Dual Systems?

A couple of posts back I noted, with sarcasm, the J.P. Mo/Teach For America arrangement.  Although the numbers involved there will presumably stay low, the tie points to a more general phenomenon, albeit one more common in Europe and other countries were ‘skills’ are constructed as firm-specific rather than ‘general.’  The distinction comes from the “Varieties of Capitalism” literature, and one of the key figures in that area is Kathleen Thelen.  I was listening to a podcast of a lecture she gave at the London School of Economics (which does a wonderful job of making its lectures available as podcasts (they also include the long question-answer sessions).  Thelen mentions, in the Q&A, [in my rough transcription, which should be checked as I’m sure I’ve missed a few words]

In Germany  . . . the vocational model is bleeding into academic model . . . . The newest trend in Bavarian and Baden-Wurttemberg is for firms to work in collaboration with local universities to get their curricular adopted.  They work with these universiteis  – the only way you can get into those training programs, you cannot just apply to those universities to get into those training programs – it’s called dual study program in Germany.  Daimler does it, big in Baden-Wurttemberg – it’s spreading. In order to get into the programs, you have to be hired by the firm.  And then with that access you suddenly now have available to you college-level courses and you will get a college credential; so you’re learning both a practical credential and a college credential at the same time. And what’s interesting to me – I see this as the vocational model bleeding into or invading higher education, as opposed to the other way around, which is how you could also imagine it, where the higher education model would sort of dominate the vocational model.  So I see these firms as directly addressing what you correctly point out is their real need for skills at the high end – engineering skills – but they’re doing so in a way that captures – captures – curricula in these institutions of higher education. And I think that’s a very interesting … that’s a not wonderful development, because that’s really dualization then.  Then we’re talking about people who do not get any apprenticeship at the low end, and then people who only have access to these engineering degrees that actually segue into work afterwards.   I mean, it’s really – I can’t say, they’re very high quality educations.  These kids are very well served.  I know a lot of parents who want their kids to be in exactly this system as opposed to just getting an engineering degree in the traditional way.  Me personally, I study the development of vocational training over a long period of time, and it reminds me of developments in the early 20th Century when firms dominated local economies and were essentially running their own schools.   I worry a little about that.

The idea here is not “dual credit” as we know it in the states, but a dual system in which a small group is trained in firm-specific skills with assurance of employment and everyone else gets general skills and what’s available — the precariat.

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