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Title: How Does Size Matter? Skill formation processes in large and small engineering firms
Authors: Bishop, Daniel
First Published: Nov-2014
Presented at: Annual Conference of the Institute of Small Business and Entrepreneurship, Manchester
Start Date: 5-Nov-2014
End Date: 6-Nov-2014
Publisher: Institute of Small Business and Entrepreneurship
Abstract: Objectives The paper reports on one part of a research project that aims to improve understanding of how skill formation processes operate in firms of different sizes. The particular focus of the paper falls upon apprentices in mechanical engineering firms, and how their experience of the apprenticeship differs depending on the size of their employing organisation. Prior Work This issue is raised at a time when recent recessionary conditions have placed investment in skills at risk, and is prompted by survey evidence showing that small firms (which employ over half of the private sector workforce) display much lower levels of employee training, on average, than do their larger counterparts. Consequently, some commentators have claimed that small firms represent a learning-impoverished – or ‘restrictive’ – environment that disadvantages both the firms and those who work within them. Others, however, have argued that surveys of training neglect other, more informal modes of learning on which small firms tend to rely. As yet, no research has systematically confronted this debate; it is this gap that the study aims to address. Approach Qualitative research (focusing on interviews, supported by some documentary analysis and workplace observation) has been conducted in three firms of differing sizes in the mechanical engineering sector. Results Emerging themes suggest that generalisations about the informality or paucity of learning in small businesses relative to their larger counterparts – while partly accurate – tell only part of the story. Formal and informal learning combine in complex ways – with differing implications for employees – in all sizes of organisation. It is not inevitably the case that small firms or their employees are disadvantaged by their lower rates of training participation. Implications The findings have significant implications for government skills policy. In particular, policy makers should assist small firms in forming their own ‘expansive learning environments’ without assuming that formal, accredited training is the only valid conduit for learning. Value The paper’s value lies in its capacity to shift academic debate beyond formal / informal dichotomies when it comes to learning in small firms, and to provide a firmer evidence base for government skills policies.
Embargo on file until: 1-Jan-10000
Version: Post-print
Status: Peer-reviewed
Type: Conference Paper
Rights: Embargoed pending copyright clearance with publisher
Appears in Collections:Conference Papers & Presentations, School of Management

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