Annual EBHS Conference, 39th Annual Economic and Business History Society Conference

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Company-based vocational education and training – two case-studies from the shipbuilding industry
Etsuo Yokoyama, Anders Nilsson

Last modified: 2014-05-19


In modern society, the training of workers is divided between public and private actors. The provision of general skills is mainly financed with public means and to a large extent handled by public bodies. In the case of specific skills (on the distinction between general and specific skills see Becker 1964) the pattern is more diversified. Most companies invest in the training of their employees, mainly in the form of company-specific training. The organisation of other, less specific forms training differs markedly between countries. Initial vocational education and training is usually paid for with public means (even though financing in many cases is supplemented with specific levies) but a substantial number of actors may be involved in the actual operation. In this paper we discuss why some companies engage heavily in initial vocational education and training. By doing so, they assume big responsibilities and high costs. From the companies’ point of view this constitutes an investment on which they expect a return.

From a historical perspective, the formation of skilled labour was for a long time a matter for private actors, often within a crafts and guilds system but in some cases also outside (De Munck et. al. 2007, Bessen 2003). However, by the end of the nineteenth century these measures were generally considered to be insufficient. Skilled workers needed not only practical skills but also some theoretical understanding of the complex processes in modern companies. In the industrializing countries, entire systems for vocational education and training were formed, often with distinct characteristics (cf. Thelen 2004). It is notable that, regardless of what vocational training system that emerged, some companies engaged more intensely in vocational training than others. In this paper, we discuss factors that influence a company’s decision to take a very intense part in initial vocational education and training, namely to found and operate a factory school.

Methodologically, we use a case-study approach by investigating the development of vocational education and training in two big shipyards, the Japanese Mitsubishi Nagasaki shipyard and the Swedish Kockums Mekaniska Verkstad. The Japanese study covers the origin of systematic vocational education and training in the company as well as the development during the subsequent three decades, or more precisely the period 1899 – 1934. This implies that the first case more or less coincides with the early phases of Japan´s industrialization. The Swedish study covers the entire period the company operated initial vocational education and training, namely 1943 – 1968. At that time, Sweden was a mature industrial nation. Thus, the branch of industry is the same in the two cases but we allow for temporal and cultural differences. By doing so, we are able to distinguish between specific and general factors behind the decision to found and operate vocational education and training.