work is the international comparison of vocational training systems and training reforms.


Title: Collective Skill Formation in Liberal Market Economies?
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231 pages