The institutional arrangements governing skill formation are widely seen as a key element in the institutional constellations defining 'varieties of capitalism' across the developed democracies. This book explores the origins and evolution of such institutions in four countries - Germany, Britain, the United States and Japan. It traces cross-national differences in contemporary training regimes back to the nineteenth century, and specifically to the character of the political settlement achieved among employers in skill-intensive industries, artisans, and early trade unions. The book also tracks evolution and change in training institutions over a century of development, uncovering important continuities through putative 'break points' in history. Crucially, it also provides insights into modes of institutional change that are incremental but cumulatively transformative. The study underscores the limits of the most prominent approaches to institutional change, and identifies the political processes through which the form and functions of institutions can be radically reconfigured over time.
'This book should be required reading for every academic writing about, or conducting research into, skills. ... I can thoroughly recommend this book.' Industrial Relations Journal
"One cannot praise enough Thelen's continuing contribution to the progress of institutional theory, especially the theory of institutional change. She masterfully weaves together a comparative tale of four countries to provide a critique of the functionalist rationalism of much of the current debate on institutions and economic systems in general."
Wolfgang Streeck, The Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies
"Why do institutions vary across nations? How do institutions persist and change over time? Exploring vocational and skills training in major industrial nations, Kathleen Thelen casts new theoretical light on these fundamental questions. This brilliant book is a must-read, not only for students of the political economy of advanced industrial societies, but for all social scientists grappling with how to explain institutional development."
Theda Skocpol, Harvard University
"This brilliant book, focussing on Germany in comparison to the UK, the US and Japan, makes three major and original contributions to the comparative political economy literature. First, Thelen provides a coherent comparative theory of why training systems differ across developed economies today based on the differences in institutional settlements a century or more earlier between business, unions and artisans. Second, and supplementing this, she develops a theory of institutional change which shows (contrary to the standard punctuated equilibria argument) how institutions embody continuities through reconfiguration even in the face of major external shocks. Third, she establishes the critical role of business in the evolution of training systems. Beyond these achievements, her analytic skill and her use of rich historical sources make the book a quite compelling read."
David Soskice, Duke University
"This is a superb work of comparative historical political economy. It makes a sound and enlightening empirical contribution to our understanding of the emergence of four quite distinct national systems of vocational training."
H-Net Book Review, H-German
"Full of intelligence, Thelen's book is an important study in labor history and labor economics, and it should be ready by all who are interested in the role and development of social institutions."
Gerald Friedman, Industrial and Labor Relations Review
"It is rare to have the opportunity to read such a masterful survey of the historical development of industrial training in four of the world's major industrial economies, Germany, Britain, Japan and the US. Thelen has achieved a tour de force in covering the institutional evolution, the political strategies of the actors and their interaction over a century. Her study is also a true exercise in comparative analysis, in which the contrasting experience of the four countries is used to highlight the range of different institutional paths taken by skill formation in these four countries."
British Journal of Industrial Relations
"This is an excellent piece of scholarship. It adds substantialy to our understanding of labor markets and of economic and political institutions in general...Researchers focused on specific issues of human capital investment, as well as those interested in very large questions about the nature of institutions, will find this book to be a provocative read." - EH.Net, Thomas N. Maloney, University of Utah