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Mechanics of class : social structure and action in the apprenticeable skilled trades at a Canadian naval… Meredith, John Franklin 2008

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MECHANICS OF CLASS: Social Structure and Action in the Apprenticeable Skilled Trades at a Canadian Naval Dockyard by John Franklin Meredith B.A., University of Victoria, 1984 M.A., University of Victoria, 1988  A DISSERTATION SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY in The Faculty of Graduate Studies (Educational Studies)  THE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA (Vancouver) September 2008  © John Franklin Meredith, 2008  ABSTRACT Commentary on skilled trades occupations in Canada has been framed by two main paradigms: The dominant policy discourse has applied human capital theory to the dynamics of the skilled labour supply, often concentrating on intractable “problems” such as low apprenticeship participation and completion rates and an extreme gender imbalance in the trades. Sociological research has portrayed trades occupations as positions of structurally reproduced social disadvantage. This study adopts an alternate, neo-Weberian framework centred on the theory of economic social action. Social structure is treated in strictly nominalistic terms, and social action is rooted in the interest-oriented behaviour of socially embedded individuals. The study, undertaken in a large public-sector shipyard, involved both a pen-and-paper survey (N=509) of skilled trades workers and ten focus group interviews with 49 respondents from labour and management. The research questions addressed indicators of structural (dis)advantage and reproduction, as well as the specific mechanisms of social action operating within the study environment. The population shows a very distinct profile in terms of gender, ethnicity, and educational investment. Data on earnings, job security, and working conditions dispel any suspicion of economic disadvantage. Although a high proportion of incumbents have family connections to the skilled trades, an analysis of their siblings’ occupations refutes the supposition of structural determinism through the family. Instead, it is argued that both the social profile of the workforce and the high density of family and network connections reflect the use of “bridging” and “bonding” social capital strategies by study population members. The operative mechanisms include formal elements of the organization’s hiring practices, as well as institutionalized group norms and workplace culture. Through a “separatist” discourse that invokes notions of both “trade stigma” and “trade pride,” incumbents ascribe a particular set of cognitive and moral attributes to trades workers, which also contribute to defining the formal and informal membership requirements for their occupations. By approaching occupations as sites of economic social action, this research concludes that some of the intractable “problems” in Canada’s apprenticeable trades reflect individual behaviours that are enabled and incited by institutional features integral to the present skilled trades system. ii  TABLE OF CONTENTS Abstract ...................................................................................................................... ii Table of Contents ...................................................................................................... iii List of Tables ..............................................................................................................v Abbreviations ............................................................................................................ ix Acknowledgements ....................................................................................................x Dedication ................................................................................................................. xi Disclaimer ................................................................................................................ xii Chapter 1 Problem and Overview ............................................................................. 1 Chapter 2 Problems and Paradigms in the Skilled Trades Literature ...................... 10 Problems and paradigms .................................................................... 11 Research framework........................................................................... 34 Research questions ............................................................................ 52 Chapter 3 Research Methods ................................................................................. 54 Quantitative methods and sources ..................................................... 56 Interview research .............................................................................. 68 Chapter 4 Findings: Social Structure ....................................................................... 76 Demographics..................................................................................... 76 Advantage and disadvantage ............................................................. 78 Family patterns ................................................................................. 113 iii  Conclusions ...................................................................................... 119 Chapter 5 Findings: Social Action ........................................................................ 123 Membership processes ..................................................................... 123 Trades identity – pride and stigma .................................................... 132 Identity and membership .................................................................. 141 Summary .......................................................................................... 157 Chapter 6 Discussion and Further Research ........................................................ 159 Bibliography .......................................................................................................... 171 Appendix A Supplementary Tables ..................................................................... 195 Appendix B Research Approvals......................................................................... 218 Appendix C Survey Instrument ............................................................................ 221 Appendix D Interview Guides .............................................................................. 238  iv  LIST OF TABLES Table 3.1  Survey population characteristics and response rates ...................................65  Table 3.2  CTS survey responses by occupational title, and ISCO and ISEI code .........68  Table 3.3  Project chronology ..........................................................................................75  Table 4.1  Demographic features of CTS population by employment tenure, and comparisons with Victoria area.......................................................................77  Table 4.2  Comparative wage rates: CFBE, selected collective agreements, and labour force data .....................................................................................82  Table 4.3  Median earnings - Persons 15 years and over who worked full year; full time – Victoria and British Columbia ($)....................................................83  Table 4.4  Educational attainment by occupational group, percent .................................88  Table 4.5  Educational attainment by age cohort, percent ..............................................90  Table 4.6  Selected literacy indicators by occupation – percent scoring at level 3 or higher ..............................................................................................91  Table 4.7  Workplace and leisure use of selected literacy skills – mean scores by occupational group ....................................................................................92  Table 4.8  Summary of selected literacy confidence indicators by education ................94  Table 4.9  Selected indicators of training participation by ISCO occupational group, percent. ..........................................................................................................96  Table 4.10  Nature of main education/training received in last two years, percent ...........97  Table 4.11  Recent participation in training or education by selected characteristics, percent ...........................................................................................................98  Table 4.12  Work life preferences, percent .....................................................................102  v  Table 4.13  Respondents’ comparisons of themselves with their peers in terms of income and job quality by age, percent. .....................................108  Table 4.14  Respondents’ comparisons of themselves with their peers in terms of education, by educational attainment, percent ...........................110  Table 4.15  Perceived ease of meeting job-search contacts, percent .............................111  Table 4.16  Participation in workplace and community activities, percent.......................112  Table 4.17  Factors affecting the predominant careers of respondents’ siblings ............116  Table 4.18  Attitudes toward trades and DND careers, percent ......................................120  Table 5.1  Workplace trust and cohesion ......................................................................128  Table 5.2  Perceived constraints on career choice; percent who agree or strongly agree. ...............................................................................135  Table 5.3  Views on career and education, by educational attainment, percent ...........136  Table T100  Respondents’ reasons for considering other employment, percent .............196  Table T101  Selected indicators of employment history, averages ..................................196  Table T102  Age of commencing apprenticeship by country of birth, percent ..................197  Table T103  Workplace literacy confidence by education, percent ..................................197  Table T104  Grades in highest year of school by educational attainment ........................198  Table T105  Selected literacy activities by educational attainment ..................................198  Table T105 (continued) Table T106  Selected literacy activities by educational attainment ....................199  Perceived constraints on career options by educational attainment, percent agreeing or strongly agreeing .......................................................................200  Table T107  Perceived influences of people on decision to enter the skilled trades by educational attainment, percent agreeing or strongly agreeing....................201  Table T108  Work life preferences by age cohort, percent ...............................................202 vi  Table T109  Work life preferences by educational attainment..........................................202  Table T110  Difference perceived by respondents between their present standard of living and that of their parents during their own youth, by ISEI of father’s occupation, percent .........................................................203  Table T111  Difference perceived by respondents between their present standard of living and that of their parents during their own youth, by father’s education, percent ......................................................................203  Table T112  Difference perceived by respondents between their present standard of living and that of their parents during their own youth, by mother’s education, percent ....................................................................204  Table T113  Difference perceived by respondents between their present standard of living and that of their parents during their own youth, by age, percent .............................................................................................204  Table T114  Occupations of respondents’ fathers ............................................................205  Table T115  Occupations of respondents’ siblings ...........................................................205  Table T116  Educational attainment of respondents’ parents, percent ............................206  Table T117  Educational attainment of respondents’ parents by age cohort, percent......206  Table T118  Respondents’ education by parents’ education ............................................207  Table T119  Respondent has a father and/or a sibling in a skilled trade, by age cohort, percent ..................................................................................207  Table T120  Respondent has a father and/or a sibling in a skilled trade, by father’s education, percent ......................................................................208  Table T121  Respondent has a father and/or a sibling in a skilled trade, by mother’s education, percent ....................................................................208  Table T122  Predominant career of respondents’ siblings by age cohort, percent...........208  vii  Table T123  Predominant career of respondents’ siblings by mothers’ education, percent .........................................................................................................209  Table T124  Predominant career of respondents’ siblings by fathers’ education, percent .........................................................................................................209  Table T125  Predominant career of respondents’ siblings by fathers’ occupation, percent .........................................................................................................210  Table T130  Perceived influence of parents on respondents’ career choice by fathers’ occupation, percent. ........................................................................212  Table T131  Source of respondent’s prior contact to the employer by father’s occupation, percent. .....................................................................................213  Table T133  Agreement with Holland’s “Realistic” vocational type, percent .....................214  Table T134  Pride in the military mission of the organization, percent .............................214  Table T135  Respondents’ comparisons of their education, income, and job quality with those of their peers, by age cohort, percent .......................215  Table T136  Educational attainment by age and occupation, percent ..............................216  viii  ABBREVIATIONS  BC  British Columbia  CF  Canadian Forces  CFB CFBE  Canadian Forces Base Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt  CTS  Civilian Trades Survey (the survey conducted as part of the present study)  DND  Department of National Defence  EILM  extended internal labour market  ESA FGDTLC(W) FILM HR  economic social action Federal Government Dockyard Trades and Labour Council (West) firm-internal labour market human resources  IALSS  International Adult Literacy Skills Survey (2003)  ISCED  International Standard Classification of Education  ISCO  International Standard Classification of Occupations, 1988  ISEI  International Socio-Economic Index of Occupational Status  ITA ITAC  Industry Training Authority Industry Training and Apprenticeship Commission  LFS  Labour Force Survey (Statistics Canada)  NDP  New Democratic Party (British Columbia)  NOC  National Occupational Classification (Canada)  OLM  occupational labour market  PSAC  Public Service Alliance of Canada  PSC  Public Service Commission  PSE  post-secondary education  PSEA SES TVET UBC UNDE  Public Service Employment Act (2005) socioeconomic status technical and vocational education and training University of British Columbia Union of National Defence Employees  VIH  Vancouver Island Highway project  WITT  Women in Trades and Technology  ix  ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS This project would have been impossible without the hard work and good will of literally hundreds of people at Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt and 19 Wing Comox. Mary Coakley, the Fleet Human Resources Business Manager, had the vision to support the initial proposal, and the expertise and influence to mobilize countless others at all levels of the organization. My promise of confidentiality prohibits the mention of other names, but I am enormously grateful to all of those, both military and civilian, who contributed their time, energy, material resources, and above all their ideas, to ensuring the success of the project. In return I can only hope that this research reflects their dedication to the apprenticeable trades, and that it may contribute to the advancement of rewarding, stimulating, and productive manualtechnical careers. I also wish to thank my research supervisor, Dr. Kjell Rubenson, and committee members Dr. Charles Ungerleider and Dr. André Mazawi for their thoughtful guidance, support, and good humour throughout the project. Working with this team has been both a pleasure and a wonderfully rich learning experience. To Kjell, especially, I owe a great debt for his constructive and clear-eyed attention to both the forest and the trees, and for his seemingly inexhaustible patience. Generous financial assistance from the University of British Columbia, SSHRC, and Camosun College made the project much less stressful, and is greatly appreciated. The unflagging support of my family, and above all my wife, has been my greatest gift ever, on this adventure as on all the others.  x  DEDICATION  For Leslie Anne  xi  DISCLAIMER  The opinions expressed in this document are those of the author and are not necessarily those of the Department of National Defence or the Canadian Forces  xii  Chapter 1  CHAPTER 1 Problem and Overview After many years as a relatively obscure branch of post-secondary education, the option of apprenticeship for the skilled trades has recently made a resurgence, both in terms of its public visibility and its success in recruiting new participants. The reasons for this turnaround, as well as its long-term implications, are unclear. Part of the credit for it is claimed by managers of a massive public relations campaign, which invested millions of dollars in media messages and school outreach activities to “reposition” the skilled trades as occupations of choice in the minds of children and their parents (Canadian Apprenticeship Forum, 2006; Skills Compétences Canada, 2001). It also coincided, particularly in western Canada, with rapidly rising demand for manual-technical labour, driven both by a booming resource-sector economy and a surge in construction related to the 2010 winter Olympics. Other possible factors that have been cited are an apparent plateau in young men’s participation in university studies and, in British Columbia, a recent major overhaul of the provincial apprenticeship system (Industry Training Authority, 2008). This resurgence also re-energizes longstanding debates over the economic and social dimensions of vocational training, and the ultimate rewards and risks of careers in the apprenticeable skilled trades. The present study seeks to engage with these debates by means of a case study of skilled trades workers in a large naval dockyard. Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt (CFBE) is the home port of Canada’s Pacific naval fleet, and the largest, single-site employer of skilled trades persons in British Columbia. In addition to its large contingent of military personnel the facility also employs over one thousand civilian skilled trades workers to maintain both the fleet and the land-based infrastructure associated with it. The site provides a rich case study: both its status as a public sector employer and its defence-related mandate give it some very specific characteristics as a workplace. At the same time, its extensive integration with the surrounding labour market and community, private-sector industry, and the education system give it broader relevance in both practical and theoretical terms. While features of the Dockyard suggests enormous possibilities for sociological research, the present study is concerned with it  1  Chapter 1  primarily as a workplace of civilian skilled tradespersons whose qualifications and daily activities would be readily recognized in many other Canadian work sites.  Theoretical framework  The study draws on concepts from the broad field of neo-Weberian literature that has emerged mainly since the mid 1980s, including works in the “new economic sociology” and social capital theory. Related themes have also been explored both before this period and in other research traditions, by scholars including Bourdieu (1990), Hirsch, (1976), and Goldthorpe (1998). A key precept of this research paradigm involves attending to – but also clearly distinguishing between – both social structure and social action. Social structure is understood nominalistically as a spatial metaphor that aids in visualizing social relations. Understood this way, structural concepts such as class are simply heuristics and cannot be mistaken to have causal influence in their own right. Rather, observed patterns in social data, including temporal patterns of change or persistence (“social reproduction”), must be explained separately, by reference to theories of social action. In the neo-Weberian literature on economic sociology, the root driver of social action is assumed to be the pursuit of self-interest by individuals whose behaviour is “always-already” embedded in social relations and institutions. This framework is attractive both for its ability to bridge gaps between economistic and sociological accounts of education and work, and for its practical applicability to the case research. The majority of the scholarly and policy-oriented literature on the skilled trades in Canada has come from the perspective of labour market economics and human capital theory. Within this paradigm, research is centrally concerned with explaining how the rational behaviour of actors in the market affects the supply of skilled labour. Issues of skill shortage and unemployment, whether generalized or confined to particular sectors or social groups, are attributed to normal market processes and/or to market failures which may call for policy intervention. The main critiques of the human capital model come from structural sociology and political economy, and highlight the tendency for markets to perpetuate, and often exacerbate, social inequality. Although very little sociological research has focused specifically on the apprenticeable trades in Canada, a common charge has been that apprenticeship, as well as other forms of sub-baccalaureate vocational training, is generally an educational option for 2  Chapter 1  the socially disadvantaged. An aim of such research has been to identify the “barriers” that prevent students from succeeding in academic education and that lead them to the supposedly substandard, vocational route. Accordingly, sociologists have often been implicitly or overtly critical of government and industry efforts to entice youth into apprenticeship. Research in both the economic and the sociological traditions has provided valuable insights into factors affecting the fortunes of apprentices and skilled trades workers. However, their divergent concerns and modes of explanation also leave important blind spots. The economic literature has a powerful theory of action, rooted in the interest-seeking individual, but is insensitive to questions of social structure. Sociological research into the skilled trades has been attuned to macro-level patterns of advantage and disadvantage, but has been weak on explaining exactly how the structural positions of vocational trainees are replicated. A neo-Weberian framework offers the prospect of bringing structure and action together by examining how individual behaviour, occurring in the context of specific institutions, contributes to large-scale patterns of welfare and opportunity in society. In this case, the relevant institutions operate both within the case-study organization, in the form of human resources procedures, workplace cultural norms, and so on; and outside the organization in the form of established occupational and educational boundaries. Some examples from the recent history of British Columbia illustrate the dramatic influence that policies and organizational practices can have on the character of skilled trades occupations. For most of the twentieth century, the provincial apprenticeship system operated modestly and evolved incrementally, supplying skilled labour to the largely unionized pulp and paper and heavy construction sectors, and to the mainly non-union residential construction, automotive repair, and other service industries. The provincial Ministry of Labour, through a Provincial Apprenticeship Board (PAB), administered the indentureship process and granted certification in over 150 apprenticeable trades, as well as coordinating the delivery of in-class technical training for many of these through both public and private training providers including trade unions. The first major shifts in the system emerged in the early 1980s, when a sharp downturn in the primary resources economy, along with a stringent public-sector restraint program, led to high unemployment. Under pressure from non-union construction contractors, the Social Credit government introduced labour legislation reforms which substantially weakened the trade union movement, and opened several large, civil infrastructure projects to 3  Chapter 1  bids by non-union contractors. In 1990, the New Democratic Party (NDP) was elected, and began what would become a ten-year process of social-democratic reforms modeled partly on northern European principles of labour market management. Along with a strongly activist view of the state, the government also displayed a commitment to comprehensive or “joinedup” policy making, both in the sense of addressing multiple policy objectives at once, and engaging multiple interest groups. Under the banner of “Skills Now!”, the government’s comprehensive skills policy reforms mobilized the participation of business, labour, government, and community stakeholders, but also created a web of institutional supports for processes such as applied curriculum development, articulation of educational standards, workplace safety, and consumer protection. As part of the effort to expand participation in applied skills training, the government replaced the PAB with an Industry Training and Apprenticeship Commission (ITAC) overseen by a 27-member board representing the interests not only of industry, but also of labour, educators, women, and other equity groups. A hallmark of the NDP government was its use of public infrastructure investments as levers for combined policy objectives. Many of these came together in the government’s skills agenda, which sought to cope with the economic crisis by investing heavily in labour force development, and particularly in applied skills training (British Columbia Labour Force Development Board, 1995). “Fair Wage” legislation was introduced, which required bidders on public construction projects above a certain dollar value, whether they were unionized or not, to pay their workers according to a specified schedule, and to indenture a minimum ratio of apprentices to journeypersons. Apart from merely supporting the trade union movement, the government’s broader intent was to use the mechanisms of apprenticeship training and certification to build a vibrant, occupational labour market which would preserve the market value of skilled trades credentials and the viability of trades careers. In this vein, the government also seized upon the multi-billion dollar Vancouver Island Highway construction project as an opportunity to strengthen the trades workforce as a social and economic asset. A management structure was created to ensure that the project employed members of the economically depressed communities on the highway’s route, and that, by incorporating training and work placement services, it would help raise the proportion of “non-traditional” workers – particularly women and Aboriginal persons – in the skilled trades (M. G. Cohen & Braid, 2003). 4  Chapter 1  Most spectacularly, the NDP government also chose to parlay its need for an expanded coastal ferry fleet into an opportunity to revitalize the province’s moribund ship-building industry. Technical problems and massive cost overruns on the “fast ferry” project led to the NDP’s near annihilation in the 2000 provincial election, and a dramatic reversal in skills policy under a new, BC Liberal regime. Indeed, one of the first priorities of the new government was to dismantle the NDP’s labour force development mechanisms. Shortly after being elected, the BC Liberals unveiled plans to replace the broadly inclusive ITAC with a new Industry Training Authority (ITA) governed by a nine-member board drawn exclusively from industry. The centrepiece of the ITA’s mandate – implementation of a “New Model” of apprenticeship training – was an experiment no less radical than the NDP reforms, but premised on neo-liberal market principles. The initiative, which envisioned a highly flexible and demand-responsive labour market, involved two main thrusts. One was to reduce the direct burden of training on employers by eliminating the government’s role as a direct monitor of workplace-based apprenticeship training. The other involved the redefinition of occupational boundaries. Occupational titles such as Carpenter, which had been the currency of the former apprenticeship system, would be subdivided into smaller, modular credentials. By accumulating modules, apprentices could still qualify for full certification under the interprovincial system of “Red Seal” trades titles, but would also be able to terminate with a lesser credential, such as Construction Formwork Technician. The New Model fundamentally shifted the social contract implicit in the apprenticeship system. The provincial bureaucracy which had formerly refereed the relationship between apprentice and employer was eliminated, placing the onus on the apprentice to acquire the appropriate in-class training and workplacebased experience. Where the traditional system had gradually inducted the apprentice into a long-term vocational identity, the new model envisaged the trainee more as a competitive actor who invests in training as part of an open-ended career strategy. The New Model received a predictably hostile reception from craft trade unions, whose jurisdiction and relevance depend on traditional occupational boundaries (Canadian Union of Public Employees - BC Division, 2003), and by equity organizations that had enjoyed representation under the inclusive ITAC system. But it was also derided obliquely in a major report on PSE reform commissioned by the BC Liberal government itself and released in 2007 (British Columbia Ministry of Advanced Education, 2007). Notwithstanding their stark 5  Chapter 1  opposition on the roles of the state and the market, the skills policies of the BC NDP and Liberal governments had implicitly agreed on the structural separation, typical in Canadian post-secondary education, between applied vocational and academic streams. By contrast, the Campus 2020 report proposed an unbroken continuum or web of interconnected educational options, extending from pre-school through graduate school, and integrating as many forums and modes of learning as possible. Noting weaknesses in both the conventional and the “new” models of apprenticeship training in BC, it floated the idea of linking university and tradesvocational options, through mechanisms such as curricular laddering and cooperative education programs. These examples indicate that the recent history of skills policy in British Columbia has been marked by sharply divergent conceptions of the state (interventionist or laissez faire), the labour market (occupational or flexible), and the structure of the PSE system (parallel or continuous). They raise questions as to how the formal, institutional practices that define and sustain the skilled trades affect the interests and circumstances of particular social groups, and how adjusting those structures can affect outcomes such as apprenticeship enrolment and graduation, wage rates, and the participation and workplace experience of under-represented groups. The case study investigates how institutional factors affect the experience of trades employment, but also how behaviour within occupational groups helps to sustain institutional practices, and through them, structural relations of advantage, opportunity, and interaction within society. Two intertwined questions broadly frame the research, or perhaps a single question that can be approached from the perspectives of both structure and action. From the point of view of individual learners and workers, the question is: For whom, under what circumstances, and by what means do the apprenticeable skilled trades pay off? Phrased this way, the question suggests that the institutions and the informal social practices of the skilled trades system are passive resources, available to be seized by individual agency, with potential consequences for the actor’s welfare and relative social position. The alternative perspective highlights the fact that these “givens” are themselves the products of social action, created and sustained through motivated behaviour and shared understandings. From this perspective, the question is: What interests and strategies account for the formal institutional and the informal sociocultural  6  Chapter 1  features of the apprenticeable skilled trades as they currently exist in Canada? Again, it is assumed that the present arrangement has consequences for individuals’ welfare and for the macro-level distribution of advantage and opportunity within society. These broad concerns are operationalized as specific research questions at the end of Chapter 2, in light of the literature review and conceptual framework. Structure  The five following chapters describe the context, methods, empirical findings, and interpretation of the research. The literature review in Chapter 2 situates the study in relation to three main bodies of work. The first is a fairly large body of policy-oriented writing on the skilled trades, primarily in Canada, which is generally framed by the concepts and methods of labour market economics, including human capital theory. The overarching concern of this literature is with the labour market’s effectiveness in maintaining an appropriate skills supply, and specifically in the incentives and barriers that affect participation in skilled trades occupations and vocational training. This is followed by a discussion of selected sociological research, in which the central questions about trades occupations and trades training have to do with their implications for participants’ relative social status and life prospects. I argue that both the economic and the sociological literatures leave important gaps in our knowledge about the social outcomes and dynamics of the trades. Quantitative research on the skilled trades, whether by economists or sociologists, has depended on census and other large data sets whose categories make it difficult to discern important differences among specific occupations and educational options. Sociologists in Canada have tended to characterize “the trades” as monolithically substandard destinations, glossing over important variations both in the quality of trades jobs, and in the circumstances and strategic resources of individuals who participate in them. In two other bodies of literature, the trades appear as more desirable occupations: explicitly so in the public relations materials of apprenticeship renewal advocates; and at least implicitly in the work of those calling for greater access to trades jobs by women and other under-represented groups. The third major section of Chapter 2 proposes that concepts and methods from the neo-Weberian paradigm are useful both for bridging some of the themes of these distinct literatures, and for filling in some of the research gaps. Weber’s comments on class, status, rationality, and social closure not only inform important new avenues of social research, but also provide a conceptual common core that reveals affinities and permits 7  Chapter 1  communication among formerly isolated research areas. Branches of the new social research point to similar dynamics of strategic interest and group structure in phenomena as diverse as public preferences in education, the transmission of social status within families, and neighbourhood levels of public safety and trust. It is argued that these concepts also provide a useful framework for the case study. Chapter 3 describes and justifies the research methods used in the study. The field research was conducted between March 2007 and January 2008. The principal data source was a pen-andpaper survey of 509 skilled journeypersons and apprentices at the facility. The survey covered over 100 biographical and opinion variables, and had a response rate of 62%. To place the outcomes in perspective, results on several variables were compared with data from the 2003 IALSS survey. Data were analyzed using SPSS. In addition to the survey and other documentary research, twelve individual and group interviews were conducted with a total of 49 trades workers, managers, and labour representatives. The fourth and fifth chapters present the research findings. Drawing primarily on the quantitative data, Chapter 4 addresses questions of social structure. It assesses how the study population may be considered advantaged or disadvantaged on various indicators, and also examines intergenerational patterns in the families of the survey respondents. Data are also presented on the demographic profile of the study population, considering age, gender, first language and place of origin. Chapter 5 draws more heavily on the interview data to explore questions of social action. In both chapters, the interview comments are treated both as sources of face-value information, and as evidence of relevant attitudes, understandings and group norms. It is argued that key aspects of social structure in the study population – such as its educational and gender profile, and the occupational patterns in respondents’ families – arise from processes of social closure that serve various interests of group members. The specific mechanisms of social action often involve a combination of formal, organizational rules and procedures in conjunction with cultural norms and rituals that are upheld in this particular workplace and/or in trades occupations more generally. Chapter 6 reconnects the findings of the study to the research questions, and to the main themes raised in the literature review. It argues that a neo-Weberian framework provides an efficient way of reconciling and reinterpreting the diverse discourses about skilled trades occupations in 8  Chapter 1  Canada. Such a framework moves beyond the generalizations – whether critical or flattering – about the social status of skilled trades occupations, and focuses attention on specific interests and indicators. It helps to reveal the importance of policy and organizational structures in protecting group interests, and in turn, the role of group interests in maintaining such structures. It demonstrates that the discourses of trade stigma and trade pride are less important for their propositional value than they are for their utility in sustaining the boundaries and the benefits (as well as some of the drawbacks) of trades occupations. It helps to show how family and social networks affect access to occupational opportunities, but also how local processes within the family and the workplace play into the mechanics of class.  9  Chapter 2  CHAPTER 2 Problems and Paradigms in the Skilled Trades Literature This chapter reviews relevant literature on the skilled trades, and outlines a theoretical framework for the study. Section 2.1 uses several dividing lines as aids in navigating a diverse field of relevant material. The first is the a distinction between two underlying concerns in the literature: problems of skill supply, and problems of equity. Another division is between literature whose methods and objectives are more oriented to scholarly research or partisan advocacy. Both are considered – not only because advocacy and scholarship often overlap, but also because the advocacy literature’s impact on public opinion and policy is itself worthy of study. The scholarly research dealing specifically with the apprenticeable trades in Canada is not extensive, and generally reflect two research paradigms. One is grounded in labour economics and human capital theory, and is concerned broadly with the production and allocation of skills in a market environment. The other is rooted in sociology, and generally depicts trades occupations and vocational training as relatively disadvantaged positions in a stratified social structure. Hence, in changing from the economic to the sociological perspective on the skilled trades, the “problems” also shift from ones of skill supply to ones of equity. Equity issues appear in yet a different light when the skilled trades are viewed not as positions of social disadvantage, but as desirable destinations from which some groups are excluded. Although the under-representation of equity groups – and particularly of women – in the skilled trades is commonly acknowledged, the processes behind this phenomenon have not been systematically investigated in the dominant literature or framed by any particular research paradigm. Instead, commentary on exclusion from the trades has arisen in several disparate fields, mostly in relation to specific advocacy initiatives. The review acknowledges the value of the literature in all of these categories, but also identifies gaps, both within particular bodies of literature and among them. These provide a rationale for moving, in Section 2.2, toward the research framework for the present study. Here it is argued that neo-Weberian social theory offers a conceptual framework that can help to reconcile the divergent strands of the literature, and provide useful guidance for empirical research into social aspects of the skilled trades. That section reviews some key concepts from this rapidly  10  Chapter 2  growing literature, and ends by identifying a number of candidate mechanisms of economicsocial action that are potentially applicable to the case study. Several of these are illustrated with examples from recent developments in British Columbia skills policy. Problems and paradigms Over the last quarter-century, a number of comprehensive reviews have catalogued a remarkably persistent list of problems in Canada’s system for producing skilled manual labour (Economic Council of Canada & Newton, 1992; Gaskell & Rubenson, 2000; Sharpe, 1999; Sharpe & Gibson, 2005; Weiermair, 1984). These include persistently low rates of apprenticeship enrolment and completion; the failure of employers to contribute adequately to workforce training; negative public perceptions of the trades, coupled with a systemic separation of vocational and academic education; the dramatic under-representation of women and some other equity groups; the comparatively old age of Canadian apprentices; and the tendency for vocational training to attract participants with weak academic skills, and/or from disadvantaged backgrounds. Most of these problems are also cited, from different perspectives, in literature with a more specialized focus or that intersects with the skilled trades tangentially. Regardless, the two “problems” that typically motivate the literature on the trades are skills supply and equity. Skills-supply problems involve both quantity and quality: i.e., recruiting sufficient numbers of apprentices and the employers who will train them, as well as ensuring that the selection, training, and certification processes generate the types and levels of skill required. Although the main concern in recent years has been with skill shortages, the literature has also attended to problems of oversupply, manifested in unemployment and underemployment. Skills-supply objectives underpin a wide array of policies and strategies ranging from the institutional structure of training and education systems to tax incentives for employers and/or apprentices. The theme of equity or fairness often overlaps with the labour supply issue in the skills literature, but also raises distinct concerns and arguments. Equity arguments are made on behalf of two kinds of constituency: those who could evidently benefit from participation in the trades, but for some reason do not; and those who do participate in the trades and whose participation is taken as a sign of disadvantage. Examples of the first category include notably underrepresented groups such as women in “heavy” trades occupations, and Aboriginal persons and 11  Chapter 2  certain immigrant groups in trades occupations in general. Equity motives are also apparent in other initiatives aimed at extending the benefits of trades employment to needy (but not necessarily under-represented) groups, as in the case of apprenticeship programs designed for unemployed or at-risk youth. Clearly, such initiatives may combine equity and labour-supply objectives, potentially benefiting the targeted equity groups while also tapping into “underutilized labour pools” (Panel on Education, Skills, Training and Technology Transfer, 2002). Trades advocacy literature  Over the last decade, a significant body of what could be called trades advocacy literature has emerged, becoming more influential and focused with time. Beginning in the late 1980s, a number of reports and initiatives drew urgent attention to labour force training as a prerequisite for prosperity in a newly globalizing economy (i.e., Reich, 1992; Ōmae, 1990). The decade of the ’90s saw massive investments in applied training renewal in much of the English-speaking world, including experiments in apprenticeship reform in the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand, and the creation of several policy research and coordination bodies such as the National Center for Research in Vocational Education (NCRVE) in the United States. The 1992 the SCANS report, and its Canadian companion, the Conference Board of Canada’s “Employability Skills Profile” (Conference Board of Canada, 1992), helped to bolster public and official discourses that gave priority in educational policy to enhancing learners’ practical employability. An ostensible objective within this broad reform discourse, at least in its early years, was a greater convergence of academic and applied skills, such as the Tech Prep movement. However, such experiments were also very much subject to political and interestgroup influences. Among many examples of derailed training policy experiments in British Columbia during that period, were an aborted effort to introduce an “applied academics” curriculum into the public school system (Gaskell, Nicol, & Tsai, 2004), and a broad effort to valorize vocational objectives in higher education (British Columbia Labour Force Development Board, 1995). By the end of the nineties, the perceived economic imperatives had not abated, but for a variety of reasons, including changes of provincial government and a new division of federal/provincial responsibilities for the labour market, vocational training reform policies in Canada had lost much of their idealism and ambition. Visions of erasing the academic/vocational divide gave way to concerted efforts to raise participation on either side of 12  Chapter 2  it. As the high unemployment of the early nineties turned into skill shortages, economists and business leaders led the call to raise participation in conventional, trades apprenticeship programs, and to reverse the flight from vocational to academic higher education (Business Council of British Columbia, 2003; Canadian Council on Learning, 2006; Conference Board of Canada, 2002; Panel on Education, Skills, Training and Technology Transfer, 2002). Doing so required grappling with the widely recognized public preference for academic over vocational training. Ardent critiques of the trades stigma and warnings impending skill shortages were presented, drawing both on current economic information and on well-established educational arguments. One of these is that a comprehensively-biased education system, which aims to prepare students for university entrance rather than for practical work, squanders public resources by leaving the large proportion of non-university-bound students frustrated and under-prepared for good employment (Grubb, 1995, 1996a, 1996b; Looker & Thiessen, 2004). Experts and authorities from government and industry organizations portrayed the academic bias as an irrational prejudice, claiming that trades occupations are far more satisfying and lucrative, and demand a higher level of skill and intelligence, than the public believe (see, for example, Canadian Apprenticeship Forum, 2006; Conference Board of Canada, 2002; Kunin & Gallagher, 2000). A challenge in the advocacy literature is detecting where studied analysis shades into partisan rhetoric. In recent years, numerous campaigns have been launched by industry associations, often with government assistance, not so much to understand as to alter public perceptions and decision making in regard to vocational education. The most ambitious was executed by the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum and Skills Compétences Canada from 2001 to 2005. Under the title Skilled Trades: A Career You Can Build On, and with a budget of $12 million from the Canadian federal government and an additional $3.9 million from the private sector, the project undertook a sophisticated market research and public relations campaign, designed to “reposition skilled trades as positive career options” (Skills Compétences Canada, 2001) in the minds of Canadian students and their parents. In their final report (Canadian Apprenticeship Forum, 2006), the project sponsors claim that their advertising and lobbying efforts, and their deep outreach into the education system, had clearly paid off in the form of much greater and more positive reportage in the mass media, rising apprenticeship enrolments, and more favourable public attitudes. Not only was the imminent skills crisis being  13  Chapter 2  addressed, but the message of “Respect, Opportunity, and Good Pay” was credited with displacing unfair and irrational stereotypes of the trades. Confirming or refuting this sort of message by referring to other literature on the skilled trades in Canada is not straightforward. Gaps in the research and incongruent analytical frameworks make it very difficult to bring the claims of trades advocates and trades skeptics together productively. In part this is a matter of scale and scope: the advocacy literature draws selectively on point sources of information such as employment vacancies and wage rates in particular occupations; it makes limited comparisons, for instance of the earnings differences between trades and non-trades workers in the early years of their careers; and it relies heavily on anecdotal accounts of the satisfactions of manual-technical work (Ontario Chamber of Commerce, 2005; Whittaker, 2007). Even where it is not driven by overt advocacy objectives, research into the skilled trades and apprenticeship has often been instigated by government departments as part of the policy process (see, for instance, Department of National Defence, 2006a; Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, 2004; Nova Scotia Department of Education, Provincial Apprenticeship Board, 2001). While such research can generate valuable new knowledge, it is also inevitably constrained by considerations of accountability, and framed by existing institutional mandates and the perspectives and priorities of the policy community. While academic research is often undertaken in the direct service of policy making, it is ostensibly freer to follow curiosity and to experiment with alternate perspectives. The following brief review of scholarly research draws first on examples from labour market economics, and then from sociological work. The human capital paradigm  The vast bulk of the in-depth, policy-oriented research on the skilled trades in Canada occurs within an economic paradigm whose central mechanism is the market-mediated exchange of labour and wages. The broad objective of policy is to ensure that the market’s incentive structures motivate the kinds of investment that will optimize the supply and demand for skills. Since the early 1960s, the human capital model associated with Schultz (1961) and Becker (1964) has provided the basic conceptual framework for explaining and guiding private and public investment behaviour in education and training. The model’s revolutionary value was in 14  Chapter 2  the claim that individuals may hold intangible assets – their knowledge, skills, experience and health – which behave like capital in the sense that they are instrumental in generating wealth, but also in that their productivity can be enhanced through investments, particularly in education and training. As a robust and compact set of ideas, human capital theory remains a central foundation for labour market and educational policy in most of the world (Maglen, 1995; Rubinson & Brown, 1994; Wolf, 2002), but it is also frequently criticized for its association with simplistic or partial views of important social processes. The economic literature on skills policy in Canada identifies a wide range of problems, generally interpreted as logical but undesirable outcomes of market processes. Though numerous specific challenges are identified and remedies proposed, a basic conundrum is that employers are unable to reap the full benefits of their human capital investments in an environment where training consumes scarce resources and workers are mobile. Policy recommendations from the economic literature have sought to address such failures at various levels, for instance through training taxes and subsidies for employers and/or learners; harmonization of occupational definitions and standards; improvements to curriculum and training through both private and public providers; and cost and risk-sharing mechanisms such as sector councils and labour force development boards (Betcherman, Leckie, McMullen, & Davidman, 1998; Betcherman, Leckie, & McMullen, 2000; Canadian Apprenticeship Forum, 2004; Conference Board of Canada, 2002; Gunderson, Sharpe, & Centre for the Study of Living Standards, 1998; Gunderson, 2001; Hommen, 1997; McFadyen, 1997; O'Grady, 1997; Rubenson & Schuetze, 2000b). Low and declining apprenticeship participation has also been characterized in terms of barriers faced by apprentices themselves, including factors such as the cost of training, lack of information about training options, difficulty in finding a sponsoring employer, employment interruptions, family responsibilities, and so on. Research on the actual human-capital returns to the skilled trades in Canada has been fairly limited, and has faced a variety of methodological challenges. Scarcity of data, as well as inconsistencies in terminology and data coding make it difficult to use official sources to estimate the returns to particular types of vocational training (Boothby, 2000; Cappon, 2008; Orton, 2003). Human capital returns to education are also calculated in different ways: A human capital earnings function (HCEF) is commonly used to produce the “internal rate of  15  Chapter 2  return” to training, understood as the relationship between earnings and educational costs including foregone earnings (Drewes, 2006). However, it is common for researchers to use modified versions of the HCEF, or entirely different measures of economic returns, including earnings differentials or premiums received by completers versus non-completers of a given program; or measures of “social returns,” which take account of the public costs and benefits of education (Allen, 1999). It is also acknowledged in the human capital tradition that the market value of educational credentials may not derive from the skills acquired through the course of study that produced the credential. Screening or “sheepskin” effects occur when a credential is valued as a mark of innate ability or relevant life experience rather than the direct benefits of training (Green & Riddell, 2001; Riddell, 2001). Notwithstanding these difficulties, a growing body of research paints a consistent picture of the returns to vocational education in Canada. To begin at the most general level, it is quite clear that the university degree remains by far the most lucrative investment at the post-secondary level. Although debates swirl around the relative benefits of vocationally oriented versus liberal university programs (Allen, 1999; Axelrod, Anisef, & Lin, 2003; Z. Lin, Sweet, Anisef, & Schuetze, 2000), there is no doubt that university degree holders in all fields continue to enjoy substantial advantages over high school completers. Using data from the National Graduate Survey, Boothby (2000) compared labour market outcomes for graduates of university degree, college diploma, and “trades vocational,” programs. Although the trade-vocational category in the NGS data did not refer to apprenticeable trades but rather to short-duration applied programs, graduates of such programs clearly reaped poorer returns than graduates of either college or university programs: “In general, trade-vocational graduates are less likely to be employed than graduates at other levels, earn less when they are employed, and are less likely to use their skills at work” (p. 83). In terms of human capital investment, however, Boothby notes that these lower returns also go with much lower costs since the programs in question are typically short and often paid for by government. Similarly, Drewes (2006) found that community college grads earned less than university grads, but that the differences in the rate of return were negligible when the lower direct and indirect costs of college education were factored in. Also using the NGS data for 1990, 1995, and 2000, and the 1991, 1996, and 2001 censuses, Hansen (2006) compared internal rates of return for college and trade school versus university graduates. Hansen found that while the returns gap between university and high 16  Chapter 2  school continued to grow during the nineties, the advantage to university over college and trade school graduates declined for both men and women in the 1992-2002 period. In a more recent study, Boothby and Drewes (2006) find that private returns to trades training are much lower than for other forms of PSE. (Again, given the census categories, it cannot be assumed that all those reporting “trades” qualifications actually completed an apprenticeship). With census data from 1981 to 2001, they estimated the earnings premium to various forms of PSE over high school completion. Returns to all forms of PSE rose over the period for both men and women, but the premium for university was consistently the highest and also showed the steepest rise. In all census years, trade certification produced by far the lowest weekly earnings premium over a high school diploma: in 2000 the premium for a trade with high school was 11.5% versus 18.8% for college, and 51.2% for a bachelor’s degree. While the percentage of both male and female degree holders rose over the twenty-year period covered by their study, the proportion with only a trades certificate declined dramatically, partly as it became more common to combine trades certification with college (and, less often, university) credentials. Though multiple factors are likely involved, the difference in earnings potential seems likely to account for at least some of this divergence in participation rates. As Boothby and Drewes observe, the “stubbornly low” rate of return to trades certification may have some bearing on the apparent reluctance of youth to enter the trades, despite rising skill shortages. Interestingly, the same authors also discovered that in all five of the censuses from 1980 to 2000, graduates who combined trades and other PSE certification actually reaped lower earnings premia than those with only the higher credential: “… men holding both a trades certificate and a college diploma earn less than do men who hold only a college diploma. The apparent earnings-depressing effect of a trade certificate is even more evident for those who combine such a certificate with a university degree” (p. 7). Although their empirical discovery is very intriguing, the authors advance a quite implausible explanation: i.e., that apprenticeship credentials exert a sort of toxic sheepskin effect where, rather than signaling valuable skills that would complement a college or university diploma, they are actually read by employers as indicators of substandard ability. In the first place, this explanation abandons the basic premise of human capital theory – i.e., that skills (and qualifications) are cumulative assets, which the market values as indicators of productive capacity. It seems unlikely that on a systematic basis  17  Chapter 2  employers would not only fail to acknowledge the value of multiple credentials, but that when dealing with trades graduates they would actually discount the same college or university diplomas that they accept as valid evidence of ability from anyone else. Working from a narrowly economistic view, this explanation portrays the career process as an arid exchange of symbols rather than a complex social process involving the formation of new relationships. As an example of an alternate approach, Karabel and McClelland (1987) demonstrated that holders of American college degrees experienced quite different outcomes depending on their other social assets. Similarly, Gertrude Williams’s (1957) analysis of the apprenticeable trades in Britain remains, more than 50 years later, a remarkably fresh and relevant account of the complex social dynamics that affect the viability of particular occupations. Evidence from the present case study will suggest that the phenomenon observed by Boothby and Drewes does not arise from employers’ fickle valuations of credentials, but rather from the fact that credentials alone are only one element of successful integration into an occupational niche. Labour economists have also applied human capital principles to analyze other persistent problems in the apprenticeable trades. One of these is a very high rate of non-completion: Sharpe (2005, p. 45-6) shows that apprenticeship registration clearly follows the state of the economy, with registrations rising in proportion to the employment rate, but that no corresponding pattern is visible either in the rate of completions or in apprentices’ attendance at in-class technical training. Using the National Apprenticeship Survey, Akyeampong (1991) concluded that apprentices in many trades had no economic incentive to complete since there was little or no earnings difference between certified and uncertified workers. Evidently, employers did not regard the journeyman’s certificate as a proxy for skills or abilities worth a pay premium. If, as Skof (2006) surmises, this attitude is more prevalent during times of labour shortage, it suggests that employers’ preference for certified workers in non-shortage times reflects screening rather than a strict sense of skills requirements. The market value of credentials is also strongly influenced by considerations other than their representation of underlying skill. The effects of unionization and of the legal requirements for certification are discussed later in this chapter.  18  Chapter 2  The sociological literature: skilled trades and social structure  Another branch of the relevant scholarly literature is in the sociology of occupation and education. While the sociological work that deals specifically with the skilled trades in Canada is very limited, references to vocational training and trades occupations often appear in the context of research whose main focus may be slightly different or broader. In a discipline where theoretical debate is ever present, the relevant empirical work is often intended to test and advance theoretical positions. Since the end of the Cold War, a key question has been how the Marxian paradigm of social structuration could be reframed (Clark & Lipset, 2001; Wright, 1996). In some of the Canadian literature examined below, an explicit aim is to defend structuralist forms of explanation against perceived challenges from other frameworks. The most common way of operationalizing social stratification for research purposes is in terms of occupation and education. Both factors come into play in standard indices of socioeconomic status (SES), such as the Blishen and Pineo-Porter-McRoberts scales. (Blishen, Carroll, & Moore, 1987; Pineo, 1985). In addition, both occupation and education are commonly treated as valid indicators of social hierarchy in their own right. The theory of labour market segmentation holds that labour markets may be stratified into bands of relatively good or poor jobs. Segmentation becomes a sociological “problem” to the extent that workers in distinct segments share other social characteristics (age, gender, ethnicity, etc.); that the differences in the rewards received by workers in the distinct segments are disproportionate to their differences in productivity; or that individuals or groups have difficulty moving from lower to higher segments. Canadian sociologists have argued that problems of labour market segmentation have been exacerbated by structural changes in the economy, with negative consequences particularly for young workers (D. N. Ashton, 1993; H. Krahn & Lowe, 1998b). Policy responses from the Marxian sociological literature tend to focus not so much on enhancing the mobility of workers in the lower tiers of the labour market as on ameliorating their conditions, for instance by legislating improvements to minimum wages, working conditions, job quality, and unemployment benefits (D. W. Livingstone, 1996; Lowe, 2000a; Lowe, 2000b). A rich area of sociological research has been the patterns of inequality in educational participation and achievement. Little of this work has dealt specifically with vocational trainees 19  Chapter 2  or skilled trades apprentices, but some insight into this group may be gained from research on low investors in post-secondary education. Reviewing an extensive list of Canadian studies, De Broucker (2005) finds a general consensus that parental PSE is systematically reproduced, and that parents’ education has a stronger influence on their children’s PSE participation than family income has. The effect is strongest where parents are university educated; participation in college-level PSE is a weaker predictor of parental education. The research did not specifically address trades-vocational participants. Other research has approached the same broad issues by examining the characteristics of PSE non-participants. Looker (2001) reviewed two studies (by Foley and COGEM, both in 2001) to identify Canadian social groups particularly unlikely to carry on from school to PSE, and to account for their non-attendance. In part, the study findings identified characteristics of non-participants themselves: …the sub-groups less likely to pursue PSE were males; older students; those in New Brunswick, Alberta, and British Columbia; Anglophones; those who, by 1995, were married and/or had a child; those with lower marks; and those whose own annual incomes were over $10,000. (p. 3) Many of the observed characteristics of PSE non-participants, including age, earnings, and family responsibilities, also fit the profile of Canadian male apprentices (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, 2004; Sharpe, 1999). The studies reviewed by Looker also provided information on background characteristics including parental education and income, as well the apparent influence of school teachers and role models, suggesting that nonparticipants may be disadvantaged both by “inheritance” and social environment. She notes, however, that only 23% of respondents said they were deterred by the high cost of education, and few attributed their non-participation to “barriers” of any kind. Rather, the majority reported a lack of interest in higher education, contentment with their current situation, or other priorities. Concluding, nonetheless, that these respondents are objectively disadvantaged, and surmising that parental influence was a major factor in their low participation, Looker recommends giving school-leavers information to raise their awareness of their PSE options, and to counteract their parents’ negative influence on their aspirations (p. 9). Other research has examined how career aspirations seem to be formed. Andres, Anisef, Krahn, Looker and Thiessen (1999) drew on five separate studies, carried out from 1973 to 1996, to  20  Chapter 2  determine whether the young peoples’ occupational aspirations and expectations were better predicted by “structural determinants” or by changes in the environment that might affect their career decisions. Having assigned Blishen scores to the occupations which respondents aspired to or expected, the researchers then observed how these varied over the 23-year period covered by the data, in relation to five independent variables: father’s occupation; parental education; the respondent’s school program (academic or non-academic); rural-urban residence; and gender. They found that, despite considerable changes in the labour market, occupational aspirations rose only marginally over the period. All five of the independent variables were found to associate with aspirations and expectations, and for four of them the relationships held steady over time. Respondents who aspired to occupations with higher Blishen ratings remained more likely to have fathers with higher-status occupations; to have better-educated parents; to be in the academic stream at school; and to live in an urban setting. The one nonconforming factor was a rise in women’s career aims and expectations over the period, particularly in respect of managerial and professional jobs. Incidentally, the proportion interested in crafts/trades jobs held fairly steady over the two decades, at just under 30% for men and about 4% for women. For the authors, the findings demonstrate the “persistence of social structural effects across time” (p. 279). A separate study by Looker and Thiessen (2004) generally confirmed the associations found by Andres and colleagues including the rise in young women’s aspirations, but provides a clearer view of background factors associated specifically with aspirations to trades-vocational pathways. Using data from the YITS/PISA survey collected in 2000, the study focused on the educational (rather than occupational) aspirations of nearly 30,000 fifteen-year-old Canadians. Students indicated their aspirations to a spectrum of six educational options ranging from dropping out of high school through to multiple university degrees. Respondents’ aspirations were mapped against a list of independent variables including gender, community size, parental education, school program, study habits, engagement in school and extracurricular activities, academic self confidence, computer use, perceived parental valuation of PSE, and paid and volunteer work. The aspiration to complete high school was almost universal, and over 90% indicated an aspiration to some form of PSE, including 67% of girls and 63% of boys who aspired (often unrealistically) to one or more university degrees. Notably, however, a trade or vocational certificate was the least popular of all options other than dropping out of high 21  Chapter 2  school, attracting only about 9% of boys and 3% of girls. It is not surprising that high educational aspirations were associated with high scores on every one of the variables listed above. Yet, for many of the variables, these relationships are reversed when it comes to tradesvocational aspirations: not only are university aspirations lowest, but trades aspirations are highest among respondents with less-educated parents and among rural dwellers. A similar split is apparent on many of the other variables: those aspiring to “higher” programs than the trades also show “higher” scores on the background indicators. It appears not only that these fifteenyear-olds regard the trades more as an alternative to PSE than an option within it, but also that the factors associated with low PSE aspirations also predict aspirations to the trades. Consistent with the first but not the second of these points, Tanner (1991) found in an ethnographic study of Edmonton high school dropouts that a sizeable plurality (39%) of the male dropouts aspired to skilled trades occupations, but their parents’ SES had no apparent effect. In other words, in Tanner’s study trades aspirations were more strongly associated with PSE non-participation than they were with family background. Considerable research has sought to identify more specifically the mechanisms involved in the widely recognized link between family background and post-secondary participation. Two studies by Ross Finnie and colleagues examine family influence on actual PSE participation rather than aspirations. Both studies reported on the PSE activities of Canadian high school graduates aged 20 to 24 years. Finnie, Laporte, and Lascelles (2004) used Statistics Canada data from the1991 School Leavers (SLS) Survey and the 2000 Youth in Transition Survey (YITS) to track changes over time in participation and family background measures. The robust association with parental education was found to have strengthened over the decade of the 90s: Individuals with high parental education became even more likely to attend PSE while participation among those with lower-educated parents remained static or declined from already lower levels. Consistent with Looker’s findings, something other than a simple affordability issue seemed to be at work, since associations with family factors did not seem to vary with differences in provincial student aid regimes. In a second, cross-sectional study based on the School Leavers Study (SLS), and the School Leavers Follow-up Study (SLFS), Finnie, Lascelles, and Sweetman (2005) associated PSE participation with a number of intermediate variables such as those used by Looker and Thiessen, above. The more nuanced independent variables revealed a more complex picture. For instance, parental education was gender 22  Chapter 2  sensitive: fathers’ education had a stronger effect on sons, and mothers’ a stronger effect on daughters. Information on ethnicity showed that respondents of Asian background were more likely than any other ethnic group, and those of Aboriginal descent were less likely, to attend all forms of PSE. Intermediate variables related to the school experience were also significant: university participation was strongly predicted by A grades in high school, and counterpredicted by D’s and F’s. Low school grades were more common among those who entered non-university PSE, reflecting the more lenient entrance requirements for college and tradesvocational programs. Finally, the post-secondary destinies of males were strongly predicted by the intermediate variables: [Boys] fail more often, have lower high school grades, enjoy school less and find it less interesting, and get along with teachers less. Given all this, it is not surprising that they have statistically lower rates of postsecondary and university attendance.” (Finnie, et al. 2005, p. 23). These studies offer tantalizing glimpses of the relationship between family background and educational activity, but also leave large gaps regarding the apprenticeable trades. In neither of the studies reported by Finnie was it possible to disaggregate the “trades-vocational” data in order to study the backgrounds and outcomes specifically for participants in trades apprenticeship. Wolfgang Lehmann’s (2003; 2004; 2005) research is unusual both in that it explores questions of social reproduction in explicit relation to the apprenticeable trades, and that it uses qualitative research methods to do so. Lehmann conducted a mixed-methods study of 105 German and Canadian high school students in both academic and vocational streams, aiming both to test for evidence of social reproduction, and to explore how the young respondents perceived and accounted for their trajectories. Concerning the former, Lehmann found that the youths’ occupational choices “reproduced their class positions’ in the familiar ways: the choice between academic and vocational pathways in both countries was well predicted by parental education and occupation. Probing more deeply, Lehmann found corresponding, observable differences in family culture. Not only were vocational-stream students likely to have fathers or other relatives in the skilled trades, but their families were also more apt to express approval and encouragement for manual abilities and accomplishments, and to disdain academic achievement. It is worth noting that, to this point, Lehmann’s findings align with those of the  23  Chapter 2  market research consultants that Skills Canada (2001) used for the public relations campaign mentioned earlier. The consultants found that “trades-friendly” members of the public were the most likely to have a family member in a skilled trade or a technologies occupation. Moreover, the trades-friendly… … are less convinced that a university degree will necessarily lead to better job opportunities…. This group is the most positive about skilled trades and technologies. They feel these jobs are exciting, that they require more brain power than physical effort, that they require strong computer knowledge or knowledge of computer-based technologies. Furthermore, they think the skilled trades provide many opportunities for advancement. These Canadians also believe that skilled trades are prestigious, take place under good working conditions and require just as much training, if not more, than professional jobs. (Skills Canada, 2001, p. 29) Likewise, the Newfoundland survey of apprentices found that, although apprentices were likely to have relatives in the trades, fully 94% claimed that personal interest rather than family encouragement was the main factor in their own decision to enter (Government of Newfoundland, 2004: 22). Lehmann’s apprentices similarly expressed enjoyment of skilled trades work, and satisfaction with its immediate rewards and long-term potential, along with skepticism about the potential benefits of university. However, as Looker did earlier, Lehmann declines to accept such comments at face value. Instead, he argues that they amount to “posthoc rationalizations” of circumstances largely beyond the subjects’ control: Despite … overwhelming empirical evidence of socially reproductive processes, apprentices also insisted that their career decisions were based on choice and agency. (Lehmann, 2005, p. 337) On Lehmann’s interpretation, the apprentices’ self-understandings not only overstate the extent of their personal agency; they actually contribute to the reproduction of structural class characteristics. For these youth, the commitment to a career of skilled manual labour does not reflect a “rational choice” based on serious consideration of costs, benefits, and alternatives, so much as an acquiescence to a largely predetermined – and substandard – social fate. Though Lehmann acknowledges the fact that apprentices who enter the right occupations can look forward to steady employment and high wages, he implies that they can also anticipate subtle disadvantages in the form of public stigmatization and intellectually stunting work  24  Chapter 2  environments. Youth who boast of having “chosen” the trades collude in their own class victimization, along with the officials who sustain and promote the apprenticeship system. On this account, the processes that reproduce the social structure in the new generation of apprentices operate indirectly – not by negating the volition of these working-class youths, but by forming and channeling their agency through the “habitus” of their families, and through school-sanctioned apprenticeship programs that offer tempting but ultimately superficial satisfactions of “real work” and the chance to “earn while you learn”. In theoretical terms, Lehmann’s purpose is similar to that of Andres and colleagues, above, i.e., to demonstrate the persistence of social structure as a force in the lives of his research subjects. In both cases, the authors’ intention is to defend structural explanation against a perceived challenge from “postmodern” social theory. Lehmann’s strategy is intriguing in that it grants his research subjects a degree of agency but then finds that their own behaviour drives the reproduction of their class circumstances. The famous “lads” of Willis’s study (1977) “learned” their way into a position of social disadvantage by so energetically resisting the discipline of bourgeois schooling that they inoculated themselves against the very skills and attitudes required for middle-class employment. By contrast, Lehmann’s research subjects can claim to have “chosen” to labour, but only after internalizing the specific (and limiting) forms of habitus, reflexive awareness, and social capital that are available to them in their own objectively disadvantaged environment. Lehmann’s emphasis on socially bounded agency is intriguing, but his seeming preoccupation with grand forces of structuration give the argument a dogmatic air. In the first place, the assumption that his subjects belong unequivocally to a disadvantaged class position is questionable, considering that among his Canadian participants 29% had fathers with university education and 38% were from families with above-average income (2005, p. 334). The second problem is in the logic of the empirical argument. From the observation that many of his participants have relatives in the trades, Lehmann infers that some trait in their families was responsible for propelling them toward these occupations. However, without a much fuller picture of these families there is no basis for this inference: it is entirely possible that other members of these same families are in professional or other walks of life, and that the trades workers in the family are relative anomalies. In other words, Lehmann wrongly interprets the high density of trades connections within his study population as a sign of some common attribute in the subjects’ families when in fact it is an artifact of the study 25  Chapter 2  group. Finally, Lehmann leaves the mechanism responsible for this determinism undefined. If the trades are indeed disadvantageous, and if students from trades-friendly families have the capacity for rational agency, one wonders why they don’t strive for more rewarding destinations. To imagine that they are simply unaware that the trades are substandard is hardly credible, given how obvious this seems to be to the general public and to their fellow students in the academic stream. If, on the other hand, their reflexive awareness is sufficient to make them acquiesce in these substandard positions (and then to concoct rationalizations for having done so), exactly what barriers or forces did they see that induced such paralysis? Drawing on his ethnographic work with the same group, Lehmann (2004) argues that the real problem for the youth in the vocational stream is a simple lack of confidence in their ability to compete with academic high achievers for professional positions. This is a plausible explanation, and it justifies interpreting some of their comments as post-facto rationalizations. But here again, there is no basis for concluding that these subjects were brought to the trades by some attribute or deficiency common to their families. Instead, new questions arise about these individuals’ self-doubts; about their actual abilities; and about how their relatively uniform self-talk pays off for them, apart from its hollow psychological comfort. The present study provides an alternate account of the same phenomenon. In the sociological literature, the picture of the skilled trades as positions of disadvantage has led to further steps in two directions. In one, a critical, “anti-training” discourse takes aim at the recruitment literature as at best misleading and possibly downright deceptive. In the long tradition of critical theory that has sought to expose how educational systems serve the interests of dominant social groups, anti-training arguments have criticized training policies for “blaming” individuals for failing to develop their own human capital, when their problems are caused by the market’s failure to deliver equitable social welfare. It is also argued that governments, business, and the training industry are often complicit in prescribing training programs that may serve their own narrow interests, but do not necessarily improve outcomes for their supposed beneficiaries (Wolf, 2002). Critiques of vocational and job-training policy in Canada on these lines have been presented in collections by Dunk (1996) and Livingstone (1987), while the specific training policies of Canadian provinces have been addressed by others including Lackey (2004), Taylor (2005; 2006), and Lehmann and Taylor (2003).  26  Chapter 2  Another response shares the anti-training literature’s moral view of trades participants as victims of class exploitation, but also finds genuine cultural richness (and not merely false consciousness) in communities of blue-collar workers. Marxian conceptions of both class structure and class consciousness are fundamental to many of the classic studies in educational and labour sociology (Bowles & Gintis, 1976; Braverman, 1975; Willis, 1977). In ethnographic studies, authors such as Mjelde (1987) and Garson (1975) find laudable sentiments of solidarity combined with ingenious defensive strategies and workplace norms, for instance to “work neither too much nor too little.” As a matter of allegiance, these analyses leave the reader torn between a conspiratorial respect for working-class expressions of cultural resistance, and the hope that these will be superseded when the exploitative social relations that sustain them are overturned. Marx (1978) envisioned reconciling the gulf between intellectual and manual labour in a utopia where workers might hunt in the morning and philosophize after dinner. In the liberal tradition, the same vision is exemplified by Dewey’s ideal , which calls for the integration of manual and intellectual education. This position continues to resonate among educational theorists as the solution to the liberal-vocational debate (Axelrod et al., 2003; Kincheloe, 1995; Silver & Brennan, 1988). The philosophical test of a vocational education system, on Deweyan principles, would be the extent to which both its learning experiences and its curricular structure foster the student’s progression to greater independence, both intellectual and practical. Visions of a liberal-vocational convergence have inspired many calls for curricular and instructional reform, and for the expansion and refinement of practices for workplace learning (Guile & Griffiths, 2001; Raizen, 1994), options for “alternation” education (Schuetze, 2003), and experiments in curricular integration such as the Tech Prep movement (Grubb & Lazerson, 2004; Law, 1994). A single, integrated educational structure was the central vision of the Campus 2020 report (British Columbia Ministry of Advanced Education, 2007) for PSE reform in British Columbia, which hinted specifically that the conventional separation of vocational from academic PSE has outlived its usefulness. The equity literature: exclusion from the trades  Where vocational training and skilled manual work are viewed as rewarding and desirable forms of activity, the question of equity in participation is reversed. Here, the concern is not on behalf of those who are supposedly condemned to the trades, but rather with those who are excluded from the benefits of participating in them. The question of unfair exclusion from the 27  Chapter 2  skilled trades is not raised in the sociological literature reviewed above, and receives little analysis in the economic literature. For that, one must look to other bodies of work whose primary concern is not with the trades, but with equity for particular social groups. In Canada, the officially designated equity groups are women, Aboriginals, persons with disabilities, and visible minorities. Dramatic gender imbalance in the skilled trades is widely acknowledged, and cited in the major reviews by Weiermair, Sharpe, and others mentioned earlier. Males account for over 90% of participants in apprenticeable trades in Canada, and the vast majority of female participants are in the traditionally “pink” trades such as hairdressing, cosmetology, and cooking. The data on economic returns are clear on two points: that women benefit minimally if at all from participation in the pink trades, but could benefit substantially from participation in nontraditional ones. McIntosh (2005) found that apprenticeship in the UK pays women no wage premium over high school completion. In a review of data from the 1994 National Apprenticed Trades Study (NATS), Sweet (2003) observes that Canadian women who completed apprenticeships earned more than those who discontinued. But, Sweet’s more telling discovery is that the women who realized by far the best returns were those who completed apprenticeships in traditionally male occupations. Indeed, even women who dropped out of apprenticeships in traditionally male trades did at least as well as those who followed through to completion in traditionally female ones. What the data seem to demonstrate is not the benefits of apprenticeship completion, but rather the dramatic earnings gap between traditionally female and male trades. To the extent that it is addressed in the human capital literature, the gender imbalance has been explained in terms of supply, demand, and productivity: women are more inclined to work in trades where the physical demands of the work are relatively light, and work schedules are adaptable to family responsibilities. Meanwhile, lower wages in the traditionally pink trades are attributed to characteristics of the personal services market where those jobs are concentrated – a highly competitive sector dominated by small firms with low capital investment and low rates of unionization. This explanation is hardly satisfactory. Though biological factors likely play some part, they seem very unlikely to account for the near-total exclusion of women from nontraditional trades in Canada. Not only is there an obvious range of physical ability in both men  28  Chapter 2  and women, but female trades workers are employed extensively in other countries, as they have been in Canada during wartime. Nor has a requirement for physical strength or endurance prevented the widespread employment of women (often immigrants) in occupations such as farm labour and factory work. The argument about sectoral differences is also questionable. As Gunderson (2001) shows, the residential construction sector is similar in many ways to the personal services market of the pink trades, but remains heavily male-dominated none the less. At the other end of the spectrum, in capital-intensive heavy industry, skilled trades such as boilermaker and millwright have among the lowest rates of female participation, despite the fact that a combination of regulation, collective agreement protections, and workplace technology tends to reduce the need for brute strength in these settings. Gender equity in the trades has been the object of some very notable advocacy work, particularly in western Canada. Marcia Braundy (1995), a prominent campaigner for women’s participation in the trades, recounts the progress of her own activism from carpenter apprentice to informal advocate, to educator, and eventually coordinator of a national network dedicated to supporting women in trades and technology (WITT). WITT network activities similarly evolved through the 1980s and 1990s, from encouraging women and providing basic information and training, to lobbying governments on equity issues, supporting women’s legal actions, and participating with governments and industry associations on the development of training policies and strategies. On a smaller scale, a similarly global vision is evident in a highly successful trades-access program that pursued equity objectives through employment training. The Vancouver Island Highway (VIH) project, described by Cohen and Braid (2003), prepared women and Aboriginal people for employment in road-building work, ultimately boosting their representation to the unprecedented level of over 20% of the project workforce. Both the WITT movement and the VIH project reflected the recognition that under-represented groups may be excluded from occupations not only by mechanisms that directly bar their entry, but also indirectly by factors that influence their development of the required competencies, or impede their success in the workplace and their ability to sustain their careers. Equity advocates have long argued that employment equity policies and practices must address exclusion at multiple levels, including by raising women’s awareness of the trades, and their confidence to succeed in them. Numerous studies have documented discrimination against women in  29  Chapter 2  traditionally male occupations (M. G. Cohen, Bourne, Pierson, & Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, 1990; Downey, 1993). In its 2006 survey, the government of Newfoundland (2004) found that discrimination and/or sexual harassment are much more likely in trades where women account for less than 35% of the workforce: in trades other than cooking and hairstyling, 24% of female apprentices reported experiencing discrimination/harassment. Of particular relevance to the present study, the Canadian federal public service and the Canadian Forces (CF) have been important sites in the story of women’s struggles for both equal access and non-discriminatory treatment in the workplace. The Public Service Commission (PSC), responsible for managing the federal government’s labour force, has conducted several major studies and numerous surveys and reviews of equity issues. In 1988, a Task Force on Barriers to Women in the Public Service found that women’s underrepresentation in senior civil service roles, and their common experiences of career stagnation, were largely rooted in pervasive, sexist attitudes manifest in countless administrative practices. Serious change would require a combination of committed senior leadership, and the introduction of clear equity standards and accountability measures. In two landmark decisions in 1987, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled against public-sector employers on issues of women’s employment equity. In one, the court found that CN Railway (then a crown corporation) had systematically excluded female applicants to blue-collar operations positions. The railway was required to implement an affirmative action policy whereby one in every four new hires would be a woman, until its operations workforce achieved the same gender ratio as external industry (Cohen et al., 1990; Cox, 2005). The other case concerned the sexual exploitation of a female civilian cleaner by her supervisor at a Canadian Forces base. The far-reaching effect of the “Robichaud case” was in establishing the legal responsibility of employers to provide a workplace free of sexual discrimination. Together, the two cases set legal precedents concerning discrimination both in access to employment and in the work environment, with direct impact on the federal public service. Despite these advances, the struggles for gender equity in both the public service and the CF have evidently yet to be won. Several studies show that women in traditionally male roles in the armed forces have experienced notorious workplace difficulties above and beyond performing the duties of the job. In a study of women’s attrition from the Canadian Forces,  30  Chapter 2  Davis (1994) found that “…the experiences of women as women within a male-dominated organization contribute significantly to the attrition of women from that environment.” Winslow and Dunn (2002) found that the attitudes of males – and particularly older males – in the CF had not caught up with the formal, legal fact of women’s integration. They found that the men most hostile to women’s integration into non-traditional roles were those with a military-oriented value structure emphasizing duty and valour, as distinct from the civilian precepts of contractual fairness and equal opportunity. Understanding the issues of gender equity in the trades is complicated by the fact that the relevant materials arise out of diverse contexts, use different types and levels of analysis, and arrive at different recommendations. The focus of the WITT activists was primarily on concrete initiatives such as recruiting and providing trades-prep courses for young women. The movement was remarkably successful in gaining access to important policy tables and resources of its time, but it was less effective in articulating a coherent view of the underlying drivers of gender inequity in the trades. Kate Braid (2003) focuses on the role of workplace culture as a barrier to women in traditionally male-dominated trades, but evidently accepts this as a product of psycho-linguistic differences between men and women. Rather than a manifesto for cultural change, she offers a set of cultural survival tips for the construction site – a “Ms. Manners for the Non-Traditional” – to help women cope with workplace discomforts that are evidently to be accepted as facts of nature. In the study just cited, Winslow and Dunn arrive at a different psychological conclusion, where sexist attitudes are more prevalent among men of a particular type. For the series of studies conducted within the federal public service, the focus was understandably on organizational practices and their complex intersections with personal attitudes and workplace “climate.” In a study of managerial occupations in over 500 workplaces, Barbara Reskin (2000) observes that gender bias may have roots both in organizational mechanics and in the broader policy environment. Consistent with other research, she found that at the operational level, two mechanisms in particular are notoriously associated with over-representation of males: departmental rather than centralized control over the hiring process; and recruitment through informal networks rather than through fully transparent competition. Secondly, Reskin posits that that “old boys’” networks are not only inequitable but also economically inefficient, and  31  Chapter 2  that they are more prevalent in public sector or otherwise protected organizations than in firms exposed to market competition where the additional costs of inequity would not be tolerated. This proposition makes an interesting counterpoint to the trades equity initiatives of the BC NDP government. Arguably, a major factor in the extraordinary success of the VIH project was precisely its protection from market forces, which enabled the employer to invest in a recruitment and training strategy that a strictly competitive organization would not have risked. Presumably, the lesson is that the luxury of protection from the market can be put to more than one use. Despite the concrete gains made through particular projects and struggles, these movements for gender equity have proved difficult to sustain, above all in the trades. On stepping down after her second term as coordinator of the WITT national network Braundy (1995) recounted impressive victories in her farewell speech, but also sounded a weary and ultimately prophetic note: by 1996 the federal government had devolved its role in labour force development to the provinces, and terminated the funding and coordination structures that had been integral to WITT’s success. Although the Vancouver Island Highway project had set a standard for best practice in equity programming, its momentum was clearly not carried over to other highprofile cases such as the Hibernia oil project, which stands as a comparative disaster (Hart & Shrimpton, 2003). Similarly, by 2001, the BC NDP government had been defeated, and the integrated structure of labour and advanced education policies that had promoted equity group representation in the trades was dismantled. Within the federal public service, a follow-up study in 1995 found that, despite some minor improvements in the numbers since the 1988 Task Force, there had been no substantive change in the fundamental cultural and attitudinal barriers to employment equity for women (Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, 1995). Despite equity advocates’ calls for strong standards and central accountability, an internal study by the PSC in 2000 found that, in 400 “open” competitions for short-term civil service positions, 50% of the successful candidates were previously known to the hiring manager (Public Service Commission of Canada, 2000). In 2007 the president of the PSC was able to claim that the federal public service was meeting the intent of the new Public Service Employment Act (PSEA) since the composition of its workforce now “reflected the labour market availability” of women, Aboriginals, and persons with disabilities” (Public Service Commission of Canada, 2007). In doing so, she gave no hint of the suspicion, which so 32  Chapter 2  animated the earlier task forces, that the ambient levels might themselves be evidence of unacceptable, systemic biases. Though other equity groups undoubtedly face occupational discrimination in various forms, nothing comparable to the WITT movement has arisen to advocate for them specifically in relation to the skilled trades. The non-recognition of foreign credentials has been acknowledged as a serious obstacle for professionals (Brouwer, 1999; Finnie, Alboim, & Meng, 2005), but the extent of the problem for immigrants in apprenticeable trades is unclear. Since Statistics Canada has only recently begun gathering data on immigrant employment patterns, it is not yet possible to track the experience of particular immigrant groups in relation to apprenticeable trades occupations (Statistics Canada, 2008; Zietsma, 2007). Nor does information seem to have been gathered indicating that visible minorities or persons with disabilities face systemic barriers to these occupations. Although the National Visible Minority Council on Labour Force Development (2005) reported in 2005 that it found substantial under-employment among visible minorities and immigrants, it did not indicate either that the groups of interest seemed to experience barriers to occupations in the skilled trades, or that underemployed members of these groups commonly ended up in the trades. A 2004 consultants’ report for the BC Construction Association (Global Frameworks & Encompass Consultants, 2004) recommended recruiting skilled immigrants to meet labour shortages in the construction industry, but did not suggest that immigrants were disadvantaged by employment barriers specific to trades occupations. In the case of Aboriginal people, the skilled trades – and particularly the construction trades – have been identified as areas where targeted recruiting and support programs could address the twin problems of labour shortage and high unemployment, and in some cases other needs such as on-reserve housing shortages (Aboriginal Apprenticeship Projects Steering Committee, 1999; McMullin & Cooke, 2004; Panel on Education, Skills, Training and Technology Transfer, 2002). Similarly, building trades skills have often been used as a curricular core in training programs for Aboriginal people, and indeed for other marginalized groups including women and people with disabilities. However, such programs are generally intended to enhance basic employment preparation and labour force attachment for the participants. The literature does not seem to indicate that the skilled trades have been more resistant than other occupations  33  Chapter 2  to entry by Aboriginal people. In British Columbia, Aboriginal persons account for just under 5% of the adult labour force and a similar proportion of workers in the skilled trades (BC Stats & Ministry of Advanced Education, 2005, p. 9). Research framework The literature surveyed to this point reveals distinct and often conflicting perspectives on the apprenticeable skilled trades in Canada. Commentators differ not only in their priorities and their explanations for particular problems, but also in their basic orientations and approaches to framing the issues. Before these strands in the literature are briefly revisited at the end of this chapter, the present section turns to outlining an alternative theoretical orientation. NeoWeberian social theory offers a framework that has affinities with both the economic and the sociological paradigms discussed above, but that also allows for distance from both. By attending to strategic behaviour that is enabled both by social institutions and by the formation of meanings, this perspective offers a basis for research that can potentially rise above the crossed monologues on the skilled trades. This section reviews a number of key concepts from Weber’s work that have been revitalized in recent scholarship, and gathers them as a conceptual framework for the present research. The ideas of Max Weber have found a new prominence in Western social research over the last two decades, and what could be called “neo-Weberian” sensibilities are now evident in a great deal of work, crossing social science disciplines, and ranging from detailed elaborations of social theory and method to very practical, applied social research. Though Weber’s thought has been highly influential in post-war North American sociology, particularly through the works of Parsons and Mills, social researchers from outside this traditional core have taken his ideas in new directions. Whether explicitly acknowledged or not, Weber’s influence is clearly visible in new areas of scholarship dealing with class and social stratification, “rationalization” of the state, and dynamics of educational participation, and a burgeoning literature on new forms of “capital.” This section argues that ideas developed and inspired by Weber can make an important contribution to understanding social dynamics in the skilled trades. At the level of social theory, the Weber literature provides a coherent theoretical account of social agency and structure; in terms of method, it argues for a radical empiricism centred on the socially  34  Chapter 2  embedded individual; and it offers some simple mechanisms that can be observed in operation (or plausibly imagined) in many different circumstances. As Swedberg (1998) explains, Weber’s distinctive “economic sociology” straddles an arguably artificial and misleading boundary between sociological and economic modes of thought. On the one hand, this is a theory of social dynamics built around the rational individual. Weber’s methodological individualism implies avoiding any reference to abstract group-level forces or causes, and insists that social regularities be explained in terms of individuals’ behaviour. At the same time, it departs radically from classical economics by acknowledging that individuals are “always already” embedded in a social context that both sustains and constrains their individual and collective existence. Explaining the central concept of “economic social action” Swedberg first distinguishes economic from social action. Economic action is behaviour rationally oriented to the pursuit of what the subject regards as an interest. Given Weber’s concept of rationality (discussed below), it is not assumed that such action is “rational” in any objective sense, but only in that it coheres plausibly from the actor’s point of view. By contrast, social action is defined as human behaviour whose “subjective meaning takes account of the behaviour of others and is thereby oriented in its course” (Weber, Economy and Society, quoted in Swedberg, 1998, p. 5). In other words, social action is the behaviour of human individuals assumed to be acting on their subjective understandings of other individuals’ behaviour, motives, intentions, and so on. Economic social action is defined as social action that is oriented to the pursuit of self-interest. This permanent condition of social awareness has important implications for Weber’s conception of social structure. While Weber places high importance on economic class hierarchy consistent with Marxism (Wright, 1996), he also attends to a distinctly “social” index of inequality. In addition to distinctions in economic power, social groups establish internal status hierarchies based on relative esteem or honour. The way in which social honor is distributed in a community … we may call the ‘social order.’ The social order and the economic order are not identical. The economic order is for us merely the way in which economic goods and services are distributed and used. The social order is of course conditioned by the economic order to a high degree, and in its turn reacts upon it. (Gerth & Mills,1958, p. 181)  35  Chapter 2  The concept of social status complicates the geometry of social stratification and mobility. Economic classes are essentially abstract categories that apply to individuals according to their conditions of “property and lack of property” (p. 182). By contrast, social status depends on the active regard of others, and therefore only exists in relation to particular groups. In contrast to classes, status groups are normally communities, and are established on the basis of ‘status honor.’ (p. 186; italics in original) In content, status honor is normally expressed by the fact that above all else a specific style of life can be expected from all those who wish to belong to the circle. (p. 187; italics in original) Significantly for the present study, Weber goes on to say that: An ‘occupational group’ is also a status group. For normally, it successfully claims social honor only by virtue of the special style of life which may be determined by it. (Gerth & Mills,1958.p. 193) It follows from Weber’s view of social structure that distinct occupational groups stand in complex relations to one another. Different occupations imply different levels of material wealth, economic power, and life chances for their incumbents. But the social status of occupations does not follow automatically from their relation to the means of production; nor does any hierarchy among them imply direct exploitation of the lower by the higher. Rather than a simple, linear class structure, social position is here reckoned in relation to two separate gradients, with the possibility that individuals of the same economic class may be at different levels of social status. This complex view of social stratification has had important consequences for social research. Some writers in the Marxian tradition have found that the conventional linear image of class relations needs adjusting, since some occupations (e.g., managers) “represent locations which are simultaneously within more than one class” (H. Krahn & Lowe, 1998b; Wright, Costello, Hachen, & Sprague, 1982; See also Wright, 1996). Efforts to address some of these issues have led to the creation of alternate occupational status scales (Erikson, Goldthorpe, & Portocarero, 1979; Ganzeboom & Treiman, 1996). The practical importance of Weber’s comments on social esteem has also been recognized, and was elaborated in the 1970s by Fred Hirsch (1976) and Lester Thurow (1977) in the concepts of “positional goods” and “positional competition.” The basic socio-economic premise is that “high” social esteem cannot be distributed uniformly, and 36  Chapter 2  is therefore necessarily a scarce commodity. Indeed its scarcity, rather than any independent utility, is the main basis for its value. By positional goods, Hirsch means those goods … the enjoyment of which is dependent upon their non-possession by others. This may happen either (a) because satisfaction is derived directly from the fact that others do not have the good (i.e., the satisfaction that derives from being a trend-setter in fashion), or (b) because although the good is sought for its own sake, possession of it by others incidentally interferes with its enjoyment (i.e., through the phenomenon of crowding or congestion). (Crouch, 1983, p. 186.) It is in the first of these senses that positional competition mirrors the logic that Weber found in the ability of status groups to monopolize marks of social honour. Hirsch and Thurow note that the logic applies to educational credentials – and through them coveted occupations (Ellis & Heath, 1983). The theory of positional competition offers an alternative to the screening hypothesis in labour economics. Where the latter holds that credentials may gain market value because employers regard them as proxies for underlying ability, the theory of positional competition suggests instead that specialized credentials may serve mainly to signal their holders’ eligibility for membership in an exclusive group. Phil Brown (1995) coins the term “parentocracy” to describe the competition among parents to invest in educational experiences and credentials that, regardless of any learning they represent, will distinguish their children in a status-based competition for security. Here, educational spending is not so much an investment in productive human capital as in social honour. As Weber put it, … one might thus say that ‘classes’ are stratified according to their relations to the production and acquisition of goods … [By contrast,] ‘status groups’ are stratified according to the principles of their consumption of goods as represented by special ‘styles of life’ (Gerth & Mills, 1958, p. 193) In other words, status symbols – be they designer-labeled consumer goods or educational qualifications – are not mere frivolities. Their value to individuals, and their importance sociologically, lies in the fact that they signal their holders’ entitlement to participate in particular social groups and sub-groups. In this respect, social status is closely related to one of the most basic and general mechanisms of Weber’s economic sociology: the capacity of social groups to open or close themselves to interaction with other groups or individuals:  37  Chapter 2  If participants expect that the admission of others will lead to an improvement of their situation, they will have an interest in keeping the relationship open; but if they think that they can improve their situation through monopolistic tactics, they will favour a closed relationship. (Weber, quoted in Swedberg, 1998, p. 35) Groups perform vital economic and security functions, enabling their members to share resources and gain efficiencies through stable relationships and roles. In the economy of social status, scarce tokens of social honour are valued because they grant their holders preferred access to the in-group and its resources. This idea – that access to a group constitutes a type of “good” – is the essence of contemporary notions of social and cultural capital. Almost 30 years after Schultz referred to individuals’ productive capacities as “human capital,” Coleman (1988) opened up new intellectual territory with the claim that valuable strategic assets reside not only within individuals, but also in the social relationships among them. Coleman’s famous example of Brooklyn diamond merchants illustrated how features of group behaviour could function as “social capital” – productive assets which could be invested in and built upon to produce further value. Although Halpern (2005) traces the origins of the term as far back as 1916, it is only since the late 1980s that the concept of social capital has come into wide use among social theorists and researchers, who take it to refer to “… the social networks, norms and sanctions that facilitate co-operative action among individuals and communities” (Halpern, 2005). Putnam (2001) highlights the value of social capital, both to individuals and to larger social groupings: The central idea of social capital … is that networks and the associated norms of reciprocity have value. They have value for the people who are in them, and they have, at least in some instances, demonstrable externalities, so that there are both public and private faces of social capital. (p. 117) Part of social capital’s attraction to researchers is that it can be operationalized and its ostensible benefits empirically investigated. Social capital is now measured in several major national and international surveys (Grootaert, Narayan, Jones, & Woolcock, 2004; National Statistics (United Kingdom), 2002; Scott, 2000). In his popular essay, “Bowling Alone,” Putnam (1995) measured social capital in terms of Americans’ participation in civic organizations, and correlated its decline with various indicators of social dysfunction.  38  Chapter 2  Woolcock (2001) finds that the concept of social capital has given the discipline of sociology an unaccustomed relevance and influence in policy circles. As the social capital literature has proliferated, its conceptual basis has matured. Beyond the core definition, Halpern (2005) claims that there is now a consensus on a typology of social capital with three distinct dimensions: … its main components (networks, norms and sanctions); the level of analysis employed (individual, meso- and macro-levels); and its character or function (bonding, bridging and linking). (p. 39) The third dimension illustrates the fact that social capital is not equivalent to social “closure,” and that in fact a group’s degree of openness or closure gives rise to different qualities of social capital. Closed groups are said to manifest “bonding” social capital, which unites their members through norms of mutual assistance and solidarity, reciprocal communication links, and their attachment to a common pool of resources. By contrast, “bridging” social capital represents inter-group relationships, whereby members may give up exclusive control over the assets of their own group, while benefiting from new access to the resources of other groups. “Linking” social capital belongs to actors who manage to establish “vertical” network connections to others with greater authority or higher status. The difference between bonding and bridging was illustrated, though in different terminology, by Granovetter (1995) as early as 1974. In his seminal work on social networks in the job-finding process, he found that jobseekers had more success advancing their careers when their job-search process made use of relatively distant or infrequent network contacts rather than close friends or family. In Weberian terms, this suggests that, while closure within a familiar social group may provide a degree of security, career mobility depends on an individual’s having sufficient affinity with another group to establish contact, but also sufficient distance and difference that doing so will provide access to new resources and opportunities. Just as Granovetter recognized potential drawbacks of “strong ties,” the accepted distinction between the “light” and “dark” sides of social capital expresses the fundamental idea that social closure can bring negative as well as positive consequences (Schulman & Anderson, 1999). An exclusively inward orientation may bring disadvantages to group members themselves (through isolation), or to non-members (through exclusion).  39  Chapter 2  As indicated above, the concept of social capital is one that has clearly evolved from multiple influences in the social research literature. One of these is Bourdieu’s work on symbolic and cultural capital (N. Lin, 2001). Symbolic capital includes “culturally significant attributes such as prestige, status and authority,” while cultural capital is defined as “culturally-valued taste and consumption patterns” (Webb, Schirato, & Danaher, 2002, p. 22). Bourdieu’s term habitus, which refers to the nuances of speech, dress, behaviour, and outlook that characterize different social groups, recalls Weber’s observation of the lifestyles that correspond with distinct social strata. Sullivan (2001) charges Bourdieu with a lack of rigour in defining the concept of cultural capital, but also finds that it can be operationalized for empirical research and seems to have some explanatory power. Though a thorough discussion of the Bourdieu literature is not possible here, it is sufficient to acknowledge the clear affinity between the concepts of cultural and social capital. In an immediate sense, both draw attention to the fact that established social habits and practices produce appreciable value and are therefore objects of social interest and contention. In terms of social theory, both challenge the artificial division between individual agency and social structure as exclusive and competing modes of explanation. On this point, the neo-Weberians are united. In what Swedberg (1997) has called a “manifesto of the new economic sociology,” Granovetter (1995) laments both the “undersocialized” perspective of traditional economics and the “oversocialized” view of structural sociology: Actors do not behave or decide as atoms outside a social context, nor do they adhere slavishly to a script written for them by the particular intersection of social categories that they happen to occupy. Their attempts at purposive action are instead embedded in concrete, ongoing systems of social relations. (p. 217) Goldthorpe (1996) makes a similar point, arguing that both Marxist and liberal sociology have invoked grand structural forces without developing plausible “micro foundations” that would link the macro-level regularities of social structure to “…the orientations, goals and conditions of the action of individuals” (p. 484). Goldthorpe’s “Rational Action Theory” (RAT) presents an account of individual behaviour explicitly modeled on Weber’s, and quite different in two crucial respects from the classical idea of homo economicus. First, like Weber and Granovetter, Goldthorpe acknowledges that individual action is “embedded” in and oriented to an alreadygiven social environment. Against the critique that a focus on the individual implies a  40  Chapter 2  capitulation to economistic methods or neo-liberal ideology, Goldthorpe points to a strong tradition of methodological individualism in classical sociology, and to Weber as “the great pioneer of RAT within the sociological tradition” (2007, p. 177). The second difference is Goldthorpe’s insistence on a “weak sense” of rationality: while the pursuit of individual selfinterest is the basis of social explanation, it is not assumed that actors either know what is “objectively” good for them, or could effectively bring it about even if they did. Indeed, on Weber’s conception of rationality, the much more likely outcome in the long term is disutility – of a particular kind. Weber distinguishes between two forms of rationality: “substantive” rationality (wertrationalität), which is grounded in commitments to ultimate values, and “formal” rationality (zweckrationalität), which involves the calculation of means for achieving given ends, but is indifferent to the question of which ends to pursue (Brubaker, 1984). As Sica (2000) explains, much of Weber’s historical sociology is concerned with the general tendency of modern societies toward zweckrational forms of organization. If there is an overall historical logic for Weber, it is that traditional, substantively rational social relationships and practices are progressively supplanted by more formally rational structures associated with mass-scale public administration, electoral democracy, and free market capitalism. What drives the process of rationalization in the capitalist economy is not a particular mode of production or class antagonism, but rather the potentially infinite appetite of the free market firm. Unlike earlier forms of capitalism (such as feudal “tax farming”), the contemporary capitalist enterprise is not confined to extracting rents to be consumed by its owner, but instead aims to generate profit to be reinvested in its further expansion and the accumulation of still more profit. Since Weber’s nominalism denies him a basis for recommending any particular, substantive solution, he can only conclude bleakly that capitalist economies lack the internal steering capacity to ensure utility on either a private or a public scale. Policy researchers of a Weberian bent have discovered evidence of the irrationality of rationalization at various levels of analysis. At the macro-level of policy, Streeck (1997) and Dore (2002) compare the “Rhine model” policies of Germany and Japan with the “AngloSaxon” model that they associate with the UK and USA, and with the logic of the globalized economy. Their claim is that the Rhine model’s integrated social welfare and industrial policies  41  Chapter 2  represent a wertrational harmonization of interests that delivered high levels of prosperity and social inclusion for much of the post-war period. When exposure to global competition forced Japan and Germany to roll back their welfare states in the early 1990s, it had the “perverse outcome [of]…the less well-performing Anglo-American model of capitalism out-competing the better-performing Rhine model” (Streeck, 1997, p. 247). At the individual level, Hirsch (1976) finds a similarly perverse dynamic of rationality: …[A]s the average level of educational qualifications in the labor force rises, a kind of tax is imposed on those lacking such qualifications, while the bounty derived from possessing a given qualification is diminished. … Education becomes a good investment, not because it would raise an individual’s income above what it would have been if no one had increased their education, but because it raises their income above what it will be if others acquire an education and they do not. (p. 51) In this light, the apparent public preference for academic over vocational credentials is not a matter of irrational prejudice, but rather of formally rational behaviour that results in disutility. To the extent that credentials are valued for their relative social honour, parents who direct their children toward “higher” and more distinguished credentials are clearly behaving rationally. Yet, such competitive strategies have negative consequences both for individuals and society at large. Marxist sociologists (for example, Livingstone, 1996) characterize “wasted education” as a problem for working-class students duped by an oppressive ruling class that systematically over-states the demand for skills. In the neo-Weberian literature, the compulsion to overinvest in education is a problem for individuals at all levels of society, and is explained by the strategic behaviour of (imperfectly) rational individuals. In recent works, Wolf (2002), as well as Grubb and Lazerson (2004) have argued that the explosive growth in career-related PSE over the last quarter-century represents a colossal overinvestment and a diversion of both public and private resources, but one driven by a competition for credentials from which no rational actor can afford to withdraw (Grubb & Lazerson, 2004; Wolf, 2002). This section has argued that the current renaissance in Weberian social thought offers insights that are useful both for framing the incongruent discourses that surround the skilled trades, and for conducting social research into them. The fractured literature makes it very difficult to judge whether skilled trades occupations in Canada represent the reproduction of social  42  Chapter 2  disadvantage, or opportunities for advantage and upward mobility. Within the Weber literature, social stratification, mobility, and reproduction are ultimately understood in terms of individuals’ pursuit of material and non-material resources that are husbanded and fostered within social groups. From this perspective, the question of social status and mobility in the skilled trades can be re-phrased more concretely: What are the relevant social group boundaries for understanding skilled trades occupations? What sorts of resources and benefits are available to members of these social groups? How porous are their boundaries? That is, how easy or difficult is it for members of trades-affiliated groups to pursue their interests elsewhere; or for outsiders to enter and enjoy the benefits of membership? What are the actual practices that control membership in trades-related groups, and what strategies would facilitate mobility in cases where that would be beneficial? Mechanisms  For practical research that is informed by the principles of economic social action, the challenge, as Swedberg (1998) puts it, is “… to establish the mechanisms through which a number of individual actions turn into collective social actions of a new type” (p. 164). Mechanisms are very low-level abstractions that plausibly relate individual behaviour to larger patterns, based on the principles of social action. The mechanisms of interest here are regular practices and behaviours that facilitate the pursuit of interests in a social context. Mechanisms of social reproduction would reinforce the existing characteristics of groups, while mechanisms of mobility would enrich or impoverish the group’s resources and/or facilitate members’ passage from one group to another. As a means of orienting the case study research, this section identifies several candidate mechanisms, and illustrates the workings of some of them by drawing on the recent history of skills policy in British Columbia. Policy regimes  Starting with a high-level view, the comparative skills policy literature identifies a variety of distinct policy models or regimes (Rhine, Anglo-Saxon, Nordic, etc.) and investigates their associations with particular social and economic outcomes. In the literature, skills policy regimes are often compared in terms of their relative reliance on market or non-market processes (Brown, Green, & Lauder, 2001; Marginson, 1998). The quintessentially marketoriented, “Anglo-Saxon” policy model noted above promotes competition by dismantling  43  Chapter 2  closure mechanisms that would protect particular consumer or producer groups. Regimes at the other end of the spectrum capitalize on social closure and risk-sharing mechanisms such as unions, social security guarantees, and family practices as means of ensuring stability and basic levels of welfare (Brown et al., 2001; Esping-Andersen, 1999). These broad policy models are distinguished by the ways in which they deploy a variety of more specific mechanisms. Occupational structures and labour market types  In market societies, where employment is the principal means to both material wealth and social status, it is clear that the occupational structure is a fundamental element in mobility. Distinctions among labour market “types” reflect the idea that processes for entering occupations, and for moving from one occupational title to another, may differ. External or “flexible” labour markets (FLMs) come closest to the neo-classical conception of labour markets as “continuous auctions between atomistic buyers and sellers of labour” (DeFreitas, 1995, p. 41). FLMs typify the tertiary sector of contemporary economies, dominated by relatively low-skilled, low-waged, low-trust and temporary jobs (D. N. Ashton & Lowe, 1991). But they also account for increasing numbers of managerial and professional workers on contingent contracts as corporations and governments have downsized. FLMs also operate in the upper ranks of the high-tech sector, particularly in North America, where intense competition among firms and frequent job-hopping by highly qualified professionals seem to be important drivers of industrial innovation (Brown et al., 2001). By contrast, workers in “occupational” labour markets (OLMs) hold widely recognized and stable occupational titles – plumber, baker, lawyer, etc. – reflecting occupation-specific competencies that, traditionally, are underwritten by formal qualifications. In the third category, “firm-internal” labour markets (ILMs), workers ascend career ladders while in the employ of a single company, usually in accordance with detailed HR procedures and progressive skills requirements. An important variant on the ILM is the “extended” internal labour market (EILM). As Manwaring (1984) explains, in EILMs information about job vacancies is not only circulated within the firm’s internal labour market, but also communicated externally via the network contacts of the firm’s existing members. These distinct labour market types are not immutably associated with particular occupations or sectors, but depend on more specific and changeable mechanisms. In the archetypal OLM, the  44  Chapter 2  medieval craft guild protected the boundaries of the occupation by recognizing those who were entitled to practice the craft, controlling the training and formal recognition of new members, and enforcing norms regarding shared intellectual property or “trade secrets.” Under modern capitalism, these boundary functions are more fragmented and contested, and performed in part by trade unions, business associations, the training system, and law. Clearly, trade unions are a paradigm instance of an institutionalized social closure mechanism, whose primary function is to serve members’ interests by strategically regulating membership in occupational groups. “Craft” unions organize members around specific occupational titles (i.e., Carpenters and Joiners, Electrical Workers, etc.) and are common in sectors such as construction where workers frequently change employer but retain their occupational status. “Industrial” trade unions are more common in industries such as manufacturing, where large employers maintain relatively stable workforces representing numerous occupational groups. The density as well as the type of unionization varies considerably among skilled trades occupations and industry sectors. In general, unionization has been highest in sectors dominated by large firms, such as the auto sector in central Canada, and the forestry industry in the West (Marchak, 1983), and in large-scale (industrial and commercial) construction. The economic power of the closed union shop is clearly evident in the wage differences for skilled trades workers in union and non-union sectors (Gunderson, 2001; Raykov & Livingstone, 2005; Statistics Canada, 2006). In the British Columbia construction industry, employers have evaded the craft unions’ closure strategies by several means, including labour law amendments that weaken the right to organize, and “double-breasting” (opening non-union subsidiary firms in the same industry sector). In the industrial sector, employers have insisted on “flexible” work arrangements that weaken particular trades’ exclusive jurisdiction over defined work tasks. Since the 1980s, the social profile of trade unionism in Canada has shifted substantially, with sharp declines in union density in male-dominated occupations such as construction, and growth in the public sector, dominated by service occupations with a high proportion of female workers (Morrisette, Schellenberg, & Johnson, 2005). Certification  The idiom of the trades “ticket” signals the importance of occupational certification as a boundary mechanism. In fact, however, journeyperson certification does not guarantee  45  Chapter 2  exclusive access. Of the hundreds of apprenticeable trades practiced in Canada, relatively few require formal trade certification as a condition of practice. In British Columbia, the debate over compulsory certification reveals the play of strongly conflicting group interests. Business advocates have specifically targeted compulsory certification as a “market-distorting” practice which gives legal protection to a producer group’s monopoly on a field of work. (Johncox, 2001; MacNeill, 1994). Fenn (2000) argues that, since 1935 when all trades in BC were compulsory, successive exemptions and lax enforcement weakened the regulations to the point of being counterproductive. Like unionization, compulsory certification corresponds with higher wage rates (Akyeampong, 1991), indicating not only that trades workers are able to capitalize on the limited supply of credentials, but also that employers as a group are able to pass these costs on to consumers at no competitive disadvantage. Not surprisingly, compulsory certification seems to have been a significant factor in the attractiveness of trades occupations: BC data show that 41% of all trade qualifications awarded between 1999 and 2003 were in the eleven trades that were compulsory at the time (British Columbia Ministry of Advanced Education, 2006). This raises the question about the function of certification in non-compulsory trades. Where employment is open to both certified and non-certified workers, certification could be expected to produce negligible economic returns, as Akyeampong found in the study cited earlier. It is difficult to estimate the proportion of workers in apprenticeable trades who are neither certified nor registered apprentices. Employment of non-certified labour is known to be common in many trades, including high-employment occupations such as carpentry in the residential sector (Gunderson, 2001). Where certification does not improve employment prospects, serious questions arise about the value of vocational training to both students and the taxpayer. Educational structures  Training and certification also have important consequences for mobility. In philosophical terms, the nub of the liberal/vocational debate is whether education should be oriented to preconceived, instrumental outcomes, or should rather prepare the student for open-ended future experience (Dewey, 1938; reprint 1963; Plato, Hamilton, & Cairns, 1961; Silver & Brennan, 1988). In more practical terms, the question is whether curricular and certification structures should be dedicated to particular destinations, or should allow for maximum freedom  46  Chapter 2  of navigation. In comparative research on vocational systems in the OECD, Raffe (1998) argues that the design of curricular “pathways” involves trade-offs between flexibility and efficiency. Comprehensive curricular networks offer learners many routes to their desired destinations, and allow multiple starting, ending, and resting points. On the other hand, there are both efficiency and equity arguments for creating dedicated, “parallel” routes that will take particular types of learners to particular destinations while avoiding the wasteful traffic jams that can arise when all learners share the same road. In both the occupational and the educational structures, the fundamental trade-off is between stasis and mobility. Either can be rewarding under the right circumstances. The “vocational” model – at both the professional and manual-technical levels – is premised on terminal education and the security of a fixed occupational identity. The alternative is comprehensive and potentially unbounded education, providing a foundation for career advancement. In a study comparing the labour market mobility of workers in the UK and Germany, Stefani Scherer (2004) found that over-qualification (underemployment) is lower in Germany, where a strongly occupational labour market regulates the supply of qualified labour. The downside is that underemployed German workers tend to be trapped in their occupations more permanently. In the UK, with its more flexible labour market and more comprehensive education system, positional competition drives a greater oversupply of credentials, but workers are also more able to rise to positions commensurate with their qualifications. A similar situation holds in Canada, where a high rate of university participation leads to youth underemployment (Krahn, 1991) but also fosters occupational mobility. Akyeampong (1991) found that two to three years after completing their training 88% of Canadian apprentices remained employed in the occupation to which they had apprenticed. Later chapters will examine the security/mobility trade-off within the case study site. In the myriad proposals to raise the profile of skilled trades occupations and applied training, the vision of the career process is often unclear. Advocates send mixed messages as to whether the apprenticeship route offers the prospect of secure employment for young people who are unlikely to invest in further education, or whether it provides bright students an interesting starting point for varied and progressive careers. It is important to clarify what is being offered, as these distinct routes depend on different conditions, and require distinct strategies. The thrust  47  Chapter 2  of the current, neo-liberal policy regime in British Columbia has been to increase the flexibility of the market for skilled trades labour by dismantling or weakening protective mechanisms. The “New Model” of apprenticeship (British Columbia Ministry of Advanced Education, 2002; Industry Training Authority, 2006) re-drew the boundaries of certain trades occupations, creating new, modular certificates below the journeyperson level. It also creates additional avenues to certification, thereby evading the closure function of the apprenticeship training process. In 2003, the government rescinded the legal requirement for trade certification in the eleven formerly compulsory trades and replaced it with legislation requiring that certain “regulated products” be installed and maintained by competent persons, but making no references to specific worker qualifications (British Columbia Hansard, 2003). Other educational reform proposals also raise questions about the mechanisms that underpin the rewards to vocational training. Responding to the Ontario government’s effort to expand highschool apprenticeship programs, John O’Grady (1997) cautions that closer integration of trades apprenticeship and the mainstream education system will not only fail to meet the needs of youth and employers, but will also disrupt an important welfare strategy for the system’s traditional participants: relatively low-educated adult males with years of work experience. Similar objections might be raised about the fully integrated PSE system envisioned in the 2007 Campus 2020 report for British Columbia which, in its concern to eliminate educational dead ends, would also potentially expose trades/vocational learners to more direct competition with other PSE participants. Since occupational certification is invariably based on prescribed training and/or competency assessment, the features of the training and assessment system have important consequences for entry and mobility. Entry to an occupation may depend on training and assessment processes controlled by practitioners; here again, the archetype is the medieval guild, with apprenticeship as its signature training system. In some trades, unions have operated their own training centres both for apprenticeship technical training and for ancillary skills including workplace literacy (Canadian Labour and Business Centre, 2004; BC Construction Skills Improvement Council, 2008). In these cases, the union’s function as a gatekeeper is strengthened, since it can influence both the definition and the distribution of requisite skills and qualifications. Anthropological studies of apprenticeship in a wide range of settings show that, quite apart from its value in technical skill development, a fundamental strength of the apprenticeship 48  Chapter 2  model is in its ability to induct and socialize novices into closed communities of practice (Coy, 1989). In an ethnographic study of both medical interns and structural ironwork apprentices, Jack Haas (1989) finds parallel processes of ritual “mortification” and initiation, where new members learn to identify with the group and ally themselves with its norms. Families and peer groups  The reproduction of socioeconomic status within families is a central concern in sociology. From the research perspective proposed here, families and peer networks are viewed as concrete groups whose various resources allow their members greater or lesser scope for strategic behaviour. This perspective is not skeptical of social reproduction, but takes it as an empirical phenomenon to be investigated with reference to specific behaviours and mechanisms. To observe that members of a given group of trades workers have family members in the trades is to say very little about other similarities or differences among their families; but it does raise the possibility that they used similar strategies and resources to arrive where they are. Research along these lines is less interested in generalizing about the families than in exploring how the individuals utilized the available resources. Workplace mechanisms  The workplace is a key site for the exploration of group mechanisms. Numerous formal and informal practices can be predicted to contribute either to reproducing or changing characteristics of particular workforces. These may be formalized in human resources and other policies, or occur through informal means, with or without official approval or even awareness. Formal processes for recruitment, selection, and promotion are of interest in their own right, since their raison d’être is to define and enforce the organization’s membership criteria. But these are also complemented and contradicted by informal group processes, as illustrated by numerous examples from the equity literature. Specific, workplace-level mechanisms may serve to exclude out-groups, whether by skewed selection and advancement processes or by hazing and harassment, or they may operate by preserving advantages for insiders, as in the case of extended internal labour markets (EILM’s). Workplaces also intersect with the mobility structures of education and learning. Workplacesupported learning opportunities can contribute to mobility by producing both certification and skills. Numerous studies have explored the covariates of workplace-related and employer49  Chapter 2  supported training, and have clearly established, for example, that the incidence and intensity of such training are higher among workers who are already the best educated, and among workers within large organizations in both the private and public sectors (Goldenberg, 2006; Hum & Simpson, 2004; Z. Lin & Tremblay, 2003). Workers’ access to training and educational opportunities may have consequences for both their career advancement and other aspects of life quality. The right to perform certain tasks may be restricted to trades workers who have received specialized certification or “endorsements” related to health and safety, or proprietary products. As well, optional certification in certain topics may allow trades workers to take on additional roles and responsibilities at their own discretion. Beyond formal training, the design of work activities also has enormous implications for skill use and development, and hence for further opportunity. Drawing on cognitive research, Raizen (1994) finds that expert practitioners use a combination of procedural (task) knowledge and metacognitive skills, and rely heavily on social interaction to solve problems in the workplace. Echoing the educational progressivists, Raizen argues for forms of “situated learning” (currently realized in very few TVET programs and workplaces) that would capitalize on practical work environments to develop a range of skills in an integrated fashion. Finally, the nature of work, including the opportunities for learning and stimulation, is well known to affect other aspects of life. Meissner (1984) found that the “long arm of the job” carried over into after-work activities and habits, with workers in repetitive, intellectually and socially non-stimulating jobs less likely to participate in social or cultural activities during their leisure time. Clearly, the ways in which formal and informal learning opportunities are created and distributed in the workplace will have important consequences for workers’ career mobility, and for the social profile of particular organizations and occupations. Summary  In its selective review of the literature, this chapter has pursued several interconnected purposes. The most immediate was to acknowledge the list of key problems and issues that have occupied commentators on the apprenticeable skilled trades in Canada. But the more important aim was to show how these reflect the interests and methods of distinct research traditions or paradigms, whose internal limitations and mutual incongruencies leave important gaps in our understanding. A trades recruitment literature, directly produced by industry-based organizations and frequently echoed in the popular media, makes three essential claims: that 50  Chapter 2  skilled trades occupations can be financially and intellectually rewarding, especially in the context of looming skills shortages; that a large proportion of youth would be better served by vocational training for trades careers than by preparation for university; and that the historic unpopularity of trades-vocational training is the result of popular prejudices, largely perpetrated by academically biased educators. Through a sophisticated public relations effort, the trades advocacy lobby has evidently had some success in “repositioning” the skilled trades in the minds of education consumers, but it has not seriously analyzed, nor rationally refuted, the deep roots of the public’s notorious disinterest in the trades. Nor has it substantiated its advertising claims by quantifying the actual demand for particular apprenticeable skills or clearly outlining the very different degrees of reward experienced by workers in the broad field of “the trades,” and how these may differ by occupation, industry sector, unionization, gender, or other important variables that have been examined in the research. Two main bodies of scholarly literature were also referenced, representing distinct theoretical perspectives. The larger, and the more influential in policy circles, uses the principles and methods of labour economics to analyze the skills investment behaviour of vocational trainees and employers, and recommends interventions that might prevent or correct failures of the labour market. While human capital theory has proven a powerful perspective, research in the economic tradition also has its limitations. Analysis of the returns to apprenticeship training has been often hampered by the inability to disaggregate the available survey data in ways that would shed light on some basic questions. Also, by interpreting the dynamics of education and employment strictly in terms of market exchanges, the economistic approach has failed to examine how specific aspects of social context may affect outcomes for different individuals and groups. Though less influential among policy makers, the sociological literature has examined vocational and work-related training in the context of a hierarchical social structure, often warning of the potential for applied training programs to reinforce patterns of social inequality. While its concerns with equity and social structure are valuable correctives to the economic perspective, the limited sociological work related to the skilled trades has been more concerned with demonstrating structural inequality than with explaining the processes that account for it. In viewing the skilled trades primarily in relation to social structure rather than social action, this literature, too, neglects important differences in the experiences of individuals, and portrays the trades as uniformly disadvantaged positions. In doing so it not 51  Chapter 2  only dismisses subjects’ own perceptions as ideological rationalizations; it also overlooks very interesting questions about the strategies individuals and groups use in pursuing and protecting their interests in relation to the skilled trades. The experience of equity groups illustrates how both the access to and the rewards of occupations may be localized. Women’s participation in the apprenticeable trades remains overwhelmingly restricted to a small number of relatively low-paid job titles. Monumental struggles for gender equity in the twentieth century succeeded in gaining women access to many formerly male-dominated occupational niches, but despite the efforts of the WITT movement, women’s inroads into non-traditional trades occupations were limited and short-lived. The literature on equity group access to the skilled trades provides a variety of poignant narratives, but has not coalesced around a coherent theoretical account of occupational membership dynamics. The second part of this chapter reviewed some basic concepts from Weber’s theory of economic social action, and their connections to several important new avenues of social research. Proponents of ESA claim that it bridges the artificial gulf between economic and sociological approaches by relating two distinct elements or moments of social explanation. Social structure is understood as an abstraction, and as a heuristic for visualizing macro-level social relations, but never as a determining force. Structural regularities are explained in terms of social action, which exists only as the interest-oriented behaviour of socially embedded individuals. A program of research into the skilled trades on these lines would describe the reproduction of trades employment within particular families and communities, or the reproduction of particular social characteristics within trades occupations or workplaces, as structural regularities. It would seek to explain their formation and persistence by understanding the strategic behaviour of the individuals involved – for instance, by observing how they define their interests and how, in pursuing them, they draw on resources which very frequently require some kind of social affiliation or agreement. These processes may involve a wide range of “mechanisms,” such as occupational titles, credential structures, hiring processes, workplace learning activities, informal cultural habits or rituals, and many others. Research questions Two broad questions about social structure and action in the skilled trades were introduced in Chapter 1 (pp. 6-7). In light of the literature and the conceptual framework outlined in the 52  Chapter 2  present chapter, it is now possible to narrow those into four research questions to be investigated by the present project. Each one is stated first in broad terms, and then more narrowly in relation to the case study. 1. Advantage and disadvantage: Should skilled trades occupations be considered positions of relative advantage or disadvantage? How do members of the study population compare with other Canadian workers on common measures of welfare such as income, education, career mobility, and job satisfaction? 2. Social reproduction and mobility: How is the relative social position of trades workers perpetuated and/or altered through their family and network connections? How do such connections function in the case study population, and with what effects? 3. Demographic and cultural characteristics: What accounts for the distinctive demographic profile and workplace culture of industrial skilled trades occupations? What accounts for the homogeneity of the study workforce on measures such as gender, education, and ethnicity, and how are these features related to cultural aspects of this workplace? 4. Policy and organizational factors: How do policies and organizational practices affect social aspects of skilled trades occupations, including their economic and other rewards to workers; their openness to new members; and their utility as routes for social advancement? How do organizational structures and business practices within the case study site affect the social characteristics of the skilled trades workforce? The following chapter outlines a strategy for investigating these questions in the case study environment.  53  Chapter 3  CHAPTER 3 Research Methods In the scholarly tradition that orients this project, the research process can be conceptualized in two parts: reading structure into empirical data; and seeking to account for the discerned patterns as the results of interest-oriented social behaviour. The case study approach used here provides an opportunity to investigate aspects of both social structure and action within a single study environment. The site for the case was chosen on the basis of both academic and practical considerations. As the largest single employer of skilled trades persons in British Columbia, the facility offered the prospect of access to a large population of participants and the ability to coordinate the project through a single administrative structure. The facility’s status as a very stable, public-sector employer also offered many attractions from a research perspective. Other practical advantages were that the writer lives in the city where the facility is located, and was acquainted with a key contact through previous professional work. As this study is concerned with workers in apprenticeable skilled trades, the research specifically targeted apprentices and journeypersons in skilled trades recognized by the British Columbia apprenticeship system and/or the interprovincial Red Seal system (Human Resources and Skills Development Canada & Canadian Council of Directors of Apprenticeship, 2006-0329). Although some of the job titles used in the case study facility are unique to this employer, all workers nevertheless hold (or are working toward) trade qualifications recognized by these systems. The study was restricted to civilian employees. Occupational titles covered by the study and corresponding codes are listed in Table 3.3 below. Initial planning for the project began in summer 2006. In mid-September, the writer met with the Fleet Human Resources Business Manager (FHRBM) to propose the project. In early October, the FHRBM advised that the relevant senior managers had expressed interest in the study, and had authorized the FHRBM to serve as the senior point of contact for further planning and coordination. In early November, an initial project information or kickoff meeting was held, attended by sixteen delegates representing the three participating production units, the civilian human resources department, and the two trade union bodies. The researcher 54  Chapter 3  presented the research objectives and the proposed research plan. The discussion produced several valuable outcomes: acquainting the participants with the project and building goodwill; generating a number of practical suggestions for conducting the research; and identifying designated research contacts or, in the parlance of the organization, “offices of primary interest” (OPIs) from each of the relevant departments. For most of the subsequent coordination, the researcher would deal directly with these OPIs. An important outcome of this kickoff meeting was to alert the writer to practical and ethical issues that would be borne in mind for the duration of the project. These centre on the difference between the investigator’s and the host organization’s interests in conducting the research. From the researcher’s point of view, the support and cooperation of many people within the organization would clearly be indispensable. Senior management support was necessary even for access to the site, but also for authorization to occupy substantial amounts of paid employee time, and to draw on the organization’s formal and informal communication channels to solicit participation. The anticipated survey and interviews would not succeed without the willing engagement of middle and lower managers and trades workers. Meanwhile, the project’s academic credibility presupposed the researcher’s independence in designing and conducting the investigation, and interpreting the findings. Though members of the organization would be motivated to support the research to the extent that they saw it addressing their needs, and to the extent that they had a constructive relationship with the researcher, this could not be understood as a consultant-client relationship. Several strategies were used in managing this issue. In the first place, the researcher addressed this point at the outset of all formal meetings and interviews, noting that the primary objectives were academic, and that any findings would not necessarily bear on issues of interest to particular parties, nor have any effect on decision making in the organization. Another was to describe research objectives in quite general terms (though this was also due to the inevitable sharpening of the research focus as the project evolved). For instance, at the kickoff meeting, the stated objective was “To better understand the factors that affect trades workers’ career decisions.” Finally, the fact that the researcher is a journeyed tradesman was an invaluable asset in building rapport with line workers and managers throughout the project. The project required approval by the Behavioural Ethics Research Board (BREB) at the University of British Columbia and by the Department of National Defence through the 55  Chapter 3  Director Personnel Applied Research. Approval certificates from both bodies are included in the appendices. The researcher was also granted an “ordinary pass,” permitting regular access to the facility. A combination of research methods was adopted in order to address the research questions listed on pages 52-53, above. Quantitative data were gathered as descriptive evidence of social structure, particularly in relation to questions 1 through 3. The aim of the interview research was more explanatory, and was most applicable to questions 2, 3, and 4. Quantitative methods and sources Quantitative data were gathered from three sources: public information sources, administrative data from the case study organization, and the trades worker survey. Public information sources  Comparative information on wage rates in relevant skilled trades occupations is provided in Chapter Four. Data sources included Internet-accessible databases and collective agreements, as well as print materials. Specific sources are indicated in context. Chapter Four presents information on selected indicators of literacy for Canadian males in skilled trades occupations, based on the International Adult Literacy and Skills Survey 2003 (IALSS). The IALSS data are useful both for comparing the skilled trades with other occupational groups on the basis of literacy, numeracy, and problem-solving skills, and for comparing the case study population with other Canadian males on selected literacy habits. All of the analyses of IALSS data presented here are based on a subset consisting of records for all Canadian males (n=9168). A sample weight was applied to all analyses. A discussion of challenges in defining and measuring literacy proficiency is provided in the IALSS User Manual (Statistics Canada, 2002b, pp. 4-7, 38-40). Administrative data  Administrative data were used as a source of basic demographic information about the study population. The human resources office provided an anonymous list of 1269 civilian employees in the three work units identified for the project. Using Public Service job classification codes, the initial list was reduced to an eligible population of 820 civilian workers in recognized, 56  Chapter 3  apprenticeable skilled trades. This includes 753 workers in job classifications that can clearly be identified as apprenticeable trades, as well as 55 ship repair managers and 12 construction inspectors, all of whom are assumed to have trades certification. The admin data included information on each employee’s work unit, gender, year of birth and year of hire. Workforce Survey  The major part of the quantitative research consisted of a pen-and-paper “Civilian Trades Survey”, referred to throughout this document as CTS. Respected resources for survey design were consulted, including Czaja and Blair (2005), Monette, Sullivan and DeJong (1986), Babbie (1995), and Bryman (2004). Instruments, documentation, and secondary literature on other relevant studies were also consulted, and questionnaire items from some of these were adopted. Sources included the following: •  Adult Education and Training Survey (AETS) (Statistics Canada, 2003a);  •  Department of National Defence, National Apprenticeship Study, 2006 (Department of National Defence, 2006a);  •  International Adult Literacy and Skills Survey 2003 (IALSS) (Statistics Canada, 2002a; Statistics Canada, 2002b; Statistics Canada, 2005b);  •  National Apprenticeship Survey, 1993 (Statistics Canada, 1993);  •  Nova Scotia Apprentice Survey, 2001 (Nova Scotia Department of Education, Provincial Apprenticeship Board, 2001);  •  Public Service Employee Survey, 2005 (Public Service Human Resources Management Agency of Canada, 2006);  •  Social Capital Question Bank (National Statistics (United Kingdom), 2002)  •  Survey of Registered Apprentices of Newfoundland and Labrador (Division of Corporate Planning and Research, 2004);  •  World Bank Social Capital Survey, 2004 (Grootaert et al., 2004).  57  Chapter 3  Design and development  The purpose of the survey was to advance the overall goal of the project: i.e., a constructive three-way intersection of empirical knowledge of the case study; background knowledge of issues, perspectives, and debates on the skilled trades; and the theory of economic social action. The specific goal of the survey was to capture a sizeable set of biographical and opinion data that would support inferences regarding both social structure and action. The structural question is, first, whether and in what senses respondents can be regarded as members of advantaged or disadvantaged groups; and secondarily, the degree to which structural positions are fixed or changeable over time. Structural advantage would be understood in terms of various resources or forms of “capital,” whether material (earnings), social (group membership, network contacts), or human (educational qualifications, skills). These indicators would mostly be operationalized through biographical questionnaire items. Questions of social action seek to account for structural relations by gaining insight into the interests, motivations, and strategies of individual actors. These would be explored in part by means of opinion items on the survey instrument. Survey pre-testing  The survey design and development was conducted from November 2006 through March 2007. During this period the researcher met several times with the contact persons to maintain awareness of the project, and to gather information for planning the research activities and developing the survey instrument and communication materials. It was made clear that actual data gathering would not begin until the required approvals had been received. The instrument was pre-tested with approximately 30 individuals, and debriefed both in small groups and in individual interviews. In the first round of pre-testing, copies of the draft questionnaire, along with guidelines for reviewers, were circulated to fifteen reviewers at CFB Esquimalt, including several of the OPIs assigned to the project and three members of the fleet human resources office. Packages were also forwarded to senior managers, with a request that they convey their comments through appointed representatives who would meet with the researcher. Two debriefing meetings were held in January 2007 with six and three representatives from the above group attending. Each survey item was discussed, and reviewers made numerous helpful comments and suggestions, particularly concerning special terminology and processes familiar to the survey population. Input from these meetings led to several revisions in the choice, wording, and sequencing of items. The review teams were also very helpful in advising on the 58  Chapter 3  timing and logistics of the survey process, as well as the communication and incentive strategies. After the initial round of pre-testing, the revised instrument was forwarded to officials of both of the trade unions representing the study population. Both initially expressed a concern that some of the draft questionnaire items, particularly those dealing with family background and educational attainment, implied “innuendo” and academic condescension. After some discussion these issues were resolved without changes to the questionnaire, and both unions provided statements of endorsement for use in the publicity materials. A further stage in the pre-testing was to pilot the questionnaire with trades workers similar to the study population. To minimize confusion, the decision was made to conduct the pilot at a separate DND facility. With the assistance of CFB Esquimalt, arrangements were made to hold a pilot session with civilian employees of the Base Construction Engineering branch of 19 Wing Comox, an Air Force base 250 km north of Victoria. Employees of this unit hold the same job classifications and do similar work to those at the civil works unit in Esquimalt. Letters of initial contact were distributed in the last week of February 2007, and a pilot survey session was scheduled to be held at 19 Wing in early March. The objectives of the pilot session were: (a) to hear directly from respondents any feedback that might contribute to improving the questionnaire and the research process; (b) to identify any questions that respondents might find confusing or offensive, or any difficulties they may have with the questionnaire; (c) to measure the completion time with a representative group; and (d) to observe any dynamics or behaviour that might lead to improvements of the questionnaire or the interpretation process. Thirteen civilian trades persons completed the pilot survey. Coffee and donuts were provided, and a variety of token appreciation gifts (UBC pens, ball caps, T-shirts) were distributed to all participants. The completion time ranged from 17 to 28 minutes, with most around 24 minutes, similar to the time taken by the Esquimalt reviewers. After completing the survey, the group remained for about 45 minutes of discussion. When asked for general impressions about “how it felt” to complete the questionnaire, and whether any items felt inappropriate or invasive, the group was unanimous and quite emphatic that, on the contrary, the questions were generally interesting, and they appreciated the opportunity to reflect on some issues they may not have thought about for years (e.g., the process that had led them to work in the trades). Like the 59  Chapter 3  union representatives, one respondent asked about the relevance of the items on parents’ occupations, but before the researcher could respond, other members were already explaining that the implicit, underlying question of whether “trades run in families” was legitimate and interesting. This seemed to be the consensus of the group. No other question was identified as problematic. To pre-test the usability of the data, the responses from the pilot were entered into a database. The data entry process highlighted a number of decisions that would have to be made in coding the data from the main survey. Using SPSS, a variety of queries were run on the pilot data. Dummy records were also entered, to add complexity and generate more meaningful values. As the trial analysis did not reveal any problems that would call for changes, the formatting of the survey instrument was finalized with the content unchanged. Communication and participation incentives  The logistics of recruiting participants, and distributing and collecting survey questionnaires, were planned with extensive input from internal contacts. Managers were extremely cooperative and generous in providing human and other resources both to the planning and the execution of the study. The logistical success of the project was due in great measure to the organization’s internal messaging about the project, its direct contribution of staff time, and its effective use of internal influence and communication channels to mobilize assistance in all of the participating units. From the initial kickoff meeting, it was understood that the project would involve both the survey and a series of interviews, and that the planning and communication for these should be integrated where possible. The fleet human resources office secured the senior management’s endorsement for the project, and communicated this by email to the apex contacts in the relevant departments. A crucial factor was the decision by senior management to allow all respondents to complete the survey, and to participate in group interviews on paid work time. With the assistance of the OPIs, the researcher was able to introduce the project to senior and middle managers, usually by briefly attending their regular peer meetings. This personal contact seemed to be important in building good will for the project, and engaging these managers in subsequent steps of the process. Once the managers and union representatives were aware of the project, the communications effort shifted to the trades workforce. A story on the project was printed in the Base newspaper, and OPIs sent out internal email notices for posting in work areas. This awareness information was followed by 60  Chapter 3  the letter of initial contact, distributed by the payroll office to trades workers in the participating units with their pay stubs. The key incentive to survey participants was the opportunity to enter a raffle. The grand prize was a “hockey holiday”, including two tickets to a National Hockey League playoff game in Vancouver, hotel accommodation, and return car ferry fare from Victoria. Nineteen minor prizes (ball caps and T-shirts) were also distributed to winners in twelve work units, based on random draws from their respective areas. All of the communications materials and the raffle process were reviewed and approved by the behavioural research ethics board (BREB) in the original application. The final draw was conducted by a group of human resources department staff and the researcher. Implementation  The survey implementation process and timing differed somewhat among the three participating work units. The transport unit, located several kilometers from the main base, is the smallest, with only twelve eligible participants. The survey was implemented in this unit first, permitting what amounted to a second pilot opportunity. In this case, it was possible to gather all of the participants to a single survey session, and for the researcher both to facilitate the session and to collect the completed forms immediately afterward. With this degree of control, the response rate was 100%. (To ensure anonymity, records from this unit were combined with the those from the construction engineering or civil works unit for reporting purposes). The second unit surveyed, the base construction engineering or civil works department, was also the second largest. As in the first case, the survey was scheduled for a single session on one day, but the number of sub-units made it impossible for the researcher to facilitate the sessions directly. Instead, shop supervisors were assigned to introduce the survey with the aid of a written guideline, and to distribute and collect the instruments. Supervisors were asked to ensure that any absent employees were given the opportunity to fill out the survey once they returned to work, and to keep all of the returns for later pick-up by the researcher. In the largest unit, ship repair, it was not possible to schedule a single survey completion session. Instead, shop supervisors were asked to distribute the forms in their areas, to allow their workers time to complete them over a five-day period, and to collect completed forms. Table 3.3 shows that the response rate declines substantially from the first to the third of these groups, probably at least in part as a result of the differences in the implementation process. To promote participation among apprentices, the human resources staff in the ship 61  Chapter 3  repair unit included the questionnaire in their normal orientation process for incoming apprentices up until the final date for returning forms. Population and sample  The population consists of all civilian journeypersons and apprentices in apprenticeable trades and management roles in the three participating work units of the case study site. No sample was defined, as the entire population was surveyed. No effort was made to extrapolate characteristics of the surveyed group to the general population outside the study site, and indeed a founding assumption of the project is that the study site is in a number of respects exceptional. Administrative records were used to determine the number of eligible workers in each unit, and to coordinate the distribution and collection of the survey questionnaires. The only discrepancy between the population and the final data set is due to the response rate, discussed below. Data processing and cleanup  Nine hundred survey instruments were distributed to shop supervisors, according to the OPIs’ estimates of the number of workers in each shop. In total 582 packages were returned, including 525 completed questionnaires. Fifty-seven packages contained a blank form and/or a raffle ticket stub. One spoiled questionnaire, and fifteen others from respondents not meeting the selection criteria were removed during the data cleanup process, reducing the total to 509 valid responses. The bulk of the data entry was performed under contract by the Applied Research and Evaluation Services unit (ARES) in the faculty of Education at UBC. Questionnaire data were entered first into an Excel template, and later converted to SPSS. An SPSS conversion file was written to convert the value scales for a number of variables into the final SPSS data file. From the 509 valid records, 82 (16%) were randomly selected and checked for data entry errors. A total of 121 errors were found, affecting 38 records or 46% of the sample. There was a range of from 0 to 15 and a mean of 1.47 errors per record. Based on 172 variables, the chance of error for any given variable was about 0.9%. Adjusting for the 121 errors found and corrected, the remaining probability of error for any variable is 0.7%, giving a 99.3% probability of data accuracy. Further cleanup was required in order to handle ambiguous or unanticipated responses. In a small number of cases, this involved choosing to code a response in one way or 62  Chapter 3  another. More often, ambiguities were handled by adding new codes in order to avoid loss of data. Some typical problems are as follows Ineligible occupations At item 1 “What is your trade?”, 44 respondents indicated “Other.” Each record was further checked for TQ and Ticket, and fifteen records were removed where it was determined that the respondents were neither certified tradespersons nor apprentices. To capture the remaining “Other” records, six new values were added: “Other architectural,” “Other Mechanical,” “Other Electrical,” “Other metal fabrication,” and “Crane Operator”. Multiple responses to single response questions •  At item 4, where respondents checked both “Writing a TQ Challenge Exam” and “Military Equivalency,” the latter was recorded, as it implies the former and provides additional information.  •  New variables were created to capture data on questions where respondents commonly marked more than one value (e.g., items 22 and 23 – post-departure plans). Where more than two responses were given, both variables were treated as missing data.  •  At items 60 and 62 (parents’ educational attainment), where multiple options were marked only the highest was recorded.  •  At item 31 (recent training), where respondents marked “Required by my employer” and another response, AND where at item 33 they indicated that the employer had paid for the training, item 31 was interpreted as “Required by my employer.”  •  At item 52 on visible minority status, one form was marked “Yes,” with “White” in parentheses. The response was re-entered as “No.”  Non numeric responses for scale variables •  Respondents commonly gave non-numeric or non-scalable answers at items 12 and 13, (number of employers or occupations since first job). To make these responses interpretable, new variables were created, and new “adjusted” values were manually entered. Extreme outliers were treated as missing data for the “adjusted” variables. Where the respondent gave a range (e.g., “30-50”) a midpoint was estimated. Where a minimum was entered (i.e., “50+”), the given number (e.g., 50) was entered. Where 63  Chapter 3  terms such as “many” or “lots” were used, a numeric value was estimated based on the high end of responses by respondents in the same trade. Zeroes in the raw data were given an adjusted value of 1, since every respondent must have had at least one employer and one occupation. Unsolicited comments •  Where deemed relevant, comments written at various points in the questionnaire were recorded under a new variable.  Response rate  Calculating an exact response rate is not straightforward because of ambiguity regarding the denominator. Information on the total possible number of responses came from different sources. The total eligible population derived from the administrative data (820) differed from the total of estimates from the OPIs in each unit. The discrepancy probably arises from several factors, including local managers taking account of vacations or other absences, and/or counting personnel known to have trades qualifications but working in permanent or temporary managerial or technical positions off the shop floor. For simplicity, the HR office figure of 820 is used as the denominator, but must be regarded as an approximation. Table 3.1 gives an overview of the population by characteristics captured in the administrative data: gender, age, tenure, work unit, occupation, and apprentices. The table provides the proportion of both the population and the survey responses accounted for by each sub-group. It also provides survey response rates for each category, using the admin data as the denominator. The completion rate for males, females, and apprentices was fairly close to the overall rate of 62%. The rate is somewhat sensitive to both age and tenure, with higher completion rates among older and more senior workers. Variations in response rate by occupational group may be due to differences in the distribution and collection processes in the three work units, as well as peculiarities of particular shops. For instance, the mechanical trade is noticeably underrepresented as a percentage, though with 51 responses this group has a meaningful presence in the data. Over all, the data show that the survey represents a significant proportion of each group.  64  Chapter 3  Table 3.1  Survey population characteristics and response rates  Total Gender Males Females Total  Percentage of  Percentage of  Response  population  responses  rate, percent  N=820  N=509  62  98  98  61  2  2  59  100  100  -  Age >25  5  3  41  25-34  11  10  56  35-44  22  21  59  45-54  41  44  64  >54  22  23  63  100  100  -  23  19  50  3-9  26  19  42  10-19  18  17  59  20-29  25  32  78  30-39  8  13  97  100  100  -  1  2  100  Civil works  12  16  84  Ship repair  86  81  58  100  100  -  14  23  91  Mechanical  24  11  27  Electrical/Electronic  23  30  75  Metal Fab & Pipe  18  31  90  Crane / Rigging  4  5  57  Apprentices  8  9  73  100  100  -  Total Job tenure in years 0-2  Total Work unit Transport  Total Occupation (grouped) Architectural  Total  Calculating the item response rate is also complicated since the number of possible responses varies. Depending on their answers to certain questions. respondents may be directed to  65  Chapter 3  secondary questions (e.g., #54) or to skip one or more subsequent items (e.g., #15, #27). The “typical” respondent is prompted for responses on 165 closed-ended items, producing a total possible of 83,985 item responses from the 509 valid questionnaires. Of these, 4461 or 5.3% were left blank, for an item response rate of 95%. The vast majority of the item non-responses reflect twelve questions that were left blank by over 30% of the respondents. The distribution and collection processes provide a high degree of confidence that the questionnaires were in fact completed by respondents meeting the study criteria: civilian journeypersons and apprentices. The researcher was present in some of the shops while questionnaires were being completed, and attended at others to pick up questionnaires. Moreover, apart from the one spoiled record noted earlier, there was no evidence of willful misrepresentation. Neither in the pilot session, nor in the two “live” survey sessions attended by the writer were there discrepancies between the demographic information reported (i.e., regarding gender, age, and visible minority status) and what could be observed of the group. Data analysis  As the vast majority of variables in the CTS dataset are at the nominal or ordinal level of measurement, most of the bivariate relationships in this study are presented in tables. Kendall’s Tau B is generally used to report the strength of association (proportional reduction of error), along with Chi square as the measure of statistical significance. In a few cases where the dependent variables are dichotomous, binary logistic regression has been used. Norman Cliff (1996) argues that tables often provide better insight into bivariate relationships among ordinal data than parametric methods can. Tables that are central to the discussion are presented in the body of the text, while those that provide supporting information are presented in the appendices. Socioeconomic status indicators Indicators of socioeconomic status (SES) are used at several points in this study as means of quantifying individuals’ relative positions and/or mobility in the social hierarchy. A number of different SES and occupational prestige scales are in wide use, and there is an extensive literature on the theory and evolution of these measures (Blishen et al., 1987; Boyd, 2001; Erikson et al., 1979; Ganzeboom & Treiman, 1996; Goyder & Franks, 2007; Marks, 2005; Pineo, 1985). The measure used here is the International Socioeconomic Index (ISEI) 66  Chapter 3  constructed by Ganzeboom, De Graaf and Treiman (1992). Like the Blishen and Pineo-PorterMcRoberts measures, the ISEI is a continuous scale which ranks occupations according to a combination of income and education. A concordance developed by Ganzeboom and Treiman (1996) makes it possible to assign ISEI values to occupations based on their ISCO 88 occupational codes. For the present study, ISCO and ISEI codes are applicable to five variables: (a) the respondent’s occupation; (b) the occupation that the respondent¸ as a teenager, aspired to; (c) the occupation that the respondent, as a teenager, expected to have as an adult; and the occupations of the respondent’s (d) father and (e) mother. Coding the respondent’s occupation presents no problem, since it is known with certainty. However, assigning ISCO codes to the other four variables involves interpreting text responses. In many cases, respondents gave enough information to allow coding to the ISCO four-digit level (e.g., “welder chargehand”). Other responses (e.g., “school teacher,” “tradesman”) could only be coded to three or two digits. Some text answers were too ambiguous to be useful (e.g., “supervisor,” “civil servant”) and were treated as missing data. On this basis it was possible to assign ISCO codes to 385 of 466 text responses on fathers’ occupation. Because family connections with the military are of interest for this study, a separate occupational code was created to capture cases where a parent worked in, or a respondent had aspired to, a military occupation. The “military” category was only used when no other information was provided. For instance, a response of “pipefitter at DND” would be coded as pipefitter, while “navy CPO” or “soldier” would be treated as “military.” Occupational titles used in the CTS questionnaire are shown in Table 3.2, with their ISCO and ISEI codes. The right hand column gives the number of CTS respondents in each occupation.  67  Chapter 3  Table 3.2  CTS survey responses by occupational title, and ISCO and ISEI code  Occupational title  ISCO 88  ISEI  N  Auto Mechanic  7231  34  17  Bricklayer/Cement Mason/Tilesetter  7122  30  4  Carpenter  7124  30  30  Electrician  7254  40  95  Electroplater  8223  30  9  Electronic Technician  7243  41  56  Heavy Duty/Commercial Vehicle Mechanic  7233  34  7  Lagger/Heat & Frost Insulator  7134  30  8  Machinist  7223  34  62  Painter  7141  30  21  Pipe Fitter/Plumber  7136  33  30  Rigger  7215  30  19  Refrigeration Mechanic  7210  34  14  Sail Maker  7437  30  5  Sheet Metal Fabricator  7213  34  23  Shipwright  7124  30  28  Metal Fabricator/Boilermaker  7214  34  28  Water, Fuel & Environment Tech  8163  30  10  Welder  7212  34  9  Other architectural trades  7130  30  2  Other mechanical trades  7210  31  16  Other electrical trades  7240  40  2  Other metal fabrication trades  7210  34  3  Crane operator  8330  29  4  Missing  -  -  6  Total  -  -  509  Interview research The project’s conceptual framework calls for research methods that can enquire simultaneously into social structure and action. This challenge suggested a mixed-methods approach, where descriptive data about the case population and the organization could be supplemented with information about the meanings, interpretations, and strategies of the various actors involved. A focus group technique was adopted as a means of gaining some insight into the behaviour 68  Chapter 3  behind the survey results. The focus group technique is now well established as a method for qualitative social research, though inevitably there is some debate as to its exact features. David Morgan (1996) advocates a broad definition, incorporating three main criteria: (a) a group conversation that is (b) oriented to a research objective and (c) led by a facilitator. The technique is distinguished from other group interview processes by its conversational nature, and the explicit expectation that participants will build on one another’s contributions while the facilitator keeps the discussion relevant to the research questions. Because it generates not only declarative statements but also spontaneous interactions that include body language, tone, silences, and so on, the process can provide valuable insights into group-level dynamics as well as the positions of individual discussants. The design and execution of the focus group phase of the study is described here according to Steinar Kvale’s (1996) seven-step model for interview research: thematizing, designing, interviewing, transcribing, analyzing, verifying, and reporting. Thematizing  According to Kvale, the interview technique is … particularly suited for studying people’s understanding of the meanings in their lived world, describing their experiences and self-understanding, and clarifying and elaborating their own perspective on their lived world. (p. 105) As such, it lends itself very well to the research framework adopted for this project, where structural characteristics of the case study environment are assumed to arise from behaviour that is necessarily meaningful to the actors, often at multiple levels. For instance, the proceedings of the focus groups might be taken as straightforward reports of information, as statements of subjective viewpoint or partisan position, and/or as speech behaviour that performs social functions, whether consciously intended or not. These differences would need to be borne in mind in selecting and grouping interviewees, and in designing the interview process, since different groups within the organization would inevitably have different information and perspectives. A variety of possible mechanisms were listed in Chapter 2 as means of conceptualizing the link between social structure and action. In starting to thematize the interview process, a table was created in which a number of structural findings from the survey data (i.e., the gender and 69  Chapter 3  ethnic profile of the workforce; the density of family connections to the trades) could be tentatively mapped to a list of potential mechanisms that might contribute to them. This framework provided a basis for generating more specific hypotheses about certain aspects of social action in the study environment, and then for developing interview questions appropriate to particular groups in the study site. Based on the distinct themes to be explored, four target groups were identified for interviewing: trades workers, production managers, labour representatives, and human resources staff. Designing  The interview phase necessarily followed the workforce survey, since the main aim in interviewing was to account for aspects of social structure indicated by the quantitative research. Interviews were scheduled for dates most convenient to the participating units. A group interview format was adopted, both on practical grounds and on the premise that group interaction would stimulate more energetic and creative discussions. OPIs advised that a group format would not dampen candid discussion as long as the participants in each group were from similar areas and levels of the organization. An interview period was scheduled for late May 2007 for civil works employees, and the period for ship repair workers was set for early August. Sessions for management, union, and HR participants were initially planned for the fall of 2007 and ultimately held in December 2007 and January 2008. Participants for the trades worker interviews were recruited by means of a poster, distributed to shop supervisors along with the list of prize winners from the survey raffle. Posters were also placed on bulletin boards in the facility, and circulated to some extent by internal email. The poster featured a list of proposed discussion questions, some of which were phrased in intentionally provocative terms, i.e., “How does knowing someone at DND make a difference in getting hired? … Why are the trades so white, male, and Anglo?” Workers interested in participating were asked to contact the researcher to be scheduled into the sessions, which would be capped at eight participants each. Participants required – and to the writer’s awareness were always granted – permission from their unit supervisors to participate. Enough responses were submitted to fill a total of four sessions in two units. Three email submissions were also received from individuals unable to attend but wishing to respond to the points raised in the poster. Without exception, trades workers’ responses to the posted questions, whether in  70  Chapter 3  writing or during the interviews, were positive in tone. The one anomaly was a complaint, sent to the manager of human resources by a member of a non-trades department, alleging that the statements made in the poster were false and inflammatory. The researcher provided quantitative evidence to support the claims, to the satisfaction of the HR department. In October 2007, prior to conducting the management group interviews, a combination pilot interview and planning session was held with members of the HR staff. The purpose was mainly to seek guidance on the logistics of the manager interviews, and in particular to pilot an interview format which included a presentation of some initial findings from the study. Although the test group found the presentation very engaging, the researcher chose to omit it from the design, and to dedicate as much interview time as possible to eliciting rather than presenting information. The pilot process proved very valuable in heading off what could have been an ineffective approach. Interviewing  Ten interviews were held, of which nine were group interviews and one was with a single interviewee. In total, 49 individuals participated, including 29 trades workers and 20 participants representing management, unions, and human resources staff. Interviews took place at the workplace and on work time. Coffee, donuts, and fruit were provided. Each interview began with a standard set of opening remarks including a welcome, a request for permission to audio tape, explanation of the confidentiality assurances and limitations, distribution of consent forms, and a brief description of the study and the planned format of the session. The standard tokens of appreciation were handed out to randomly selected participants at the end of the trades worker group interviews. With the exception of the October “pilot” interview and presentation described above, all interviews were conducted as semi-structured conversations. Trades worker interviews were two hours, and the manager interviews between two and three hours long. Each interview was based on an interview guide, developed from the thematizing exercise described above. In the case of the four trades worker sessions, the recruitment poster was used as the guide, since most participants had come prepared to discuss the topics listed on it. The researcher was equipped with additional notes, including a number of relevant findings from the CTS survey, but the flow of the discussions generally made it unnecessary to consult these. Separate guides were 71  Chapter 3  used for the manager and union rep interviews (see Appendix D). In general, the interviewer adopted the role of conversation facilitator or moderator, chairing the session and posing both initial and follow-up questions as necessary, but largely encouraging a free-flowing discussion. Indeed, little encouragement was needed, as participation was generally quite enthusiastic. Transcribing  Interviews were audio recorded, and brief pencil notes of highlights or points to probe were made as each session progressed. Audio recordings of the research interviews were transcribed by the researcher immediately, with the transcriptions being completed either on the day of or the day after the interview. The exception was a pair of back-to-back interviews on the same day, where no sound was recorded, due to the writer’s error in both the choice and operation of the equipment. In this case, the penciled notes were used as memory aids in reconstructing a fuller set of notes from the two interviews. In subsequent interviews a different recording device was used. The transcription process was consciously guided by both the research framework and the emerging thesis of the study, and the clear need for selectivity in cataloguing over twenty hours’ worth of audio recording. The intention in transcribing was to produce an accurate record of interviewees’ comments relevant to the aims of the study, but not necessarily a verbatim report of every remark. In some cases, the purpose of the transcript was served simply by describing (rather than recording) what was said, for instance idle chit-chat, or the researcher’s introductory comments. In general, the transcripts indicate every change of speaker, by either quoting, paraphrasing or describing what was said, and noting the audio footage. Verbatim quotation was used where the comment was deemed clearly relevant to the interview question, and where there was even a remote possibility of it being presented in the findings. Even here, “ums” and “ahs” and obvious slips of the tongue were omitted. Direct quotes were indicated with quotation marks. Given the conversational nature of the interviews, many comments serve to maintain the flow without necessarily adding relevant new content. Comments of this kind were paraphrased. Where the conversation occasionally detoured briefly into irrelevant monologues or exchanges, these were described rather than paraphrased, and the footage was noted.  72  Chapter 3  Analyzing and verifying  The task of interview analysis and interpretation is not a discrete step, but interwoven through the entire interview process from thematizing through reporting. Just as the interview questions and format were informed by a particular research perspective and the writer’s evolving understanding of the issues and the study environment, the conduct of the sessions and the interpretation of the interview records were also necessarily shaped by a particular viewpoint. The methodological challenge is not to minimize the role of perspective but to articulate it, both as a means of “controlling one’s pro and con,” as Nietzsche (1967) put it, and in order to create a space where interpretation can be communicated and verified with other observers. The inevitability of perspective does not imply a bottomless relativism, as Kvale acknowledges in quoting Giorgi: Thus the chief point to be remembered with this type of research is not so much whether another position with respect to the data could be adopted (this point is granted beforehand), but whether a reader, adopting the same viewpoint as articulated by the researcher, can also see what the researcher saw, whether or not he agrees with it. That is the key criterion for qualitative research. (Giorgi, 1975, quoted in Kvale, 1996, p. 209). For this study, several communities can be imagined whose perspectives are relevant to verifying the interpretation of the interview data. In the first place, interviewees reading the final report of the interview should readily agree that they were accurately quoted, and more importantly that the text faithfully expresses what they intended to say in the context of the conversation. This principle was strictly borne in mind in analyzing and reporting interview comments. However, interviewees were not given an opportunity to review the reports of their comments, for reasons of both anonymity and practicality. Neither reconvening the discussion groups in order to review the transcripts, nor to sending partial transcripts out to individual participants would have been feasible, and circulating them more widely would have violated the anonymity requirement of the research ethics agreement (discussed below). Instead, the researcher agreed to return to discuss the final report with any of the participants and groups that may be interested. Other imagined communities of interest consist of observers in a position to assess the writer’s interpretation of the interview data. Again, one of these communities would be the study population – both interviewees and others with enough knowledge of the environment to form an opinion on the claims made here. The question is not 73  Chapter 3  whether members of this “community” would agree or disagree with the writer’s academic interpretations; the question for verification here is simply whether the interview data and other information from the case study site had been gathered and represented fairly. The third viewpoint, noted by Giorgi above, is that of the reader who adopts the research perspective of the study. Here, the interpretation considers more than just face-value meanings and speakers’ conversational intentions, and begins to query the interview data for sociological “meaning” that may not have been consciously apparent to the interviewees. A fundamental assumption of the present study is that important social regularities related to the skilled trades arise from discursive practices where, by definition, strategic behaviour and symbolic communication are closely intertwined. The analytical process, therefore, was iterative, and aimed to unpack the relevant meaning of the interview data in these different senses. Quotes and paraphrases were selected at some times simply to convey information in the subjects’ own words; at others to illustrate relevant opinions or views that help the reader form an impression of group culture and process; and at other times to demonstrate the function of speech as socially consequential practice in this setting. The transcripts were reviewed repeatedly, and interpretative notes and queries were added in a separate column. Where there was any question about the meaning of a quotation in any of these senses, the audio record was replayed. As the findings chapters were drafted, relevant sections of the transcripts were marked in colour to identify where they would potentially be used. Reporting  All interviewees were guaranteed anonymity, and the university research ethics board stipulated various measures to ensure the confidentiality of the research data. Quotations in the text are marked T, M,U, or HR to indicate that they were made by tradesmen, managers, union representatives, or human resources department staff. Additional details are not provided where they might make it possible to guess a speaker’s identity. In some cases, occupational titles and work units were masked. Interview comments are generally reported in the form of quotations, and intended as evidence in support of the argument.  74  Chapter 3  Research chronology Table 3.3  Project chronology 2006 S  Coordination meetings  O  N  2007 D  J  F  M  A  •  •  M  J  J  A  S  O  N  D  J  •••  ••  •  Survey design Research approvals  •  Survey pre-test & pilot Survey recruitment Survey implementation Data entry & clean-up Group interviews  ••  ••  •  75  Chapter 4  CHAPTER 4 Findings: Social Structure Depending on the source, apprenticeable trades are pathways to “respect, opportunity and good pay”, or regrettable destinations of the socially disadvantaged. This chapter presents findings from the research project, with the aim of painting a more nuanced picture of skilled trades occupations, relative to the interests and strategies of particular groups. This chapter’s concern is with what the case study can reveal about social structure, understood as regular patterns in the distribution of advantage of various kinds. Section 4.1 overviews the demographics of the case study population, both as a matter of context and in relation to questions of representativeness and employment equity. Section 4.2 addresses the structural question of the skilled trades’ position within a hierarchy of occupational groups, both on objective indicators and in the opinions of survey respondents. The former include wages, benefits, working conditions, and education; and the latter include workers’ perceptions of the rewards and drawbacks that come with their field of work and their present employer. Section 4.3 addresses issues of social reproduction in the skilled trades, both within the families of CTS participants and within the case study workforce. It examines patterns in education and occupation within the families of respondents, and considers whether case study members seem to have been predisposed to trades occupations by their family backgrounds. Demographics Basic demographic information on the study population, drawn from both administrative records and the CTS survey, was presented in Chapter 3 in relation to the discussion on data quality. Table 4.1 presents data from both sources, grouped by tenure cohort, to describe social features of the workforce and changes over time. For comparative purposes, the second column from the right gives the all-years average for each variable, and the right-most column gives values for selected variables in the regional population at the time of the survey.  76  Chapter 4  Table 4.1  Demographic features of CTS population by employment tenure, and comparisons with Victoria area. Tenure with present employer in years 0-2  3-4  5-9  10-14  15-19  20-24  25-29  30-39  CTS mean  Victoria  Age (mean) a  yrs  40.1  41.0  42.4  48.7  50.0  50.0  52.6  54.8  46.1  -  Age (std dev.) a  yrs  10.5  10.0  11.8  8.9  7.2  5.4  4.8  3.3  10.2  -  %  97.9  96.3  99.3  96.2  96.8  98.1  100.0  96.9  97.9  49.0  Born in Canada  %  87.2  88.9  95.7  87.5  76.5  94.8  83.3  93.5  88.1  81.2  Visible minority  %  9.8  7.0  7.1  .0  4.5  6.6  5.3  6.8  6.6  10.4  Aboriginal  %  4.4  4.7  .0  6.7  4.5  1.3  1.3  5.1  3.2  2.6  Disability  %  3.3  2.3  4.8  .0  4.7  5.3  5.3  5.1  4.3  -  %  88.4  95.6  93.5  100.0  89.9  96.2  97.4  96.8  93.9  84.6  %  96.8  100.0  97.8  100  97.1  100.0  97.4  100.0  98.4  93.6  Gender (M)  English 1  st  a  lang.  English spoken at home a  Admin data set (N=858).  b  BC Stats; Percentage of labour force.  b  c b  c c  c  Statistics Canada, 2006 Census; percentage of population.  All other data are from CTS data set (N=509).  What is notable in Table 4.1 are not only the extreme values, but also the very low rates of change on most indicators. The mean age of workers, even in the most recently hired cohort, remains above 40 years. The mean age of hire (not shown) is 32.7 in ship repair and three years older in the civil/transport work units1. While recent hiring has included young workers, their influence on the mean age is offset by the simultaneous addition of older workers; a linear regression shows that the age at hire has actually risen over time2. The demographic profile of the case study population also provides insight into the representativeness of the workforce, and is relevant to questions of employment equity and social inclusion. The most extreme imbalance is in gender, which remains at 98% male, with practically no variation over the 40-year period. The proportion of respondents born in Canada hovers near the mean of 88%, somewhat higher than the proportion in the local community. No  1  Admin data. Age_hire. Civil units: N=117, M=35.7. SD =9.43. Ship repair unit: N=703, M=32.7, SD=10.4.  2  Admin data. Age_hire by Year_hire. β=.512, t(818)= -17.3, p<.001. 77  Chapter 4  real trend is discernible in the proportion of workers who describe themselves as being of Aboriginal descent. The one apparent increase in equity group representation is in the proportion of self-described visible minority members; the proportion in the most recent cohort is very near the ambient proportion in the population. The CTS population is slightly more Anglophone than the surrounding community, though again the proportion whose first language is other than English rises in the most recent cohort. The small foreign-born group is itself quite homogeneous in its origins. Of those born outside of Canada 90% are from either Great Britain (55%), Western Europe (35%), or the USA (10%), with the remaining 10% from India or Asia. Of the five members in the latter group, three were hired within the last four years. Whether the minorities in the case study population are “under-represented” is a matter of definition. The proportion of Aboriginal workers within the CTS workforce, at 3%, is exactly in line with that group’s representation in the regional labour force.3 By contrast, women are drastically under-represented by the same measure, given that they constitute 49% of the regional labour force over all, and only 2% of the study population. However, using the federal government’s benchmark for employment equity – i.e., the given group’s representation in the surrounding labour market in similar occupations – the ambient rate would be nearer 3%, implying that women are only marginally under-represented in the case study workforce. Chapter 5 will consider how these demographic patterns are interpreted by members of the organization, and some of the processes responsible for sustaining them. Advantage and disadvantage The trades might be compared with other occupations on any number of different measures of advantage. A simple starting point is with standard scales of occupational status. As a broad group, the apprenticeable trades score somewhere between the lower half and the lower third of the Standard International Occupational Prestige Scale (SIOPS) and the International Socioeconomic Index of Occupational Status (ISEI) presented by Ganzeboom and Treiman (1996). That is, these occupations typically score somewhere between 35 and 45 on scales  3  BC Stats – Aboriginal Profile of British Columbia, 2001. The Aboriginal proportion of the labour force in the Camosun College regions is 2.55%. http://www.bcstats.gov.bc.ca/data/cen01/abor/aprof.asp . 78  Chapter 4  where the range of scores for all occupations is from about 15 to about 80 points. On the Canadian, Blishen scale, where the lowest-ranked occupations (parcel carriers, trappers) score about 22 and the highest (physicians, dentists) score about 100, the apprenticeable trades score between about 31 (for painters) and 50 (for electricians), again, somewhere just above the onethird mark of the range. Though the available data do not make it easy to estimate very precisely, it is safe to say that by occupational status and prestige measures, skilled trades workers are in the company of a large band of the Canadian working population, including many in clerical, sales, and lower administrative positions. By other measures, what emerges is the considerable distance between the apprenticeable trades and professional occupations. Statistics Canada ranks occupations according to their skill requirements, placing the trades in the intermediate category of “skilled occupations,” above “low-skilled occupations normally requiring a high school diploma or less,” and below the “highly skilled occupations normally requiring a university education” (Statistics Canada, 2003). This points to the alternate strategy of locating the skilled trades on an educational, rather than an occupational continuum. Considering that most apprentices are adults and that apprenticeship technical training is typically delivered outside the K-12 system, apprenticeship is arguably a form of post-secondary education. But other indicators put this in doubt. In terms of educational progression, admission to apprenticeship has not historically required high school completion, and very rarely does a certificate of apprenticeship confer transfer value to college or university programs. Under UNESCO’s International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) (UNESCO, 2006), Canadian apprenticeship programs for adults (by far the most common kind) would be classified as type 4B. That is, they are “post-secondary” in the temporal sense, but “non-tertiary” both in that their content is “not significantly more advanced than programs at ISCED 3” (secondary school), and that they prepare graduates for direct labour market entry rather than further study at level 5 (university). They are also shorter in duration than two-year technology programs which would be ranked at level 5B. Earnings, benefits, and working conditions  Another obvious basis for comparing the skilled trades to other occupations is in terms of earnings and benefits. Figures from the 2001 census show that average annual earnings in the geographic region of the case study for men and women with a “trades certificate or diploma”  79  Chapter 4  were $31,766, or 4% above the BC average of $30,529 at that time. This compares with an average of $41,516 for degree holders, 36% above the BC average for both sexes.4 From this bird’s eye view, the trades as a group look like a slightly better-than-average earnings option, but clearly substandard in relation to jobs requiring university. However, because they include the relatively low-paying apprenticeable occupations outside the construction and industrial sectors – among them female-dominated trades – these averages depress the earnings estimate for the group of occupations of most interest to the present study. In addition, they obscure important differences in earnings potential even within this group. Table 4.2 compares earnings for selected occupations in the case study to rates for similar occupations in the Vancouver Island region, valid at the time of the CTS study. The data are derived from collective agreements and other labour market information sources. Service Canada provides data on the high, low, and mean hourly wage rates by geographical area. While only the mean is shown in Table 4.2, the original Service Canada data reveal a vast range – from a low of $10.60/hr for non-union automotive mechanics to a high of $41.70 for unionized millwrights. The mean hourly rate of $23.02 for the selected occupations would amount to roughly $41,400 per year based on full-time, full-year employment – well above the median employment income for males in British Columbia.5 However, full-year employment is by no means assured. Workers in trades, transport, and equipment operating occupations have historically had among the highest rates of unemployment in BC6, both because of the projectbased nature of construction work, and because both the construction and manufacturing sectors are highly sensitive to the business cycle. Labour Force Survey (LFS) data show that males employed in BC in construction trades experienced swings of 25% in hours worked over the period 1997-2007.7 Of the 27 occupational titles represented in the case study, BC Work  4  Source: Statistics Canada. http://www40.statcan.ca/l01/cst01/labor50i.htm , Accessed February 27, 2008.  5  Based on 1,800 hours per year. 2005 median employment income for males: BC $33,045; Canada $32,257; Capital Region $32,539 . Source: BC Stats http://www.bcstats.gov.bc.ca/DATA/dd/income.asp 6  BC Ministry of Advanced Education. Labour Force Statistics: August, 2007. http://www.aved.gov.bc.ca/labourmarketinfo/reports/lfs_summary_aug07.pdf Accessed 25 January, 2008. 7  Statistics Canada. Table 282-0025. http://cansiS40.statcan.ca/cgiwin/cnsmcgi.exe?Lang=E&CANSIMFile=CII\CII_1_E.htm&RootDir=CII/ 80  Chapter 4  Futures8 rates the annual earnings for fifteen of them above the BC average, with three on par, and nine below average. In sum, the comparative data indicate that the skilled trades most relevant to the present study have good earnings potential; however the great variation within the group illustrates the danger of generalizing about the earnings prospects of “the trades,” even in the category dominated by men in overalls.  8  BC Work Futures. http://www.workfutures.bc.ca/profiles/profile.cfm?noc=727&lang=en&site=graphic Last updated May 2005. Accessed 25 January, 2008. Estimates of average earnings are based on all workers in the occupation, working both full-year and part-year. BC/Yukon estimates are based on the sum of all workers in all occupations. 81  Table 4.2  Comparative wage rates: CFBE, selected collective agreements, and labour force data  Ship Repair  Civil/Transport  Hourly rates CFBE Job Title  CFBEa  Cement Mason/Tilesetter  26.53  Carpenter  24.78  Electrician  26.59  HD/Comm Vehicle Mechanic  24.34  Annual estimate, and ratio/CFBE annual  Public Sectorc  Service Canada Mean d  28.42  -  23.73  50,938  54,566  1.07  -  -  42,714  0.84  27.57  22.58  19.71  47,578  52,934  1.11  40,644  0.85  35,478  0.75  28.85  23.89  20.00  51,053  55,392  1.08  43,002  0.84  36,000  0.71  28.99f  22.20g  25.41  46,733  55,661  1.19  39,960  0.86  45,738  0.98  Private b Sector  CFBE e  Private Sector  Public Sector  Service Canada Mean  Painter  24.85  25.49  21.27  17.76  47,712  48,941  1.03  38,286  0.80  31,968  0.67  Pipefitter/Plumber  27.13  29.66  23.23  26.61  52,090  56,947  1.09  41,814  0.80  47,898  0.92  Refrigeration Mechanic  21.01  34.11h  23.89  20.22  40,339  65,491  1.62  43,002  1.07  36,396  0.90  Sheet Metal Worker  29.20  29.01  23.23  22.42  56,064  55,699  0.99  41,814  0.75  40,356  0.72  Electrician  28.80  28.85  23.89  27.75  55,296  55,392  1.00  43,002  0.84  49,950  0.90  Electronics Technician  29.81  28.85  -  21.73  57,235  55,392  0.97  -  -  39,114  0.68  Lagger  28.80  24.16  -  24.37  55,296  46,387  0.84  -  -  43,866  0.79  Machinist  28.80  -  23.23  24.80  55,296  -  -  41,814  0.76  44,640  0.81  Painter  28.80  25.49  21.27  22.12  55,296  48,941  0.89  38,286  0.69  39,816  0.72  Rigger (Millwright)  28.80  31.95  -  27.70  55,296  61,344  1.11  -  -  49,860  0.90  Sailmaker  28.80  -  -  15.80  55,296  -  -  -  -  28,440  a  0.51  a  55,699  1.01  41,814  0.76  40,356  0.73  52,934  0.96  40,644  0.74  35,478  0.64  Sheet Metal Worker  28.80  29.01  23.23  22.42  55,296  Shipwright  28.80  27.57  22.58  19.71  55,296  Fabricator/Boilermaker  28.80  27.87  Welder  28.80  24.11  23.23  31.40  55,296  53,510  0.97  -  -  56,520  1.02  24.25  55,296  46,291  0.84  41,814  0.76  43,650  0.79  d  82  Chapter 4  Notes to Table 4.2 a  Treasury Board of Canada  b  Unless otherwise noted, all rates are from collective agreements between the BC Construction Labour Relations Association (CLRA) and various trades unions. All rates are journeyperson base wage rates, not including pension, vacation pay, medical benefits, etc., in effect 15 Apr 2007, for the Victoria area. "Metro" allowances are included where noted. c  Umbrella agreement: multiple unions with BC Health Employers Association (BCHEA) 2006-2010. Rates effective 15 Apr 2007.  d  Service Canada labourmarketinformation.ca Accessed 22 Jan 2008 Period covered: Jul 2006 - Jun 2007  e  Based on 40 hrs/wk X 48 wks/yr.  f  Greater Victoria Regional Transit Authority, May 2007.  g  City of Victoria / CUPE Local 50. Automotive Service Technician.  h  Rate effective 01 May 2007.  i  Upholsterer.  ______________________ Turning to wage rates in the case study site, the mean hourly rate across all three work units at the time of the study was $27.98, producing mean annual earnings of $52,912. This places the CFBE group mean more than 60% above the British Columbia median for males in all occupations. Even compared with workers in full-time, full-year employment (Table 4.3), the CFBE rates remain superior. On this basis, CFBE trades workers earn about 24% more than the local labour market median for both sexes. Broken down by gender, the advantage is 10% for males, and 44% for females. Table 4.3  Median earnings - Persons 15 years and over who worked full year; full time – Victoria and British Columbia ($) Both sexes  Males  Females  Victoria census area  42,817  47,599  38,711  British Columbia  42,230  48,070  36,739  Statistics Canada. 2006 Census.  Variations in wage rates both within the organization and externally mean that the relative benefits of employment at the Dockyard need to be assessed case by case. Table 4.2 shows annualized earnings at other workplaces as a ratio over the annual CFBE rate. Earnings in the  83  Chapter 4  unionized private sector for similar occupations range from 84% to 119% of the CFBE rate, with one outlier 62% higher. Public-sector annual earnings in the same occupations are 75 to 85% of the CFBE rate. For all but one of the listed occupations, Service Canada’s estimated mean rates for the region are also well below CFBE. Because of the flat pay structure at CFBE, particularly on the ship repair side, workers in some trades such as painting and carpentry can earn substantially more than the average for their occupation in the external labour market. Workers at the case study site also enjoy major advantages both in annual and weekly hours worked, and in overall employment security. All trades employment at the facility is full-year – typical for public-sector trades workers, who are generally employed in ongoing facilities maintenance, rather than in market-sensitive construction or manufacturing in the private sector. However, in comparison with maintenance workers in, for instance, public hospitals in the Victoria region, case study employees experience not only an average 11% advantage in hourly rates, but also a 40 hour, versus a 37.5 hour week, producing an average 19% advantage in annual earnings. A variety of non-monetary advantages are also apparent from a comparison of collective agreements, as well as data from the CTS survey and interviews. Two labour organizations represent CFBE trades workers in negotiations with the Treasury Board of Canada. Workers employed in maintaining the land-based infrastructure are represented by the Union of National Defence Employees (UNDE), a sub-unit of the Public Service Alliance of Canada. Those involved in ship repair belong to any of eleven national or international trade unions jointly represented in this workplace by a single bargaining agent, the Federal Government Dockyard Trades and Labour Council (West), or the “Dockyard Council.” Without presenting collective agreement differences in tedious detail, suffice it to say that the UNDE and Dockyard Council agreements stand out in two primary ways from those covering the same trades in the local region. In both respects, these differences reflect the distinctive industrial relations climate of the federal public service. The first relates to employee rights to a range of workplace conditions: the provision of tools and work clothing, scheduled cleanup time before meals and at shift-end, and allowances for special circumstances (e.g., dirty work). The second, and more far-reaching, reflects a philosophical view of the employee as a career civil servant. Organized as an enormous firm-internal labour market, the federal public service could hardly be more different in its basic employment assumptions from the typical unionized construction company, whose ability to grow and shrink with the business cycle depends on employing a mainly contingent labour force. 84  Chapter 4  The collective agreements with the Treasury Board reflect the long-term interests and investments of both the employer and labour. For example, whereas paid vacation time is unheard of in private-sector ship repair or construction workplaces, and paid out instead on every cheque, the UNDE and Dockyard Council agreements set out a progressive schedule for paid vacation, which anticipates careers as long as 28 years or more. Negotiated provisions for education and career development take a similarly long view of workers’ careers with the organization. In fact, the most fundamental provisions directly enshrine the right to employment security. In the language on “workforce adjustment,” the Treasury Board commits, wherever possible, to ensure the continued employment of “indeterminate” employees whose positions may be affected by organizational change: “… every indeterminate employee whose services will no longer be required because of a work force adjustment situation … will receive a guarantee of a reasonable job offer within the public service.”10 At the same time, a complex system of performance review regulations makes it much more difficult than it would be in most privatesector trades workplaces for the employer to dismiss employees on the grounds of performance or productivity. Whether due to formal provisions of this kind, or the attractions of the workplace, there is no doubt that CFBE trades workers enjoy exceptional job security. In 2006, 49% of male workers in BC had more than five years’ employment tenure with their present employer.11 The figure for males in trades occupations is not available, but is sure to be much lower for the reasons discussed above. The corresponding rate for the case study population was 69% (See Appendix A, Table T101), and the mean employment tenure there is thirteen years. Moreover, a remarkable 96% of CTS survey respondents, including three-quarters of those under 25 years of age, reported that they intend to remain with their current employer until retirement.12 Again, multiple considerations undoubtedly interact in workers’ career plans, but one factor will certainly be this employer’s comparatively generous pension provisions. Federal public servants  10  Treasury Board of Canada. http://www.tbs-sct.gc.ca/pubs_pol/hrpubs/coll_agre/srw3_e.asp  11  Statistics Canada. Labour Force Historical Review: Job tenure by sex, occupation, Canada, province, annual average.  12  CTS: RtrDND Ν= 496 85  Chapter 4  are eligible for full pension at age 60 after two years’ service, and at age 55 after 30 years’ service.13 Under the pension eligibility formula, an employee would maximize his or her pension income by accruing as many years of pensionable service as possible (to a maximum of 35), while retiring as far as possible before age 65. The data clearly reflect these considerations (see Table T101). The median tenure at the time of planned retirement is 30 years, the period required for departure at age 55 with full pension. Twenty-seven percent intend to retire by age 55, a further 46% by age 60, and 19% at age 65 or older. Workers who plan to retire older seem to be those who were hired more recently and must continue working to accumulate pensionable service: the age of planned retirement correlates strongly with age at time of hire.14 The group interviews revealed that one attraction of this employer is that the pension arrangements permit workers to contemplate “double dipping” – retiring with pension and re-entering the labour force. Of the 462 who indicated an intention to remain at DND until retirement, 105 also indicated post-departure employment plans, including 57 intending to work elsewhere within DND, 25 to be self-employed, 20 to work in the private sector, and 2 to work elsewhere in the public service. Although career progression remains an important human resources challenge for the federal bureaucracy, (Duxbury, Dyke, & Lam, 1999) the public service has a variety of programs and structures in place to foster employee development and retention, partly to ensure smooth succession in the management ranks. In principle at least, skilled trades workers in the case study site are entitled to various options for educational leave and in-service training that would prepare them for management positions. Indeed, all of the production managers in the facility are former trades workers promoted from the shop floor. In interviews, managers touted the organization’s support for career advancement, but also acknowledged that the limited number of management positions, and the very low rate of turnover, strictly limit the real chances of internal advancement. As one put it, “We can only get so many clowns in the car, so to speak.” Workers at CFBE seem to be reconciled with this reality. Among the reasons that respondents gave for considering alternative employment, greater potential for advancement was third in line,  13  http://pensionandbenefits.gc.ca/active-life_event-new_to_PS-e.html  14  r(483)= .502, p<.001 86  Chapter 4  cited by only 8%, versus 56% who wished for higher pay, and 18% seeking more interesting or meaningful work (See Table T100). The data also provide some insight into the longer-term patterns in the careers of the study population. As Table T101 also shows, most respondents indicate that they have worked in three or fewer occupations, though with an average of about eight different employers. The median age for commencing apprenticeship is 22 years, and the median duration of apprenticeship is four years. The major factor affecting the age of apprenticeship commencement is country of origin: workers born outside Canada were almost twice as likely to have begun apprenticing by the age of twenty (see Table T102). The age at which Canadian-born respondents commence their apprenticeship has not changed significantly over time, there being no covariance with age.15 Education and training as indicators of advantage  In the literature on social mobility, education is understood as instrumental to other ends such as earnings and health, and as an end in its own right. Education not only helps to improve life quality by its association with job performance and earnings – it also enriches existence by expanding the horizons of thought, experience, and expression. The links between education and other forms of well-being, both individual and social, are becoming better understood through new, cross-disciplinary research (OECD, 2007). In this light, information about the educational experience of trades workers provides insight into both their potential to achieve other valued ends, and into an important dimension of life quality. To explore the question of advantage or disadvantage from this angle, the present section examines the educational attainment, literacy/numeracy indicators, and recent educational investments of the CTS population. To place the case study findings in context, a few comparisons are made with data from the 2003 International Adult Literacy Skills Survey (IALSS). The first question is how tradespersons compare with workers in other occupations in terms of education and literacy indicators. To get some sense of this, the IALSS data for Canadian males was examined by ISCO occupational group at the one-digit level. The ISCO 7000 group “Craft etc. Trade Workers” was further  15  r(367)=-.002, p=.482 87  Chapter 4  divided to distinguish the occupations represented in the case study group (ISCO 71/7200) from other trades. The ISCO categories – which are understood to have no hierarchical significance in their own right – were arranged in rank order on the basis of educational attainment such that the strength of association with education was optimized. Table 4.4 broadly locates the targeted skilled trades in relation to other occupational groups on the measure of educational attainment, revealing a distinctive profile.  Table 4.4  Educational attainment by occupational group, percent  IALSS Canada, males; and CTS  Professionals & Associates  Other white collar  Skilled trades  Other blue collar  IALSS mean  CTS  n=2279  n=2740  n=1291  n=2858  n=9168  N=499  2000, 3000  1000, 4000, 5000  7100, 7200  6000, 7300, 8000, 9000  All ISCO categories  -  Less than HS completion  5  17  24  41  22  4  HS completion  17  41  30  34  31  40  Some PSE, no degree  25  24  41  19  25  53  Degree or higher  53  18  5  7  21  3  Total  100  100  100  100  100  100  ISCO Highest schooling completed  IALSS: χ2(9, n=9168)=2703, p<.001; TauB= -.391  In the target occupations, the percentage of workers with high school completion or less is similar to the mean percentage for Canadian males. The proportion of the target group with subbaccalaureate PSE is higher than the mean, while the proportion of that group holding degrees is much lower. The shaded column represents the educational attainment of the CTS population in categories comparable to the IALSS data. Most striking is the far smaller proportion of the CTS population who lack high school, compared with both the IALSS mean and ISCO 71/7200. Moreover, all of the CTS group’s additional schooling is at the high school and sub-  88  Chapter 4  baccalaureate levels: university degrees remain as rare within the CTS population as in the skilled trades in general.16 The underlying data also reveal that modest education is not an absolute barrier to career opportunity. While 54% of the target group have high school or less, this is also true of nearly half (47%) of senior managers and legislators, 38% of associate professionals, 70% of clerks and 65% of services and sales workers (respectively, ISCO 1000, 3000, 4000, and 5000). On this basis, it cannot be assumed that, as a group, Canadian skilled trades workers have generally been barred by weak educational attainment from other occupational options, apart from the professions. Analyzing the effect of age on education also suggests differences in the educational investment strategies of workers in different occupational groups (Table T136). Predictably, the professions are the group with the highest proportion of young degree holders. A weakly positive association between education and age reflects professionals’ acquisition of graduate credentials as they move through their early careers. Within clerical and service occupations, the education-age relationship is stronger, driven by both a high proportion of young workers who may still be in school or have recently graduated, and by a fairly steep rise in the rate of university and other PSE credentials among young adult workers in these groups. The target group of skilled trades shows quite a distinct pattern. As with the clerical and service occupations, just under a third of the youngest cohort have less than high school graduation, indicating employment of students and/or non-completers, but high school non-completion becomes increasingly prevalent among older workers. Otherwise, PSE attainment holds relatively steady across age cohorts of the skilled trades group, with sub-baccalaureate PSE remaining more common and university credentials less common than in most other occupations. The absence of degree holders in the youngest cohort shows, unsurprisingly, that the target skilled trades are not occupations of choice for recent university graduates. In relation to the study mentioned in Chapter 2, it also suggests that those who combine trades and university credentials must either be older graduates, or persons who move from the trades to university rather than the reverse. The low and flat rate of degree holding across age cohorts also indicates, first, that the skilled trades seem to be immune from the general rise in university participation that is evident in other occupational groups and,  16  Boothby and Drewes (2006) estimate that those who combine trades certification with a bachelor degree comprise 0.8% of the total population of PSE participants in the 2000 census data. 89  Chapter 4  secondly, that workers in the trades do not tend to accumulate university credentials over their working lives as professionals do. This pattern is borne out in the case study data. Table 4.5 relates educational attainment to age in the CTS population. Apart from a steady decline in the rate of high school non-completion, most of the education indicators show no particular trend across age cohorts. Among workers under the age of 24 there is an apparent rise in partial completion of college and university studies, though with only fifteen respondents in the cohort its significance is difficult to interpret. What is clear is that college and university completion rates in the study population do not seem to reflect either the societal trend to higher participation, nor a tendency to invest in further education over the career span. Table 4.5  CTS N=491  Educational attainment by age cohort, percent Age <25  25-34  35-44  45-54  >54  Total  0  0  2  5  8  4  High school or equivalent  40  49  34  37  44  39  Some college or institute, no dipl.  27  12  17  11  8  12  College or tech institute diploma  20  29  35  35  26  32  Some university, no degree  13  8  10  9  10  10  University degree or higher  0  2  2  2  5  3  100  100  100  100  100  100  Less than high school  χ2(20, Ν= 491)=22.5, p=.315; TauB= -.036.  The crucial role that broad literacy skills play in other dimensions of welfare – both personal and social – is uncontroversial. It is also well established that occupations differ both in their demands for literacy and numeracy skills, and in the degree to which they foster the continued exercise and development of these competencies. Though the popular perception that manual occupations are mind-deadening may be an unfair generalization, research shows that in at least some manual fields the risk of literacy skill deterioration is disturbingly real (Canadian Council on Learning, 2007; H. Krahn & Lowe, 1998a; Rubenson & Schuetze, 2000a). International comparison of literacy patterns by occupational group has led some researchers to conclude that “jobs for skilled craft workers in Canada are not necessarily ‘good jobs’ when compared with 90  Chapter 4  similar occupations in other countries” (Statistics Canada 1996, p. 61). Such findings raise questions both about the processes that select candidates into skilled trades occupations and the learning opportunities that these jobs provide. The IALSS data were again used as a basis for locating the target group of skilled trades, and in particular the case study population, in relation to other occupations on literacy-related indicators. Three IALSS variables representing competency17 in prose literacy, document literacy, and numeracy were cross-tabulated with the ISCO occupational categories, and the occupational groups were compared based on the proportion of cases in each that scored at skill level 3 or higher. Table 4.6 shows that, compared with the all-occupations mean, the ISCO 7200 group has a greater proportion of members scoring above the benchmark on numeracy, but a smaller proportion scoring above it on documentary and prose literacy. As in Table 4.3 above, the target group of occupations also maintains its sixth-place position among the nine groups on all of the measures. Table 4.6  Selected literacy indicators by occupation – percent scoring at level 3 or higher  Competency  n  Mean all occupations  IALSS Canada, Males  Selected Trades*  Rank of Trades**  (s.d. = 16%)  Numeracy  8586  51  58  6th  Document literacy  8588  61  56  6th  Prose literacy  8587  59  53  6th  * ISCO 71/7200  ** Rank of ISCO 71/7200 on the measure among 9 occupational groups  The CTS survey did not attempt to gather direct indicators of literacy or numeracy skill. However, information on several other measures including literacy habits contributes to an  17  The IALSS variables used were PLEV2, DLEV2, and NLEV2. Some literacy specialists caution against the widespread practice of interpreting IALSS level 3 as a benchmark for “functional” literacy (e.g., Purcell-Gates, 2008). The IALSS User’s Manual explains that level 3 is a “desired level” of proficiency for an information-based economy. “Level 3 performance is generally chosen as a benchmark because in developed countries, performance above Level 2 is generally associated with a number of positive outcomes. These include increased civic participation, increased economic success and independence, and enhanced opportunities for lifelong learning and personal literacy” (Statistics Canada, 2002b, p. 40). 91  Chapter 4  overall impression. The IALSS survey captured extensive information on respondents’ use of literacy/numeracy skills both in the workplace and during leisure time. The CTS survey gathered more limited information, on leisure-time use only. Table 4.7 compares the mean scores on selected skill-use indicators across the same three groups as earlier: Canadian males in all occupations, Canadian males in ISCO 71/7200, and the CTS population. A value of 1 indicates the highest and 4 indicates the lowest frequency of use of the skill. The third column indicates the target trades’ rank on each measure among the nine ISCO categories.  Table 4.7  Workplace and leisure use of selected literacy skills – mean scores by occupational group  IALSS Canada, males; and CTS  IALSS Activity  CTS  All occupations  ISCO 71/7200  Rank of ISCO 71/7200  1.75  2.00  6th  -  2.19  th  -  th  -  st  -  nd  -  th  -  nd  -  th  -  th  1.16  th  1.26  6  th  2.24  8  th  3.71  6  th  -  th  -  Workplace use Read/Use: Letters, emails as part of job Read/Use: Reports, journals as part of job Read/Use: Manuals, books, catalogues Read/Use: Diagrams or schematics Read/Use: Directions or instructions Write: Letters, memos, emails in job Measure/estimate size/weight of objects Use statistical data to reach conclusions  1.99 1.96 2.30 1.72 2.07 2.23  1.79 1.71 1.53 2.39 1.71  4 4  1 2  4 2  2.70  2.92  4  1.41  1.50  8  Leisure use Read/use newspapers Read/use magazines Read books fiction/non-fiction Use a library (5pt) Visit a bookstore (5pt) Number of books in household  1.77 2.32 3.69 3.31 2.36  1.89 2.53 4.01 3.68 2.30  5  6  IALSS n= 9168 CTS N= min 396 CTS variables were recoded to permit comparison with IALSS.  Other researchers (Statistics Canada, 1996, pp. 58-60) have noted that a peculiarity of the skilled trades in Canada seems to be that they demand regular use of measurement arithmetic but relatively little exercise of reading and writing skills. In the IALSS data, the ISCO 71/7200 92  Chapter 4  group’s ranking varies considerably from one variable to another, again outlining a distinctive profile for this occupational group. On the one hand, workers in the target trades use diagrams and schematics in their work at a greater rate than any other occupation, and rank second in frequency of reading directions or instructions. They also write emails, letters, and memos, and make use of statistics relatively frequently. On the other hand, this group ranks below the Canadian mean in the leisure-time use of newspapers, books, libraries, and bookstores. If these literacy/numeracy skills are important contributors to life quality for both instrumental and intrinsic reasons, then Canadian males in the ISCO 71/7200 occupations can, on average, be considered well-prepared to do their jobs but somewhat disadvantaged in their broader command of text and numbers. Turning now to the study group, members of the CTS population engage in these leisure-time literacy activities more frequently than their fellow trades workers outside, and score above the all-occupations mean on three of the four comparable measures. Still, despite their fairly frequent use of newspapers and magazines, they are much nearer the mean when it comes to books and libraries. Judging very informally on the basis of written submissions and survey comments from CTS respondents, as well as direct interactions through the group interviews and other activities, literacy skill levels in the study population seem to range quite widely. Nonetheless, as Table 4.8 shows, the vast majority of CTS respondents expressed confidence that they have adequate reading, writing, and math skills to do their jobs well. Since practically no one expressed disagreement, the notable variance is in the proportion who strongly agree, which is clearly responsive to education. Table 4.8 summarizes associations between CTS respondents’ confidence in literacy and numeracy applications with their education (See Table T105 for details). Educational attainment is treated as an ordinal variable with three levels and cross-tabulated against eleven other variables that can be interpreted as measures of comfort and confidence with literacy/numeracy. On all but two indicators – newspaper reading and the use of computers for entertainment – there is a statistically significant and substantive association between education and literacy confidence.  93  Chapter 4  Table 4.8  Summary of selected literacy confidence indicators by education Indicators  Have reading skills to do my job well Have writing skills to do my job well Have math skills to do my job well Math grade in highest year of school English grade in highest year of school Use of newspapers Use of magazines Use of books Use of libraries Use of computers for entertainment Use of computers to find information Use of computers for other purposes  CTS  Measures of association with respondents’ level of education N 498 492 497 497 497 497 483 484 468 489 492 484  df 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4  Χ2 26.2 21.7 18.9 33.8 33.3 7.87 25.8 42.9 25.1 1.91 16.1 42.9  p <.001 <.001 .001 <.001 <.001 .097 <.001 <.001 <.001 .752 .003 <.001  TauB .218 .194 .185 .233 .234 .081 .180 .256 .183 -.019 .154 .256  Consistent with Statistics Canada’s (1996, p. 64) findings for the general population, this group is more confident in reading than in writing or math (Table T103). The question, of course, is whether such assessments say more about respondents’ actual skill levels or about the literacy demands of the workplace. The present study did not systematically gather data on workplace skill utilization. However, as will be seen below, this workplace evidently provides opportunities for at least some trades workers to apply and develop a wide spectrum of skills, even if it does not demand them of everyone. In what could be seen as an advantage, the employer is apparently able to accommodate a range of ability levels, allowing almost all workers to perform their duties comfortably with the literacy skills that they have. Educational attainment affects people’s perceptions of the constraints and influences on their career choices. Regardless of education, about 60% of respondents felt that both the job market and their need for continuing income had been constraints on their career choice. However, those with university experience were only half as likely as those with high school or less to report that their choices had been constrained by their school grades or the people they knew (Table T106). Likewise, as education rises, respondents become less likely to agree that their decision to enter the trades was influenced by people including parents, relatives, co-workers, friends, and teachers (Table T107).  94  Chapter 4  Continuing education  The distinctiveness of both the skilled trades as an occupational group, and the study population, is reinforced by patterns in ongoing education and training. The IALSS data in Table 4.9 show that 55% of Canadian males in all occupations reported taking some kind of education or training during the twelve months prior to the survey. The rate for workers in the ISCO 71/7200 target group was just below this mean. However, a closer look at the nature of the training reveals important differences. The target group is the occupational category least likely to have received its recent training from an educational institution (school, college, or university), among the least likely to have contributed personally to the costs, and among the most likely to have received employer sponsorship for the training received. Finally, the median duration of training in the last twelve months for this group was 8 hours, versus 29 for all occupations. Hence, while the incidence of training participation for this group is similar to the average for Canadian working men, the nature of this training is apt to be short in duration, employer-sponsored, and on-thejob. Again, this is quite reasonable in terms of job relevance; what is notable is that trades workers’ training activities seem oriented to meeting their employers’ requirements and securing their present occupations, whereas other occupational groups seem more likely to invest in education or training for career advancement.  95  Chapter 4  Table 4.9  Selected indicators of training participation by ISCO occupational group, percent.  IALSS Canada, Males  1000  2000  3000  4000  5000  6000  7100/ 7200  7300  8000  9000  Total  52  60  67  62  66  50  53  39  41  46  55  63  81  74  93  87  89  53  58  70  91  78  39  63  66  79  74  62  42  48  40  65  60  60  33  31  6  15  14  52  46  44  11  29  Median  16  100  25  13  40  8  8  16  18  32  29  n  46  55  40  10  38  4  57  3  42  29  324  s.d.  84  273  126  72  79  14  74  10  33  45  81  ISCO Took education/training in last 12 months χ2(9, n=8585)=263.8, p<.001 Program given by school, college or university χ2(9, n=2094)=213.8, p<.001 Contributed – trainee χ2(9, n=2091)=170.8, p<.001 Contributed – employer χ2(9, n=2093)=323.8, p<.001 Hours spent in program  1000  Legislators, senior officials & managers  2000  Professionals  3000  Technicians & assoc. prof.  4000  Occupational groups Clerks  71/7200 Target skilled trades  5000  Service & sales workers  7300  Other trades & crafts  6000  Skilled agricultural workers  8000  Operators  9000  Elementary occupations  Turning to the case study, 57% of CTS respondents report having received some kind of training or education within the past two years (N=468), a proportion quite similar to that found in the IALSS data.18 Table 4.10 also illustrates that, like other men, CTS members participate mainly in training that is directly job-related – 91%, including the 12% made up by apprenticeship  18  The period for recent training is “the last 2 years” for CTS, and “the last 12 months” for IALSS. 96  Chapter 4  technical training. A distinction is that 85% of CTS members reported that their recent training had been paid for by their employer – far above the comparable IALSS figures of 52% for trades workers and 29% for males in all occupations. Table 4.10  Nature of main education/training received in last two years, percent  CTS N=293  Job procedures Safety 19 Production 30 Administration 13 Computer 17 Apprenticeship technical training General career/business Academic credit General interest/hobby/personal growth Total  79  12 4 3 3 100  Table 4.11 relates recent training activity to various characteristics of the CTS population. Age is the strongest predictor of participation in recent training of all types. More than three-quarters of the under-35 cohort report receiving training in the last two years, compared with less than half of those over 54 years old. In every cohort, directly job-related training is far more prevalent than education for business, academic, or general-interest purposes. The tendency for training participation to decline with age is consistent with Lin and Tremblay’s (2003, p. 7) analysis of the 1999 Workplace and Employee Survey, although the rate of participation in the present study is much higher. The relationship with employment tenure is also negative though somewhat weaker than with age: junior workers have a higher rate of participation, particularly in workplace-related training. The association with educational attainment is partly related to age, in that the least educated respondents are among the oldest. Supervisors have both a higher rate and a broader range of training participation than front-line trades workers. The table shows that supervisors participate in education on academic, business, and general interest topics at twice the rate of non-supervisors. Examination of individual records shows that training reported by supervisors commonly includes topics such as middle management, leadership, and computer applications.  97  Chapter 4  Table 4.11  Recent participation in training or education by selected characteristics, percent No recent training  Job procedures or apprenticeship technical training  Business, academic, and general interest  CTS Total  N  470  Age <25  13*  73  13*  100  25-34  22  67  10  100  34-44  37  55  8  100  45-54  43  53  4  100  >54  56  40  5  100 464  Employment tenure (yrs) 0-4  29  65  6  100  5-9  30  67  2  100  10-14  53  35  12  100  15-19  57  36  8  100  >19  46  48  6  100 469  Educational attainment High school or less  49  49  2  100  College, partial or complete  35  59  6  100  University, partial or complete  34  49  17  100 471  Occupation Supervisors  34  56  11  100  Trades workers  43  52  5  100  *Cell count <5  98  Chapter 4  Perceptions of advantage and disadvantage  To this point, various “objective” indicators have been presented in an effort to assess whether and how the skilled trades can be regarded as occupations of advantage or disadvantage. The discussion now turns to case study participants’ own perceptions. A pair of questions on the CTS survey19 asked respondents to rate the benefits of their careers on six variables: yearly income; benefits (pension, dental, vacation, etc.); job security; interesting/satisfying work; potential for advancement and career growth; and working conditions and pace of work. The rating options were “above average,” “average,” and “below average,” and were coded 1, 0, and -1 respectively. Respondents were first asked to rate skilled trades occupations in comparison with other careers, and secondly to rate their current employer (DND) in comparison with other employers of trades workers. Figure 4.1 presents the two sets of satisfaction ratings graphically. Since the second comparison on each variable is relative to the first, each column has two zero points. The main horizontal line represents “other careers.” Bars rising from the line indicate that the mean rating for trades careers was positive, and downward bars indicate that it was negative, in comparison with other careers. The outboard end of each “trades” bar is the zero point for the DND rating, which may be positive or negative in relation to it. For clarity, the mean values were multiplied by 100 to produce whole numbers.  19  Items #16 and #17 99  Chapter 4  Figure 4.1 Satisfaction with skilled trades and DND 74  DND compared with other trades employers  46  59  21  35  32  Trades compared with other occupations  100 “Above average” 0 “Average” -100 “Below average”  33  17  20 -5  0 Interest  Job security  Advancement  N=490  Benefits  Earnings CTS  Work conditions  1  -8  Figure 4.1 shows that on most items a clear majority of respondents rate the trades as an aboveaverage career, and DND an above-average employer of trades workers. The exceptions are a weak tendency to view the as trades below average on potential for career advancement, with DND only slightly better. Although workers regard the trades as better-than-average careers in terms of benefits, job security, and working conditions, DND stands out as a strongly superior employer on these points. DND is viewed as a comparatively interesting or satisfying place to work, but enthusiasm here is weaker than on the previous three points. The yearly earnings category is the only one where DND is not rated superior to external employers. Other data, as well as respondents’ comments, reveal how these advantages intertwine in an overall workplace experience that is greater than the sum of its parts and that intersects with particular characteristics and interests of the incumbent population.  100  Chapter 4  Income, benefits, and job security  The view that trades occupations provide slightly above-average annual income is consistent with the labour market information given earlier, considering that the respondents can be assumed to have been thinking about trades like their own, in the ISCO 71/7200 group. There were a number of anecdotes about very high earnings potential in some trades jobs, such as the Alberta oil fields, but these were tempered with comments about drawbacks such as isolated camp conditions and high rates of drug and alcohol abuse. The perception that yearly income at DND is slightly below average in relation to other employers may be overblown, given the wage data presented earlier in Table 4.2. This perception was stronger in the civil works unit where the pay scale for most trades occupations is slightly lower than in ship repair. It also likely reflects the booming local economy at the time of the CTS survey, and possibly the fact that collective bargaining was under way at the time. A more common concern, reflected in many interview conversations and in the following two written survey comments, is with the diminishing purchasing power of workers’ salaries in general, particularly in the Victoria area: R296 My uncle worked for Manitoba Hydro. His wife stayed home to raise their 4 children. He owned his house, got a new car every 4 years and had a cabin. Today as an electrician I can barely afford my house & my car is 17 years old. We have lost a lot of ground over the last 20 years. R124 When I bought my first home in this city it was with 3rd year auto apprenticeship wage. Now I would not qualify for that same home with the wages I now make! But the most obvious advantage of the Dockyard is the permanence of employment. Many respondents indicated that they recognize and value the exceptional job security here. Many spoke with a sense of relief in comparing their present employer to their past experience of trades work, as in the case of this survey comment: “Trades involve: regular layoffs, moving to where the work is, zero security” (CTS, record 375); and the remarks of this manager: M12  The biggest thing is the permanence of employment. On the outside, you feel pretty lucky if you get a three- or a six-month job. When it’s finished, you take your vacation pay and hope it holds you over until the next job. Here, it’s, “Okay, I’m going to be here for the next … twenty years,” which is quite a different picture. You know you’re going to still be here unless you really screw up.  101  Chapter 4  The point was not that trades careers are inherently insecure; Figure 4.1 shows that they are rated above average on job security. Indeed, participants often argued that a major advantage of trades careers is the portability of the certification, and that ticketed workers can generally count on employment, particularly if they are willing to follow the work: “Even on the outside, if you’re good at what you do you’ll work year round. I’ve never been laid off for shortage of work.” (S9) The great attraction of the Dockyard, though, is not only the prospect of income security, but the fact that it can be had without the usual obligation to change employers, endure periods of layoff, commute long distances, or move away. To explore personal motivations for career behaviour, one question on the CTS survey asked respondents to choose between pairs of preferences. Table 4.12 shows response rates to four items which required a choice between a more conservative or passive, and a more ambitious or active option. Table 4.12  CTS N=494  Work life preferences, percent  At this point in your life would you rather …  or…  Work for many years with one good employer  91  Build a progressive career by working for different employers  9  Work on routine tasks that you’re good at  19  Work on new tasks that challenge you to learn  81  Make a comfortable living without too much stress  51  Take on new responsibilities and rise to higher positions  49  Put down roots in one community  88  Get ahead in life, even if you have to move away to follow your career  12  The more conservative options are shown on the left-hand side of the table. Before correlating these responses with some other factors, the distributions are worth noting. On two of the four items, the population as a whole is strongly conservative. Ninety-one percent are more interested in job security than in career advancement, and 88% would rather remain in their present community than move away to follow their career. Curiously, the polarity is reversed on the question of work tasks, where 81% indicate a preference for challenges and learning 102  Chapter 4  opportunities as opposed to routine work. Still, a far smaller proportion – just under half – would be willing to advance to a higher and more responsible position. The ideal, apparently, would be to have a high level of job security, work for an employer conveniently close to home, perform interesting and stimulating activities, but have a minimum of responsibility or stress. As Chapter 5 will argue, this wish list is significant less as a statement of entitlement than as an indicator of these respondents’ self-confidence. Asked to comment on the apparent appetite for greater challenge, one manager explained: M9  We do have a lot of repetitive work. Each ship is a cookie-cutter of the other, so you’ll see the same things again. But my experience in running the shops is that guys who want the variety and are willing to take it on will get it. Others will whine and complain that they’re not getting the chances, but the first time you say, “Here’s an engineering change order” they go “Gulp – I’m out of my comfort zone; I think I’ll go back to my nutting and bolting. So, I’m happier now (but I’m not getting challenged).”  Cross-tabulating reveals that the preferences expressed in Table 4.12 are not particularly sensitive to respondents’ education, though two are related to age (Tables T108 and T109). First, the preference for job security is universal, and unaffected by either variable: the vast majority of incumbents value the job security that this workplace offers. The preference to “put down roots” is shared by over 85% of all age groups, except those under the age of 25 where it is still the preference of 60%. The preference to make a “comfortable living” with minimal stress is clearly stronger among older workers, as is the preference to work on routine tasks as opposed to tasks that “challenge you to learn.” Many respondents acknowledge that this workplace is especially appealing for older workers and those who prefer stability and safety: T12  We’ve all made choices why we’ve come here [to the Dockyard]. It could be, you know, you’ve put ten years or twenty years in on the outside and you figure it’s time to slow down a bit; your paycheques are every two weeks, it’s safer; you’re gonna go home at 4:30 to the wife or kids; I mean …  T5  You want to live in Victoria.  T12  … you want to live in Victoria.… When I came here in ’81 or whenever it was … I came here because of the security of the paycheque and the job. 103  Chapter 4  Others  [General agreement].  In fact, its supposed appeal to older workers has led to the Dockyard’s image as a “retirement home.” Trades workers and managers expressed concern both with the reputation of the workplace and with the possible impact on the attitudes of younger workers. T9  Down here, once you’re in you can sit around, and “half the guys do all the work” is the old expression, and I think it’s true. So, you’ve got half the guys working hard and half not doing much, but nobody’s getting fired. So the guys out there, when they see you coming looking for a job, they don’t know which half you come from. They won’t even hire you to prove yourself.  T8  You take a kid eighteen years old and apprentice him down here. You’ve ruined him (general laughter). He’ll never be able to work in the outside world. They’d run him off the job site.  T12  He could actually have trouble getting a job on the outside, cause it’s a bad reference.  Managers in the civil works unit acknowledge that the work tempo and efficiency there are lower than in the private sector, but also claim that these are in line with expectations in other publicsector institutional settings such as municipal or hospital maintenance departments. As the earlier speaker noted, there is also a strong perception that the Dockyard provides a much safer working environment than other trades employers. Interviewees were unanimous that the study site is an exceptionally safe workplace, and drew sharp contrasts with safety conditions in the private sector sites and particularly among non-union employers. M12  Any outside employee who comes to work here is just amazed at the safety and the training that we provide here.  The standards of other employers are apparent in the skills of incoming workers. Supervisors report that the level of safety knowledge among applicants from external industry is “pathetic to the point of being dangerous” (S8) except among those with experience in large industrial facilities. The following comment is typical of the contrast that trades workers drew between the Dockyard and many other employers on the issue of workplace safety: T7  A lot of times [in the private sector] your employer does not want to hear that the ladder you’re using is outdated and you need a new one. “Oh, you 104  Chapter 4  won’t go up there? Well, the next guy will and he’s looking for a job.” When you’re working outside it comes down to the bottom line. Although in the private sector safety training is commonly provided through the unions, it is usually offered on a non-compulsory basis, and outside of working hours. The view was repeatedly expressed that workplace safety in BC has been undermined by the fragmentation of the apprenticeship process and the elimination of compulsory trades since 2003. Interest, stimulation and learning opportunities  Counterbalancing these potential disadvantages was a strong sense that the workplace offers exceptional opportunities both for satisfying work, and for learning. Interviewees indicated that trades workers on “the outside,” particularly with larger employers, are often faced with rationalized production processes that can mean highly repetitive work with a narrow range of skills. Work is often more interesting in small firms, where workers must solve problems holistically, but the downside can be under-compensation for the skills used. One worker described his decision to come to the Dockyard: T6  I came from non-union status prior to this, working for a small company in the interior. I was doing five trades for $21 an hour and I wasn’t going anywhere. I had a gas ticket as well as a sheet metal ticket, and because it was a small company I did everything. I came down here and worked for a union sheet metal company, which made a huge difference to my wages. But then I switched over to DND because I wanted to get back to more of the diversity that is involved in service work. And, the wages are very comparable when you consider the whole package.  Members of both the ship repair and civil units cited the diversity of work as a major advantage of this employer. T41  There’s a lot more diversity of work here. We have a huge range of buildings, including new ones and some over a hundred years old. We also have the gamut from jetties and industrial buildings to residential and other structures. Take mechanical. We get the whole range: steam lines, fire hydrants, plumbing. Most firms on the outside would specialize in one thing. You get the whole spectrum here.  Similarly, the larger ships are built to NATO standards, with components from all member countries. To give just one example of the consequences: “We’ve got 80 different kinds of pump here. In a private ship yard you might see six” (S35).  105  Chapter 4  These features of the environment also present opportunities for ongoing learning and stimulating work. For apprentices, in particular, the workplace offers unparalleled learning opportunities. Ship repair managers described their commitment to an exceptionally rich and thorough apprenticeship training process. In a stark exception to the industry norm, apprentices away at technical training continue to receive full salary. In the workplace, they are rotated through all relevant work stations – including some, such as quality control, which are not strictly trades positions – on the principle that broad exposure to the entire operation is the basis for both skill development and long-term corporate loyalty. Ship repair managers are adamant that the learning opportunities for apprentices are unsurpassed: M11  It’s known out there in Victoria that if you want the best apprenticeship you come here – for the culture that you work in, the infrastructure, for the long term sustainability, the tools and equipment….  M7  At the same time, we expect a lot of our apprentices. When I send the kids to school I tell them “You come back in the top five of the class.” And they’ve all done it so far. We put the time and the effort in. From our point of view it is not a cost factor. We want to have the best that we can get; we have apprentices doing jobs they could only dream of on the outside. And that goes for every trade here… We just have everything there is to offer for an apprentice.  However, there is a recognition that maintenance work, which is the raison d’etre of the facility, is quite different from construction or manufacturing. Differences are heightened by both the technicalities of military hardware, and the bureaucratic trappings of the federal government. Where repair tasks involve occupied ships and buildings, they require detailed planning, coordination, and authorization that can be frustrating for trades workers who are used to solving problems autonomously, or who thrive on the fast tempo and steady progress of new construction work. Here, as one tradesman said, “You can’t just take a torch and cut a hole in a bulkhead – for all you know there’s live ordnance behind it” (S17). Projects that outside trades workers might assume were straightforward are routinely complicated and delayed here while detailed procedures are developed and approved. In the submarine program especially, every adjustment is minutely planned, calibrated, and documented. In other cases, work can be slowed by safety or environmental requirements, or by the need to call in a tradesperson whose union has jurisdiction over a particular element of the work. “Some guys just can’t hack it here; It’s not for everyone” (T23). 106  Chapter 4  For others, these peculiarities can add to the benefits of the workplace, moderating the pace and the stress level, and injecting opportunities to develop and apply literacy and other “soft” skills. Their membership in the federal public service makes workers eligible for training on a wide range of non-trades topics, such as basic computer applications, management, and leadership skills. A group of managers described an instance that would certainly have been foreign to most Canadian trades workplaces: an intensive series of workshops on change management and conflict resolution, mandated for all workers in one large unit during a period of downsizing some years earlier. M8  The communication skills training was the best I’ve seen in thirty-five years…. And the outcomes were not limited to the workplace. People – myself included – used it in our everyday lives: with our kids, our neighbours, or whoever, you know. People learned to be more transparent right across the board; it certainly opened up better communications.  The group agreed that the overall exercise had helped to create a much “gentler” work environment than typical in external industry. Social relations as a dimension of advantage and disadvantage  The growing literature on social capital indicates that the relationships people maintain have important implications for both individual and group welfare. Social network connections may have directly beneficial – and sometimes constraining – effects. Engagement in social and civic activities is understood to be both instrumental in, and a reflection of, the well-being of individuals and communities (OECD, 2007; Putnam; Helliwell; World Bank). Though a thorough study of social capital in the CTS population would require comparative and other research beyond the scope of this project, a number of observations can be made. In the first place, respondents’ social circles provide reference points for comparing the advantages or disadvantages of their occupations. Whether trades occupations are a good route for “getting ahead” depends on specifics of the particular trade, the employer and other factors. However, career success is also in the eye of the beholder. The survey asked respondents to compare themselves with their main social contacts on three measures: income, job quality, and education. The next two tables show the statistically significant associations with education and age. Table 4.13 shows how respondents compare themselves with their friends on the first two dimensions. A high proportion rate their situations as equal to or better than those of their 107  Chapter 4  associates. Over all, more than 85% say that their income is as good or better than that of their social contacts, and over 95% say that their job is as good or better. Table 4.13  Respondents’ comparisons of themselves with their peers in terms of income and job quality by age, percent.  CTS N=491 Age  Compared with most of the people I spend time with outside of work,  <25  25-34  35-44  45-54  >55  Higher  67  47  23  15  12  About equal  33  39  69  74  74  0  14  8  12  14  100  100  100  100  100  Better  71  57  37  21  26  About equal  29*  41  61  75  72  4  3  100  100  My income is …  Lower Total χ2(8, Ν= 491)=54.0, p<.001; TauB= -.197  My job is …  Worse  0 Total  100  2* 100  2* 100  *Cell counts<5  However, both judgments vary with age. Younger members make more positive comparisons, and this optimism diminishes with each older cohort. Whereas 60% of the under-35 age group report that their jobs are better than those of their friends, the proportion drops to only 22% among those aged 45 and older. Comparing on the basis of income, the respective drop is from 52% to 14%. Although younger workers in these jobs tend to feel they have done comparatively well, they evidently form the impression as they age that their peers are catching up and surpassing them. Participants’ judgments of their careers are also relative to their family backgrounds. CTS respondents were asked to compare their present standard of living with that of their family at the time they were seventeen years old. In the aggregate, about 45% assessed their present standard of living as “higher,” 41% as “about the same,” and 13% as “lower” than that of their families of origin. However, respondents’ sense of rise or decline varies inversely with the education of their 108  Chapter 4  parents and the ISEI ranking of their fathers’ occupations (Tables T110, T111, T112). Those with fathers in higher-status occupations tend to see themselves has having fallen below, and those with lower-status fathers to have ascended. Respondents with poorly educated parents are most likely to view their own standard of living as an improvement, while those with highereducated parents are apt to say that they are worse off now than their parents were. The fact that these perceptions of status vary somewhat with age (Table T113) does not necessarily point to a basic change over time; it is more likely that younger workers who are relatively new in their careers have yet to “catch up” on their parents. These findings show, not surprisingly, that respondents’ opinions about the potential rewards of a skilled trades career depend on their frame of reference. As such, they add important caveats to the advertisements of apprenticeship lobbyists, but they also show that skilled trades can be avenues for upward mobility under the right circumstances. According to the social capital literature, social network connections can be important assets, and are therefore a basis for assessing the welfare of incumbents. In this respect, educational similarities and differences within incumbents’ social networks are important. Table 4.14 reveals that, depending on their educational attainment, members of this population may find themselves in a peer group situation that potentially offers more or fewer resources. First of all, education is the attribute where respondents express greatest similarity with their friends: on average 85% are “about equal” to their friends, versus 67% for the two indicators shown above in Table 4.13.  109  Chapter 4  Table 4.14  Respondents’ comparisons of themselves with their peers in terms of education, by educational attainment, percent  Compared with most of the people I spend time with outside of work, my education is … Higher About equal Lower  High school or less  CTS N=491  Nonuniversity PSE  Partial or complete university  3  13  21  90  82  72  7  5  7  100  100  100  χ2(4,N=491)=24.7, p<.001.; TauB= .177  Regardless of educational level, only 5 to 7% of respondents report being less educated than their regular social contacts. This implies that members of the lowest-educated group are not anomalies within their social circles, but instead manage to socialize with people whose education is similar to their own. By contrast, progressively larger proportions of the highereducated groups find themselves educationally out of step with their social contacts. While the lower-educated members consort almost exclusively with their educational peers, the bettereducated are more likely to socialize “downward.” It seems that higher-educated members of this population tend to be attached to their social circles by something other than similarities of education. If network connections are indeed important to social and career mobility, this pattern may go some way to explaining Boothby and Drewes’s (2006) observation that, in the aggregate, those who combine trades and university qualifications tend to reap poorer returns than those with university credentials alone. It is reasonable that the earnings power of the universityeducated is partly related to their ability to create and maintain social contacts based on both their schooling and their related work – contacts which would be more difficult for trades workers to maintain, particularly in light of the educational homogeneity of these occupations. Without much more detail on the social networks of incumbents, this study can do no more than flag this as an intriguing possibility. Twenty-six percent of the population indicated that when not at work they mainly socialize with others who also work at the Base;20 a proportion that is  20  N=433. 110  Chapter 4  unrelated to either age or education. Whether this signifies dense or sparse social connections to the workplace would also require research beyond the scope of this project. Further glimpses into respondents’ work-related connections are provided by Table 4.15. The questions pick up on Granovetter’s distinction between strong and weak ties, as well as the concepts of “bonding” versus “bridging” and “linking” social capital. Table 4.15  Perceived ease of meeting job-search contacts, percent  CTS N= 486  If you were looking for a job, would it be easy or hard to get a brief meeting with … Easy  Hard  A senior manager at the Base  51  49  A shop supervisor or manager at the Base  81  19  A union rep at the Base  84  16  A tradesperson who works for a different employer  85  15  An employer in your field in the private sector  77  23  Evidently, confidence in all three types of connection is fairly high. Over four-fifths feel confident of their close ties to middle managers and union reps at their own workplace. Similarly, 85% are confident of connections to other trades workers outside the Base, links that could be interpreted either as “bonds” or “bridges.” Apparently “linking” capital is in shorter supply: three-quarters feel confident of being able to meet an outside trades employer, and only half in meeting a senior manager in their own workplace. These confidence measures, again, are not sensitive to age, education, or employment tenure. There is a growing recognition that civic and social engagement (CSE) has important implications both for the mental and physical health of individuals, and for the smooth functioning of communities. New research is now exploring how indicators of CSE relate to differences of education and occupation (OECD, 2007). Table 4.16 reports the findings from two CTS survey questions about participation in selected activities both at and away from the workplace.  111  Chapter 4  Table 4.16  CTS N= 493  Participation in workplace and community activities, percent  Percent who participated in the last 12 months …  At least weekly  At least monthly  A few times a year  Never  21  On the Base  Optional ceremonies or formal events  0  6  62  32  Optional social or recreational activities  4  8  56  32  Use recreation or sports facilities  17  10  21  53  Work-related committees  11  27  28  41  Sports team or recreation group  28  16  20  36  Self-help, education, hobby, or cultural group  13  13  20  54  Community association  2  8  17  73  Service club  3  4  10  83  Religious service  6  3  11  80  Political party or group  1  2  5  92  Away from the Base  There is a considerable difference in participation rates for social activities at the workplace versus those away from it. A majority of respondents participate to some extent in most of the workplace-based activities covered by the question. About two-thirds participate at least a few times a year in ceremonies and organized social events on the Base. Just under half make use of on-site recreation and sports facilities such as the ice rink and gym, with the likelihood higher among younger workers.22 Thirty-eight percent participate at least monthly in work-related committees, though this obscures a great difference between the rates for supervisors (75%) and line workers (24%).23 Engagement is lower on the listed activities that take place away from the workplace. Sports and recreation are the most popular, with 64% reporting at least occasional participation. For the other five activities, a majority – and in most cases a large majority – report  21  Data on attendance at union meetings is not reliable, since this was listed as an activity “on the base”. It was later discovered that union meetings are not held on the base.  22  ActvOn5 by Age_10 χ2(12,Ν= 489)=41.2, p<.001; TauB= -.190.  23  ActvOn2 by Supervis. N=486. 112  Chapter 4  never participating. The rates of activism in both political parties and in community associations seem to vary positively with education, though low cell values rule out a definitive statement. Apart from the associations already noted here, participation rates are not sensitive to age, education, or employment tenure. Here again, further research would be needed to fully explore these findings. It does appear, however, that as with its investments in on-going education, this population does not engage very actively in social and civic activities beyond those specifically coordinated or enabled by the employer. Family patterns The discussion so far has been concerned with locating the skilled trades, and more particularly the case study workplace, within a hierarchy of social advantage, based on measures such as income, workplace benefits, education, and literacy. The next structural question is whether the relative advantages or disadvantages that characterize the trades tend to be recirculated within particular social groups. If, on occupational and/or educational grounds the skilled trades constitute a class position, then an indicator of class fluidity will be how easy or difficult it is to move in and out of the trades, both generally and for members of particular groups. Questions of both social justice and social causation would arise if particular groups seemed either to chronically suffer the disadvantages, or to monopolize the benefits of these occupations. Social reproduction in the family  A first glance at the study population might suggest that trades occupations tend strongly to run in families. Almost one third of respondents reported having fathers in apprenticeable trades – well above the proportion of trades workers in the general population24 – while a further oneeighth had fathers in the military; in addition, 210 respondents, or 40% of the case base, reported at least one sibling in a skilled trade (Tables T114, T115). The question is whether these continuities point to factors that are peculiar to the families of trades workers, or simply reflect the selection processes that govern membership in the case study population. Thi993s section  24  142 of 427 respondents reported a father in a trade. “Trades, transport, or equipment operating occupations” account for just under 25% of the Canadian male labour force (Source: Statistics Canada). Workers in apprenticeable trades account for less than half of this group, which covers both ISCO 7000 and ISCO 8000. Only apprenticeable trades were coded as “skilled trades” for the CTS Occ_Dad variable. According to Akyeampong’s (1991) research, about one-fifth of respondents to the National Apprentieceship Survey reported having a parent in a skilled trade. 113  Chapter 4  investigates the extent to which the parents of CTS participants seem to pass aspects of education and occupation on to their children. Because there is no variance within the CTS data on respondents’ occupation, the intergenerational comparisons are made using other indicators: the careers of respondents’ siblings and the early career aspirations of respondents themselves. It was seen earlier in Table 4.5 that apart from a decline in high school non-completion, educational attainment in the CTS population is relatively stable across age cohorts. By contrast, parental education in all categories is clearly sensitive to age. Table T117 shows that younger workers are substantially more likely than older ones to have parents with college and university experience. Parental and respondents’ education seem to be related (see Table T118) until age is taken into account. When age is held constant, there is no statistically significant relationship between respondents’ education and that of either parent. In its public relations study, Skills Canada (Skills Compétences Canada, 2001) found that families with multiple members in the skilled trades tended to express “trades-friendly” attitudes. In the context of social structure, this raises questions both about the factors that lead families to produce multiple trades workers, as well as the transmission of occupational attitudes. To explore the first question, a dichotomous variable (TradeIntense) was created, which identified all families in the data set where, in addition to the respondent, either the father25 or a sibling also worked in a skilled trade. On this basis, 266 cases, or 52% of the case base (N=509) were from trades-intense families. Using binomial logistic regression the variable was regressed against the respondent’s age by 5-year cohort, and both parents’ education. There was no statistically significant relationship with either age or mother’s education. When “university degree” was used as the reference category, fathers’ education appeared as a factor at two levels: less than high school, Expβ=5.32 t(1,  Ν= 466)=10.826, p=.001, and college certificate, Expβ=5.11 t(1, Ν= 466)= 10.025, p=.002. Hence, where the father has either less than high school or a college certificate, the odds that the family includes multiple trades workers are about five times as great as where the father holds a university degree. Given the proportions in this population, a more intuitive statement of this is that the odds of a family including multiple trades workers are only about one fifth as great where the father is university-educated as where he is in either a trade or an “other” occupation.  25  No respondent reported having a mother in a skilled industrial trade. 114  Chapter 4  Otherwise, families in the study population are about equally likely to have more than one member in a skilled trade. To overcome the variance issue mentioned above, two indirect strategies were used to investigate the effects of parents on occupational behaviour in the respondents’ generation. The first involved a derived variable (SibsDomnt) which identifies the type of career entered by the majority of the respondents’ siblings. The questionnaire options were: “a skilled trade,” “a field that requires university education,” or “a field that is not a trade, but does not require university.” Because it includes only the respondent’s generation, SibsDomnt allows for association with parental occupation and education. It also makes it possible to examine families’ tendencies in relation to careers other than just the trades. Finally, since it is based only on siblings exclusive of the respondent, the ratio is not affected by family size. The values of the SibsDomnt variable were dichotomized to create dummy variables for each of the three career paths: trades, university, and other. Binary logistic regression was used to associate these indicators of siblings’ behaviour with the education of both parents, as well as age and fathers’ occupation. Fathers’ occupation was simplified into three categories: Professional and associate/technical (ISCO 2000, 3000); Trades (ISCO 7000); and Other (all other categories). Table 4.17 presents the statistically significant factors.  115  Chapter 4  Table 4.17  Factors affecting the predominant careers of respondents’ siblings  Main occupational destination of respondent’s siblings Careers requiring university  Factor  Ref cat  Father’s educ <HS Father’s educ = HS Age<35  Skilled trades  Non-trades, non-university careers  CTS  Expβ  df  N  t  Univ  0.230  1  290  5.27  .022  Univ  0.163  1  290  8.43  .004  Age>54  3.17  4  304  5.93  .015  1  272  6.46  .011  10.6  p  Father’s educ <HS  Univ  Father’s educ = HS  Univ  7.25  1  272  4.77  .029  Mother’s educ <HS  Univ  4.5  1  290  3.61  .034  Again, an important factor was the fathers’ education, particularly if it included university. In families where siblings went mainly into careers requiring university, the odds were four- to sixtimes lower that the father had high school or less than that he had a university degree (the reference category). Where siblings predominantly went into the trades, the odds that the father had high school or less were seven to ten times higher than that he had a degree. Rephrasing both of these findings, the presence of a university-educated father greatly increases the odds of the respondent’s siblings predominantly entering professional careers, and reduces the odds of their entering the skilled trades. Similarly, where the mother has university education the odds that the siblings will mainly pursue “other” careers are less than one-fourth as high as they are where she has less than high school. Age has an effect at the university level, but not the other two. The odds of having siblings mainly in university-related careers are three times higher for a respondent who is 25 to 34 years old than for one who is over 54. By contrast, respondents’ age had no statistically significant effect on their siblings’ tendencies to enter the trades or “other” careers. To test for influence in the opposite direction – i.e., the possibility that trades-intensive families produce distinctive attitudes or behaviours – “TradeIntense” was treated as an independent variable and cross-tabulated against 53 others, many of which have been mentioned in this chapter. These include the indicators on education and literacy habits, the occupational satisfaction indicators shown in Figure 4.1, and other variables on career preferences, aspirations 116  Chapter 4  and expectations, vocational type, and work-related values. Only a single instance was found where being from a multi-tradesperson family showed a statistically significant relationship with another variable: respondents from trades-intense families were more likely to report that their parents had influenced their career choice.26 Testing more specifically, it was those with fathers in the skilled trades who were most likely to report parental influence: 80% in that group, versus around 40% among those with fathers in other occupations (see Table T130). This point will be discussed below. The second strategy for investigating family influences on occupation involved the careers to which respondents had aspired in their youth. Regressing respondents’ aspired-to occupations against their fathers’ occupations by ISEI score produced no evidence of a significant influence, β=.042, t(253)=.562, p=.575. Nor was a significant effect apparent when the aspired-to occupations were categorized into “professional,” “trades,” and “other,” and cross-tabulated with parental education and fathers’ occupation. Examination of the tables (T126, T127) shows, again, that respondents with university-educated parents are more likely to have professional aspirations. But neither the presence of college-educated parents nor of a father working in a skilled trade seems to raise the likelihood of aspiring to the trades. Age has a minimal effect on early career aspirations, except that aspirations to professional careers have become more common over time (see Table T129). The analyses suggest that the skilled trades per se are not a meaningful category of social reproduction via the family. While some intergenerational patterns surely exist, these point more strongly to a basic division between university/professional and non-university/non-professional categories than to the skilled trades as a specific occupational group. Comparisons by age cohort show that the parents and siblings of trades workers in the study population are becoming better educated over time, and also a that a growing proportion of siblings are pursuing careers that require university preparation. It is also evident that siblings’ tendencies, and respondents’ early aspirations, seem to reflect parental influence at the poles of the educational and occupational spectrums, that is, (a) where parents (especially fathers) are university educated, and/or the father works in a profession; and (b) where parents (especially mothers) have less than high school,  26  χ2(3, Ν= 495)= 38.4, p<.001, λ=.186. 117  Chapter 4  and/or the father works in an occupation that is neither a profession nor a trade. In these general terms, the present findings are consistent with those of others (see, for instance, Finnie, Lascelles, & Sweetman, 2005) who have pointed to family effects on both the well and the poorly educated. However, being unable to disaggregate the national data on the various vocational options, the earlier studies could not distinguish the apprenticeable trades within the broad, lower band of the education/occupation structure. The CTS data present a clearer picture of both the relative welfare and the social mobility of trades workers, at least in the study population. It has been shown that although many of the CTS respondents had fathers in the trades, those fathers did not produce trades-bound or even tradesaspiring children at a greater rate than other fathers did. Respondents with fathers in the skilled trades were no less likely than others to have siblings in university-related occupations, and they were not much more likely than others to have aspired to trades occupations in their own youth. If members of this population tend to have dense family connections to the skilled trades, the cause does not seem to be that the skilled trades run in families in any consistent sense. Rather, it is arguably more useful to examine the data for evidence of characteristic strategies than for evidence that skilled trades occupations are a social class position that is reproduced through the family. Accordingly, the place to look for commonalities would be among trades workers themselves, rather than among their families. In the first place, the data suggest that participants in the trades make similar kinds of educational investments. Trades workers in the IALSS data, as well as both the CTS respondents and their tradesman fathers, share a common pattern of investing in directly work-related training to the near exclusion of university studies. Considering both their principal credentials and their ongoing, further education and training, members of this population seem typically to invest in learning that is directly applicable to their current occupations, rather than laying the foundations for advancement or transfer to other types of career. Other patterns also suggest strategic behaviour. For instance, while families with multiple trades workers did not predestine the career directions of their offspring, trades workers in the present study who come from such families tend to credit them with influencing their career choice. Given that fewer than 15% of respondents claim that “people” of any kind were a major factor in their career decisions, it seems reasonable to interpret this influence not as compulsion or constraint but rather in terms of resources such as advice, information, basic  118  Chapter 4  skills, contacts, encouragement, and so on. As important as this kind of influence may be in the career strategies of these individuals, however, it does not constitute evidence that families with members in the trades are particularly subject to social determinism. Rather, the reasons these relationships are concentrated here must be sought in the processes that control entry to the study population. Conclusions This chapter has explored issues of social structure by asking three questions about skilled trades occupations and members of the study population. The first was about trades workers’ apparent advantages and disadvantages on various measures, relative to other groups. In the first place, the enormous variation among trades occupations and workplaces, not only in monetary terms but also in respect of job security, safety, social harmony, and learning opportunities, all caution against easy generalizations about “the trades.” Financial compensation in the study workplace compares very favorably with other public-sector employers of similar workers, and is not far from unionized, private-sector rates. In most cases, hourly wage rates at CFBE are significantly higher than the regional average for similar occupations. On an annualized basis, average earnings for this population are about 10% higher than the median for fully-employed males in the surrounding labour market, and more than 40% percent above the median for females. The facility’s character as a federal institution brings a range of other benefits including job security, health and pension benefits, excellent physical infrastructure, the formal enshrinement of workers’ rights, and rich opportunities for formal and informal learning and skill utilization. Workers in the selected occupations seem to follow an educational investment strategy oriented to job security rather than career mobility. Both the national and the case study survey data indicated that, notwithstanding the general growth in university participation, workers in the target occupations seem to participate in vocational and workplace-based training instead of – rather than in conjunction with or in preparation for – academic PSE. In general, trades workers’ literacy and numeracy skills seem to reflect this focus on work-related tasks, with higher-thanaverage scores on the use of technical documentation, and lower-than-average engagement in non-technical reading and writing. Members of the study population have higher rates of both high school completion and vocational certification than the norm for male trades workers in Canada, but share the low rate of university participation that characterizes these occupations. 119  Chapter 4  Most members of the study population have a realistic sense of the economic rewards of the trades in comparison with other occupations, generally agreeing that their jobs offer somewhat above-average potential on most factors, with the exception of prospects for career advancement. As Table 4.18 shows, approval for trades careers in general is very high. The slightly lesser enthusiasm to recommend a trades career with DND probably has to do with perceptions of earnings, and with concern about this employer’s ability to instill realistic attitudes in younger workers. Almost three-quarters would tell a young friend that the trades are a good lifelong career, and no one would advise against a career in the trades. Associations with these views will be examined in Chapter 5. Table 4.18  CTS N=489  Attitudes toward trades and DND careers, percent  Would recommend a trades career  93  Would recommend a trades career with DND  87  Advice:  Trades make a good life-long career  72  Trades make a good stepping stone to other careers  28  Trades are not a good career choice  0  Respondents are also well aware of differences among trades employers, and generally believe quite strongly that their current employer provides superior rewards in most areas – above all in terms of job security, but also in benefits, working conditions, and the social ambience of the workplace. Whether the work is considered stimulating and interesting seems to be largely a matter of personal outlook and circumstance. The sense of advantage or disadvantage is also related to particular characteristics of the respondents. While the entire population is clearly interested in job security and stability, older workers have a clear preference for low stress and routine work. Personal circumstances also affect respondents’ perceptions of long-term social welfare and mobility: those from humble origins are more likely to feel that their choice of the trades has served them well. Overall, the conclusion must be that, whether by external measures or by their own estimation, members of the case study population cannot be considered particularly disadvantaged. On the whole, and compared with other Canadian workers, this population is comparatively comfortable in terms of earnings, income security, and working conditions, though perhaps somewhat worse off in terms of potential for career advancement and 120  Chapter 4  the intangible benefits of higher education and literacy/numeracy. Though it seems low, the rate of social and civic engagement outside the workplace is a topic that requires further research. And while the institutional working conditions and the regimented nature of the work may not be to every trades worker’s taste, there is no question that the Dockyard is an employer of choice for many, including those who have knowledge of it through friends or family. With isolated exceptions, the overwhelming view from both management and labour seems to be that “It’s a great place to work.” At the same time, the image of the workplace that emerges from these accounts seems in many ways incongruous or contradictory. The organization selects talented apprentices and provides them outstanding technical training, but inculcates work attitudes and a “retirement home” image that the private sector would not tolerate. The bureaucratized environment demands a high level of workplace literacy from at least some trades workers, but a substantial proportion of the labour force also has fairly low education and participates minimally in training. The scope of work covers an enormous variety of trades tasks, and yet a large proportion of incumbents indicate that they are under-challenged. In other cases, workers seem to turn down opportunities for more stimulating work. These discrepancies suggest again that “the trades” comprehend a wide range of potential demands and opportunities for the application of skill, and that this workplace is able to provide quite different experiences even to workers in the same trade. The following chapter will argue that this great latitude in the definition and content of trades work provides room for a number of different interest strategies which contribute to the social character of “the trades” in Canada. Other questions of social structure had to do with the perpetuation of patterns within both the family and the case study workplace. When individuals’ careers can be predicted by their parents’ jobs and education – particularly when those are substandard – concerns arise about the reproduction of social class, and limits on self-determination. The high incidence of family connections within the case study raised the question of whether these incumbents might have somehow been predestined by their family backgrounds to become trades workers. Examining the trajectories of respondents’ brothers and sisters, and their own early career aspirations, showed that their parents had had very little effect except where they were highly educated and/or in professional fields, in which case the younger generation also tended toward the  121  Chapter 4  professions. Where fathers were in the trades, the careers and aspirations of their children were about as diverse as where they were in other occupations. The fact that respondents with fathers in the trades were more likely to acknowledge a parental influence cannot be interpreted as evidence of determinism, but is more plausibly understood to indicate the individual’s use of an asset or resource. Indeed, these kinds of connection seem to point toward processes that control entry to the workplace rather than to attributes of incumbents’ families. The first section of the chapter described an extremely homogeneous case study workforce characterized not only by the distinctive educational profile described earlier, but also by strong and persistent patterns in gender, age, and ethnicity. While, in the latter two respects, this group roughly reflects the surrounding community, the distinctive profile in terms of gender and education calls for more exploration of the processes that govern membership in this extraordinary group.  122  Chapter 5  CHAPTER 5 Findings: Social Action According to the research paradigm that frames this study, social structure refers to persistent patterns in observed social phenomena, such as inequalities among groups on particular measures. Accounting for these structural patterns requires a theory of social action – in this paradigm, rooted in the interest-seeking behaviour of imperfectly rational individuals. The findings presented in Chapter 4 address the structural aspect of three of the research questions of this project: whether trades workers are relatively advantaged or disadvantaged on various measures; whether trades workers’ families are particularly prone to produce trades workers; and the demographic profile of the case study workplace. Among the findings were that trades workers invest in vocational training largely to the exclusion of other forms of PSE; members of the study population have exceptionally dense family connections to the skilled trades; and the trades occupations of interest show a far greater gender imbalance than the surrounding labour market. The present chapter seeks to account for these patterns by linking them to strategic behaviour. Considering the evidence presented in Chapter 4, an initial assumption is that employment at the facility provides a number of considerable advantages to members, which they perceive an interest in preserving. This chapter will argue that several overlapping practices within the organization contribute to sustaining the benefits of membership and controlling competition from outsiders. Membership processes One feature which seems obvious to anyone familiar with the organization is its operation of an extended internal labour market (EILM). Although the issue was frequently raised in survey comments and interviews, the most compelling evidence of this is in the survey data: nearly twothirds of incumbents stated that they knew someone in the organization before they were hired,27 and of those, 71% indicated that having this prior contact was helpful to them in finding work at the facility.28 In other words, nearly half (46%) of the respondents indicated that having a prior  27  65.5%. Ν= 502.  28  Ν= 335. 123  Chapter 5  personal contact was a factor in their entry to this workplace. Considering, moreover, that the vast majority of these prior connections were through either family (40%) or past co-workers (27%),29 it is not surprising that members of the organization at all levels were sensitive to the topic of perceived hiring bias. The overwhelming view, however, was that recruitment through personal contact is typical in trades occupations, and no more prevalent with this employer than elsewhere. Respondents generally indicated that any appearance of nepotism or favouritism was misleading, and that the clear patterns of prior contact arose from legitimate, unavoidable, and generally beneficial processes. The most immediate of these is the use of information networks. In some cases, the process seems very direct and simple, as with this participant’s decision to change from truck driving to a skilled trades career: T10  My father-in-law was a pipefitter and worked on the pulp mill shut-downs. When I saw some of his paycheques and how much money he was making, I said, “That’s for me.”  Interviewees were not surprised by the high proportion of workers with prior contacts at the facility, since trades workers’ paths tend to cross, whether on job sites, at vocational school, or through more intentional networks.  29  M12  Usually the best guys we get are already working. And if they’re working they’re not checking the postings. They usually find out by word of mouth. Every electrician on southern Vancouver Island knows when we’re posting.  M10  It’s a lot like that for plumbing and sheet metal, because we work through the uptown unions as well. A lot of people know the benefits of working here, and they know the criteria.  M12  A lot of guys in the shop get together with electricians outside and the word gets passed. They have a beer and steak night on Tuesdays, where a whole lot of electricians get together to bullshit and its “Okay, we’ve got a posting coming up,” and “Oh, do you now?” It’s just an informal thing that a bunch of the guys do. So, the word gets spread pretty quickly. And when you compare it to the outside right now, we get paid well and we get great benefits.  CtcWho: Family 40.4%; Previous work 26.6%. Ν= 327. 124  Chapter 5  While one group implied that nepotism may be a factor in some units in the organization, they regarded any internal networking in their own area as innocent and inevitable: “Here, it’s just a matter of word of mouth.” Within this EILM, the hiring process is mediated through several filters: on one side, the family and social networks of incumbents; and on the other, a set of organizational practices that combine formal regulations with local discretion. All vacancies for trades positions are posted only on the Public Service internet portal (www.jobs.gc.ca). Candidates must either apply on line through the portal or by mail to the Base HR department responsible for civilian personnel. Meanwhile, local managers, and indeed incumbent trades workers, retain substantial control over the process. In conjunction with HR officers, unit managers determine both the geographic area for eligibility and the posting period, which may be as short as two to five days. Vacancies are very seldom advertised by other formal means such as newspaper ads. As interviewees explained, in these circumstances, most eligible candidates would not be aware that an opportunity existed unless they were specifically prompted by someone with inside knowledge. Several anecdotes illustrated how prior contacts had conveyed useful information: T13  I was a [tradesman] with my own business for nine years. I was also a baseball coach and I coached T11’s daughters. He remembered that I was a [tradesman] and asked me if I ever wanted to work down here. … About three years later, I get a phone call from T11: “Get your resume in to me; they’re hiring down here.” So I get my resume done and drop it off at his house, and about two weeks later I get a call from the coordinator: “You start on June 26.” Simple as that.  Despite the appearance of special treatment, it is accepted that T11’s intervention had not influenced the selection, but merely alerted T13 to the opportunity and helped convey his application into the official process: T13  Yeah…. [without the prompting from T11] I probably never would have applied ’cause I never would have known about it. I’m too busy working to be going on the computer every night and looking up to see if there’s any openings. I’m running my business 7/24. So, unless somebody calls me I’m not going to know ’cause I’m too busy.  125  Chapter 5  Similarly, T12  My father in law is a pipefitter in [Shop X], and he says to me “I hear they’re hiring over at [Shop Y], you should put your name in.” So I go down to manpower and see the notice on the board, and applied and that’s how I got in. He didn’t help me get in, but I wouldn’t have known about it otherwise.  These speakers are comfortable that the process they followed was legitimate, since the information they received was publicly available, even if not widely so. Though perhaps less passionate in their explanations of the EILM, managers also supported the word-of-mouth recruitment system as practical and effective. For instance, it was explained that advertising vacancies in the media would be awkward and costly because of federal requirements to publish in both official languages. Moreover, it would be unnecessary, given the large number of applicants for most trades positions. Indeed, the perceived need to keep applications to a manageable number was also cited as the reason for the short posting periods. Although concerns were occasionally expressed about the quality of applicants, managers generally did not seem to perceive a need to cast the recruitment net more widely. The following exchange among managers reflects the same emphasis on the value of information, but also hints briefly at how not only “knowing” but also “being known” may help a candidate. M7  … most of us have worked long-term here; we have our families; they understand our business; we talk about work at home. We get together, we socialize. Our kids just through osmosis pick some of this stuff up and they go “Geez, Dad, I think I’d like to get into ….” Well okay, go and apply. I’m not going to get involved in the process. But if [a manager’s] son applies for a job in my area, he’s going to have an understanding of the process, and he’s going to know what he needs to study.  M3  And you also know what you’re going to get there as well. You know [the manager’s] work ethic; you know that his son’s going to come along with the same thing – that he’s going to be willing to get out there and work.  M5  But he’s still got to go through the process.  M3  Of course he does.  As S35’s comment suggests, it would be naïve to assume that these networks perform only the “bridging” function of alerting their users to new opportunities. In this case, the social network also enforces a set of membership standards, selectively admitting only suitable applicants. In 126  Chapter 5  shortlisting candidates, shop managers consult their own networks, both in the broader community and on the shop floor. Like the managers quoted above, trades workers insisted that this sort of reference checking did not amount to favouritism. It is understood that the practice does not particularly benefit insiders, but may actually increase risk to them, since its central intent is to weed out the unsuitable. As one group put it, “A good reference won’t get you in, but a bad one can be the kiss of death” (S28). Apparently, local control over the selection process would be suspect if it was thought to deliver benefits to individual insiders, but it does not provoke objections when it is understood to enforce the legitimate membership norms of the group. The group’s influence on membership continues beyond the initial selection decision and into an extensive process of admission to permanent or “indeterminate” employment. Interviewees explained that this long vetting process is one reason for the high proportion of respondents who report prior contacts in the workplace, since anyone without a positive track record would not remain in consideration. In one unit, apprentices are only hired from within. In another, apprentices may be hired in open competitions, but those who are known to the employer through previous summer work experience or co-op placements have a strong competitive advantage. Journeypersons are very rarely hired by open competition into permanent (“indeterminate”) positions. Rather, new workers normally enter through term positions before being given the opportunity to compete internally for permanent employment. All of these processes create what amounts to an informal probation process, from which candidates can be let go without penalty to the organization. Incumbent workers and managers alike spoke of the benefits of a long assessment period, allowing both supervisors and co-workers to influence the final decision: T13  The essential component of this is that you have to go through a process where you serve some six-month terms, and at the end of that they can say “Well, we don’t have any more work, thank you very much. Goodbye”. Now sometimes it’s unfortunate in that there truly is a downturn and some good people get let go. Other times there might not be a downturn, but that guy didn’t get along, so goodbye, right? And after that’s happened a few times they find out – this guy’s great, right? He’s compatible, gets along with the rest of the people – he’s in.  127  Chapter 5  The obvious question is about what it means to “get along.” Like the high incidence of family connections, the gender and ethnic profile of the workforce are quite obvious to anyone within the organization, but are not interpreted as evidence of discrimination. The organizational culture of the study workplace is one that overtly celebrates – and reflects back onto itself – deep values of fair play and decency. With very few exceptions, interviewees were able to square the demographic profile of the workplace with a personal and corporate ethos not only of respect and tolerance, but of active care for others. Table 5.1 suggest that the existing system has produced a workplace environment that is both homogeneous and harmonious. Table 5.1  Workplace trust and cohesion  CTS N= 495  Percent who agree or strongly agree that… This is a friendly place to work  92  Workers here look after each other  84  Workplace is a close, tight-knit community  75  Most workers trust one another  77  On related questions, about two-thirds of the population agreed that incumbent workers have a responsibility to make new workers feel welcome and supported, and also that workers can “do their share” without necessarily being held to identical performance standards.30 None of these variables is associated statistically with either education or age.31 A group of managers spoke proudly of how units in their area had participated in a federal program to hire Aboriginal and atrisk youth into entry-level positions: M12  It’s a program where the federal government provides some money for us to hire young people who may have been in some trouble or what-not.  M8  It’s not the kind of thing you’d find most private businesses getting involved in. But it makes our group feel good to help these kids out. It’s a great morale booster.  30  Item 39(a): 63% (N=505). Item 39(b): 69% (N=502).  31  Small cell values rule out associating these variables with gender or visible minority status. 128  Chapter 5  M2  And it’s a reality check too. It shows us the other side of the street and reminds us we’ve got a pretty good life.  Equity issues are not perceived as a particular burden. As a primary source of workplace conflict, less than 3% of the study population cited gender differences, and less than 1% cited ethnic differences, as compared with 35% citing management/labour and 40% citing civilian/military differences (Table T132). Participants were generally comfortable that the low proportion of equity groups in the workforce is due to a combination of external factors and legitimate selection processes, and does not reflect institutionalized discrimination: M2  You don’t care whether a person is black, blue, white, red or whatever.  M12  You don’t get a lot of racism. People get along fine here.  M8  I don’t recall doing interviews with people of other ethnic backgrounds very often.  M10  We try to get women to apply, but we don’t get many.  M2  We hired one girl a few years ago, and she was terrific. We loved having her on the crew, but six months later she said, “No, I’m ready to raise a family now,” and she leaves.  Understanding these patterns requires further analysis of the membership process, attending to both the formal selection criteria used by the organization and the informal norms that are communicated and enforced in the course of the group’s ongoing practices. The formal selection process is defined in broad outline by federal policies, with specific criteria developed by unit supervisors in conjunction with civilian HR staff. A new Public Service Employment Act (PSEA) was introduced at the beginning of 2006, and guidelines for implementing it within DND were laid out in a handbook for staffing managers (Department of National Defence, 2006b). The act places an emphasis on creating a more flexible civil service by driving HR decision making ever lower within the organization and empowering local managers to meet their staffing needs with minimal constraint from rigid bureaucratic guidelines. A critically important principle in this process has been the move away from a numerical ranking system, in which the highest-scoring candidate was necessarily the first choice, to one that emphasizes “best fit”. Under this system, all candidates must minimally satisfy a set of “essential” criteria, but 129  Chapter 5  above this threshold managers may apply “asset” criteria to select among qualified candidates. Unlike its predecessor, the best-fit system allows managers to pass over a numerically higherscoring candidate in preference for one who is stronger on the particular criteria – including “asset” criteria – defined as priorities in the unit’s HR plan. In learning to apply the system, unit managers have been encouraged to develop a more sophisticated approach to selection and performance evaluation, for instance by taking account of soft skills (team work, interpersonal communication, attitude), and by adopting “authentic” evaluation practices. A commitment to this philosophy, both among managers and line workers, was apparent in the interviews. Several examples were given of interview questions that reflected the principle of holistic, problembased evaluation: M12  Here’s one question I ask every apprentice candidate that I interview: “Tell us about a time when you built something that you were really proud of”. I don’t care what he built. I want to hear how he tells me; I want to hear the enthusiasm. I’m looking for a keener. That one question makes or breaks the interview. It’s the first question I ask and it’s the one that carries the most weight in my opinion.  Other ship repair managers concurred that in recruiting apprentices, demonstrated skill and ability in the field of the relevant trade is a precondition for being shortlisted, but the interview process focuses on selecting for attitudes and personality traits that signal the capacity to be effective and content in this workplace. In the case of electronics, the organization prefers candidates who have already earned two-year technology diplomas, often selecting graduates who have served co-op work terms in the unit. While the advanced knowledge represented in a technology diploma is certainly appreciated, this manager uses the interview to probe for more amorphous qualities: M11  … our main interest isn’t in their technical learning. What that diploma shows us is that they’ve put in the effort; they’ve developed a graduating project. In screening them I get them to tell me about a project they’ve done with others and how they did it. It’s not the technical details, but rather the attitudes they have learned in accomplishing a major project and getting through the program. I know the person can contribute in this environment because they have the attitude; we can teach the skills later.  Evaluation techniques which require candidates to showcase a portfolio of relevant achievements, or to perform tasks in real time, can be highly effective means of testing for  130  Chapter 5  complex forms of competency. Designing and interpreting such assessment processes also demands considerable expertise and is the topic of an extensive literature in education and human resource management (Gonczi, 1994; Svinicki, 2004). Advocates of employment equity have tended to view authentic or customized assessment as inherently open to greater risk of bias than standardized techniques (Reskin & McBrier, 2000; Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, 1995). Under the new public service guidelines, managers are encouraged to consider candidates’ “personal suitability” for the position, opening enormous latitude for interpretation. The sociological question is whether and to what extent the “best fit” system selects for characteristics which may serve the interests of the organization viewed as a social group, rather than more abstractly as an instrument of public policy. A clue to the importance of this issue can be seen in the enthusiasm with which incumbent workers defend the existing selection process, and their involvement in it. A relatively new member discovered this when he floated the idea of a more transparent and centralized approach to hiring: T11  My personal feeling is that they should go to an external hiring unit. Take away the internal hiring unit and then you’ve got at least a fair chance for everybody.  T13  But the problem with that is that you’re going to end up with these people that we can’t work with.  Others  Yes, yes!  T13  We want to have a lot of input so we don’t end up with people we can’t work with. That’s the beauty of this place – we all get along.  Participants’ comments give some insight into both the specific criteria and the broader objectives that members of this population bring to the selection process. On the one hand, the selection system allows for surprising latitude in the some of the criteria for “best fit.” Yet there is also broad agreement on the attributes of a composite or ideal-typical member of the trades workforce. Facets of this, which perhaps cannot be fully separated, include a particular type of intelligence or adeptness for practical problem solving; a set of aptitudes or character traits that speak of a “vocation” for trades work; and a sense of solidarity with both the immediate team and the organization, and more broadly with the trades as an imagined community.  131  Chapter 5  Trades identity – pride and stigma An advertised topic of the group interviews for this project, which provoked lively discussion, was a question about the nature and level of intelligence that trades work requires. A number of participants spoke of the real and growing complexity of trades work, and the need for advanced abilities in areas such as information finding and technical problem solving, and even interpersonal and customer relations. Some informants complained that the public’s underestimation of skilled trades work propels a vicious circle that leads to applications from drastically under-prepared and/or under-capable candidates: “I can’t believe the [poor] quality of 90% of these people – we need bright people here!” (Int 3). There was also some discussion of the potential to reconfigure occupational and curricular boundaries to permit greater interplay between trades and professional career tracks, perhaps as envisaged in the Campus 2020 Report (British Columbia Ministry of Advanced Education, 2007). Here a discussant muses about articulating trades with engineering: T4  Our trades are such physical trades that once you get to a certain age you can’t do it anymore. But you can’t go any farther. But if you had that avenue where you could say “Yeah, when I’m 50 or 60 I could do engineering work”, a guy who’s 20 or 30 years old could plan his career. If he’s one of these keen guys that plans their future, he could say, “Okay, I’ll work in the trade for say 25 or 30 years until my body gets tired, and then I’ll step into the next level – the engineering side of it – and start helping designing buildings and so on.  Just how the competencies and aptitudes required for skilled trades occupations might align with those required in the professions is an important and complex question, both at the practical level of curricular and job design and in terms of social-group distinctions. During the focus group conversations there were numerous references to the complexity of skilled trades work, occasionally illustrated with anecdotes of trades workers solving problems that had stumped the engineers, or of the engineering department producing work orders that defied common sense or the laws of physics. While such comments served partly for self-aggrandizement, another thread running through them was a vision of the trades as proto-professional fields. Several workers spoke of the satisfaction they had sometimes derived from working in tandem with engineers, in the best cases experiencing a genuine collegiality and a two-way exchange of expertise and learning. In the following comments, optimism and appetite for greater convergence are evident,  132  Chapter 5  but dampened by a sense of constraints imposed by both the present structure of trades occupations and by the talent pool: T3  Many people don’t know what they’re capable of when they’re young. They often find after several years in the trades that they want to move higher… For some guys that would be a very natural process. But the system as it is right now doesn’t allow that.  T5  But the truth of the matter is that within the trades there are only going to be a limited number of people with the skill, the ability, and the desire to do that sort of thing.  In this discussion of what might be called the epistemic boundaries of trades occupations – i.e., the kind of knowledge and skill that properly define them – another, and probably more dominant, thread actively rules out the prospect of convergence. On this account, trades occupations require forms of ability that are quite different from those generally valued by the education system or by a professionally-biased public. This survey comment sets up the basic dichotomy: There are people that are book smart. But can't define between a Robertson or Slanted screwdriver. Trade personnel are both book smart and hand to eye co-ordinated to get the job done. (CTS; record 394) This intensely practical, perhaps anti-intellectual, view of “trades smarts” was commonly framed as a direct response to another advertised discussion topic, perceptions of the “trades stigma”: T9  You can go to university or college and get your pathway knowledge in education, or you can stay out in the real world and get the education of life. And that’s gonna pack you a lot farther sometimes than schooling will.  The comment does not deny the basic premise of the supposed stigma – i.e., that trades and professional occupations involve divergent types of ability. Rather, it accepts and affirms this premise while reversing its normative power. Here, the specialized intelligence of the trades worker is presented as far superior to merely academic competence, and the latter is equated with frippery and laziness: T8  When I think about what I learned from grade one to twelve … yeah, sure you learn a bit…. But as soon as you get out into the real world and start working – and working with guys in the trades who are a bit older and can teach you stuff, and then you go to trade school – that’s when you start 133  Chapter 5  learning. Learning social studies and French and stuff – that’s like a holiday. They’re just giving you little bits of stuff. … God, you don’t have to go to university to teach grade three. T6  Nowadays kids think, “Mom and Dad will pay for it. Why should I get a job? I’ll just go to university and take a basket-weaving course, play squash, you know.” There’s a ton of kids out there who don’t have what it takes to be a doctor or a lawyer. They should be with us. Not that we’re stupid, but I could never be a surgeon.  These comments recall Andres’ (2003) finding that lower-educated respondents tended to express more dismissive opinions about the value of education. As the conversation continues, the composite image of the trades worker expands to include a position in the social order, and a distinctive approach to advancement and security: T13  The thinking out there is that you send your kid to university, thinking that he’s going to become a doctor. The chances are about as good as the lottery that he’s going to become a doctor. But they don’t know that. Mother Culture out there says, “Get your kid to be a doctor ’cause that’s the best.” So that’s what every family thinks and that’s why they all try to send their kids to university. Nobody ever says, “Tradesman’s just as good; Slow and steady wins the race; If you plod along slowly you can get there just as well as a doctor did.” Nobody ever tells the kid that, except in the tradesman’s family. In the tradesman’s family the dad – or whoever was the tradesperson – says, “Look, I was a [tradesman] all my life. I’ve done just as well as that doctor or rocket scientist next door. As a matter of fact, I’ve got to go over to his place to fix his furnace cause he’s so goddamn stupid he can’t do it himself.”  The speaker makes several important claims here about the socioeconomic status of trades occupations, and the life strategy of the idealized trades worker. The purported impulse to “get your kid to be a doctor” is presented as a misguided cultural bias and not, as Hirsch would have it, a rational response to the socioeconomic reality of positional competition. Indeed the common assumption that the trades are economically inferior to the professions is implicitly denied in the claim about having “done just as well as the doctor.” In other respects, it is the tradesman who is in the superior position: not only does he have the practical skills to rescue his tweedy neighbour, but he also has the insight and detachment not to be duped by society’s fixation on getting ahead, or by the false promises of university. Contrary to supposed tenets of the trades stigma, it is not deficit, constraint, or inability that leads people into trades careers, but a combination of natural aptitude, industry, and good sense. While this was circulated as a general proposition about  134  Chapter 5  trades people, it was also commonly expressed in autobiographical terms. Table 5.2 shows that a majority of CTS survey respondents deny that their own career choice was constrained by educational or social factors such as their school grades, the people they knew, or the cost or availability of education. For most respondents, any constraints were strictly economic and quite independent of personal ability: the need for income, and the limits of the local labour market. Table 5.2  CTS N=492  Perceived constraints on career choice; percent who agree or strongly agree.  When I entered the trades my career options were limited by… My achievement in school The people I knew The high cost of education The educational options in the place where I lived The job market in the place where I lived My need for continuing income  31 37 45 24 53 63  Following the pattern described by other researchers (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, 2004; Lehmann, 2005; Looker, 2001), CTS respondents insist that their career situations are essentially the product of their free choice. As the following survey comment makes clear, the very question of possible constraint seems to imply a condescension that is felt both personally and on behalf of trades occupations: It appears that this survey is stating that people are in trades because they were not able to reach the levels of schooling or incapable of going beyond the trades. If this is what the assumption is, it is very erroneous. I personally am in the trades because I like it. No other reason. (CTS record 177). The dignity that is affronted here is expressed in the concept of vocation or, more specifically, “trade pride”: a sense of personal suitability and deep commitment to trades work. In numerous conversations with respondents, the sense of trade pride was portrayed as a defining characteristic of the authentic trades person, whether as a genetic gift or the result of long inculcation. As one interviewee put it, “It’s innate in the individual – you couldn’t beat it out of them” (T21).  135  Chapter 5  The survey data allow us to make some connections between educational attainment and support for these sentiments. Table 5.3 relates respondents’ education to six items from the CTS survey that tap opinions on the exceptionalism of trades occupations, and the extent to which they should be integrated with or separate from others. Each row shows a pair of forced-choice statements from the questionnaire, and the response rates by education for the most popular choice. For clarity, the rate for the second choice is not shown, but the total is 100% in each case. Table 5.3  CTS N=490  Views on career and education, by educational attainment, percent Questionnaire wording  32  Apprenticeship is best way of training people for applied technical careers;  Educationa ≤ HS  Collegeb  Univ.b  χ2 (df 2)  p  TauB  86  75  69  11.5  .003  -.146  89  82  74  9.46  .022  -.131  79  73  61  08.4  .015  -.117  56  39  27  22.6  <.001  -.206  78  71  58  8.99  .011  -.122  93  86  80  8.76  .012  -.128  People in applied technical careers should have more options than the traditional apprenticeshipjourneyperson path More young people need to be made aware of the benefits of apprenticeship and trades careers Technical careers need to change if they are going to attract greater numbers of capable young people Being a tradesperson is something to be proud of People should not be defined by what they do for a living A trade is a career for life Trades experience is a good starting point for many different careers Trades make a good life-long career Trades make a good stepping stone to other careers Would rather put down roots in one community Would rather get ahead in life, even if you have to move away to follow your career a. b.  32  Percent selecting the italicized response. Partial or complete.  CTS items 40a-d; 18a, 18c; 11d; 136  Chapter 5  On all of the items, there is a modest but statistically significant, negative relationship between the italicized choice and education: support for the dominant response declines in each case as education rises. The questions in the first and second rows test support for apprenticeship as the principal route into trades careers. Lower-educated respondents have stronger attachment to the apprenticeship model and are more resistant to alternatives that would permit entry through other means. Better-educated respondents seem to be interested in the prospect that trades experience might be valuable for a variety of career destinations. They are also more supportive of alternate avenues of preparation, perhaps such as co-op programs. The questions in the third row on Table 5.3 deal with issues of vocational identity and solidarity. Less-educated respondents are more apt to support identifying with an occupational title, or expressing trade pride. As education rises, so does the tendency to view occupation more as a matter of temporary circumstance rather than personal essence. The fourth and fifth rows present two different questionnaire items that asked for views on permanence versus change in a person’s career. Though the wording gave slightly different tones to the questions, the association with education is similar in both cases: respondents with less education tend to view trades as a lifelong career, while the better-educated are more comfortable with the prospect of career change. The pattern continues in the last row of the table, with the better-educated more willing to contemplate moving away to follow an advancing career. Taken together, the more conservative responses can be read as indicators of what might be called an ethos of trades separatism: i.e., a view that the established boundaries, formal and informal, between trades and other occupations are appropriate and should be preserved. The inverse relationship with education suggests that workers who lack confidence in their competitive abilities are more apt to characterize the trades as a separate occupational realm. This interpretation is supported by evidence presented in Chapter 4 on confidence and perceptions of independence. It was shown there that better-educated respondents are more confident that they have the reading, writing, and math skills necessary to do their jobs (Table 4.8, TableT103). They recall having received higher grades in math and English at school (Table T104), and make more frequent use of magazines, books, libraries, and computers to find information (Table T105). Perhaps most telling in this context, they are less likely to believe that their career options were constrained or influenced by external factors, including their school performance or parents and relatives (Tables T106, T107). 137  Chapter 5  There may be many good, rational grounds for supporting the italicized statements in Table 5.2. There is no doubt, for instance, that well-managed apprenticeship programs can be highly effective (Felstead et al., 2005; Raizen, 1994), or that trades skills are worthy of pride. However, the clear evidence that the separatist perspective varies with educational and literacy indicators calls for a more critical examination. This association can be interpreted in different ways. One approach would be to read separatist comments as an ideological response to social structure. An empathetic version might draw inspiration from the image of human solidarity implied in the idea of shared vocation, or read the CTS respondents’ distinctions between academic and practical intelligence as evidence of a simmering class consciousness (Mjelde, 1987; Willis, 1977). An alternate structural reading would regard the separatist ethos as a psychological salve – a set of “post-facto rationalizations” that help relieve the sting of an objectively inferior social position (Lehmann, 2005). The drawback to both of these readings, however, is that they would subordinate the concrete and immediate phenomena to a supposedly pre-existing and determining structural situation. This is, in the first place, implausible. As shown in Chapter 4, it cannot be said that members of the case study population – or indeed most Canadian workers in this set of occupations – are objectively disadvantaged in any straightforward sense. Furthermore, by treating the actual words and practices of the respondents as the consequence and sign of a more fundamental reality, the structuralist interpretation would overlook the practical role that the ethos of trades separatism plays here and now, in the social foreground. It would find sociological value of this kind of talk by regarding it as pathetic and backwardlooking, rather than as an instance of constructive and consequential behaviour. An alternative is to frame the separatist ethos in relation to group interest strategies. Foucault’s (1972; 1990) concept of discursive practice is useful here. More than “mere” speech or ideas, discourses are socially consequential because they operate simultaneously in the realms of knowledge, speech, institutional practice, and self-understanding. Notwithstanding the differences of understanding and opinion that will inevitably exist in any population, the composite conception of the trades worker that is rehearsed and communicated within this workplace is substantial enough to have consistent effects. For instance, in ritualistically contrasting academic foolishness with trades smarts, participants ascribe to themselves a set of characteristics that are also implicitly understood as requisites for group membership. Whatever its actual grip on the general population, the trades stigma seems to be kept alive among these 138  Chapter 5  tradesmen themselves, as a constant reminder of the sort of intelligence that sets them apart, and that is necessary for their work. Just how contingent this self-image is can be seen from the CTS data. One item in the questionnaire asked respondents to rate themselves in terms of Holland’s (1997) taxonomy of vocational types, widely used in human resource selection. Participants were asked to indicate how strongly they agreed that they embodied the four characteristics of the “Realistic” type – the type most suited to skilled manual occupations. On three dimensions, the scores overwhelmingly indicated that participants viewed themselves as strongly fitting the type, and therefore naturally well-suited to their current work. Yet, Holland cautions against viewing vocational preferences as innate and determinative, and insists that people’s self-concepts, including their views of their own aptitudes, develop over time and in the context of their work environments (pp. 43-44). While CTS respondents almost universally attribute to themselves the technical aptitudes of the “Realistic” type (see Table T133), only half agree that they reflect the fourth characteristic – a greater talent for “things rather than people.” Far from being cast uniformly in the Realistic mould, it seems that a sizeable proportion of the workforce has managed to develop a conception of themselves (and, by implication, of their group’s membership requirements), that happens to coincide with an environment where extraordinary emphasis is placed on values such as safety, care for fellow workers, and the corporate “family.” Comments from one of the group interviews further suggest that the actual criteria for vocation are somewhat negotiable. Here, the speakers engage in some selective reflection on the factors that suited them to their careers: T9  What you’re seeing here is trades people who are proud of what they do.  T10  It’s a passion. You wouldn’t be in it if you didn’t like it.  T13  Exactly.  T10  I mean, I didn’t want to be a [my current trade] when I grew up. You just fall into what you fall into.  T12  And then either you like it or you don’t.  T13  And if you do like it you’ve got to be passionate about it – it’s your job.  T10  Yup. It’s rewarding. I mean, you look at the finished product and go, “Wow!” 139  Chapter 5  In this exchange, the trades are both “a passion” and something “you just fall into,” and passion itself is something that can apparently be summoned when the job demands it. With hindsight, the speakers conclude that they have resolved the contradiction in their own lives by actively embracing their circumstances and learning to find satisfaction in their work. At one level, this is a reasonable description, and even an admirable model, of most major life decisions: when dealt lemons, make lemonade. At another, it shows that self-ascription is an adaptable practice and that the contents of “vocation” are adjustable. The upshot is that, regardless of how they arrived here, the members of this group now agree on describing themselves as passionately committed, and inherently suited, to trades occupations. It is not only its convenient flexibility, but also its practical impact on the process of employee selection, that justifies interpreting the talk of “trades separatism” as a discursive strategy in Foucault’s sense. The associations with education shown in table 5.3 suggest that this strategy is particularly valued by respondents with low confidence in their literacy and numeracy skills. Such workers would be least comfortable with the prospect of competing in a flexible labour market where academic credentials and information skills determine not only access to employment, but also job security and advancement. Where, as Brown (1995) puts it, “keeping fit for the job” requires endless investment in further education, poorly-educated workers are at greatest disadvantage. Those with the weakest educational qualifications and literacy/numeracy skills would be the least competitive in an increasingly knowledge-based and credentialsconscious labour market. They would also have the most to gain from cultural practices that portray their work skills as esoteric forms of expertise only attainable through extensive handson practice, and that sanctify an occupational entry process where the selection, tutelage, and final approval of new candidates is controlled by in-group members. The ritualized skepticism of “book smarts” affirms that trades workers possess intelligence and competence that academic credentials cannot capture. Meanwhile, the notion of vocation implies that aptitude for the trades is a deep matter, if not of genetics then at least of profound commitment to an occupational identity. As such, vocation also implies a career strategy oriented to stability rather than opportunism. Repurposing the trades stigma rather than rejecting it, this discourse disavows the liberal-progressive vision of a seamless opportunity structure where all educational pathways converge and every individual strives for “the top.” In particular, it  140  Chapter 5  celebrates the occupational labour market model that has historically preserved the boundaries of skilled manual (and professional) fields, and delegitimizes the flexible model, where uncertainty and atomistic competition are present at every rung of the career ladder. Identity and membership Hence, the broad discourse of trades identity, wherein members ascribe particular characteristics to themselves, intersects with the more specific demand that line workers be involved in the selection process. If the hiring decision is to result in “someone we can work with,” then incumbents must be involved and able to apply their own, nuanced judgment of “best fit” for the work. The following speakers argue vehemently against standardized tests and insist that incumbents are in the best position to judge whether a candidate has the elusive but crucial qualities: T11  There’s people out there that [the employer is] missing, who might be perfect for the job, but you’ve just eliminated them because they’re maybe scared to write the math exam.  T9  It comes down to the desire. You have to ask why a guy wants to get into a trade. Why do you want to be an electrician, and why do you want to go for that apprenticeship? These are some of the questions that need to be asked. Not just to make more money. … You can’t just – because you can pass the test and maybe he’s the smartest guy. You know you can be book smart but not know how to screw a fucking bolt – pardon my language. The desire of the person that wants to do it.… You shouldn’t always give it to the brightest guy. It’s the guy – or gal – that wants it and has a desire for it. “I want to do that ’cause I like working with my hands”; “I want to be an electrician ’cause you’re always thinking, you’re always thinking numbers.” Sheet metal: “I like working with machinery – bending, angles, you know.” But it’s not just because I can do trigonometry and …. I couldn’t do that, but I could probably go and be taught by those guys how to do the job.  Here, the line between the speakers’ own attributes and the appropriate standards for the group vanishes. The exhortation, ostensibly made on behalf of the abstract candidate, is to be given an opportunity to enter the trades as a secure destination; to be allowed to draw on a limited skill set; to be excused from competing with others whose book smarts and ambition might give them a technical edge, but who are unprepared to adopt the personal and cultural identity of the tradesman. Even from the security of this extraordinary workplace, the speaker makes a plea for  141  Chapter 5  the imagined competitor: though perhaps he couldn’t do trigonometry, surely, given a chance, he could learn “how to do the job.” The underlying assumption – that “the job” could be done by someone with the self-ascribed attributes of the speaker – highlights the widely recognized tendency for self-selecting groups to replicate their own characteristics (Reskin & McBrier, 2000) and limitations. This inherent conservatism has important consequences at a number of levels: on innovative capacity, on diversity and equity in the workplace, and on the transmission of opportunity within the family. It was noted in Chapter 4 that trades workers in both the case study and the broader Canadian population share a similar educational profile that includes low rates of university participation. In an immediate, economic sense, this is easily explained: vocational certification is mandatory for employment here, while university credentials provide no advantage either for entry or advancement and therefore would be a wasted investment. However, this does not explain why the study population does not include more workers who combine academic and vocational qualifications, possibly incorporating trades experience into a stepping-stone career strategy. Or why the organization’s occupational structure does not facilitate the flow of personnel through trades positions as part of a progressive career within the public service. It seems likely that one factor is that in-group members’ influence on the admission process has the conservative effect of either deterring or deselecting candidates who bring a different (though perhaps equally applicable) set of skills and attitudes. To the extent that the selection process – whether by formal or informal means – excludes capable competitors, it presumably has a dampening effect on innovation. Of course, the systematic suppression of diversity is also an equity issue. Even in selecting for legitimately performance-related attributes, the formal tests of “personal suitability” screen in candidates who have had particular kinds of formative experience. In arguing against standardized assessment, the following speakers not only downplay the value of academic ability, but also implicitly point to much deeper grounds for selecting candidates: T8  If a guy has got straight A’s all the way through school, then obviously he’s going to go to university. But if the guy’s getting C+, maybe the odd A in PE or something …  T10  … loves his motocross … 142  Chapter 5  T8  … right …maybe he should think about the trades.  The motocross reference might be read as another example of authentic assessment. Like the earlier example, where the candidate is asked to describe something he has built, motocross is a succinct shorthand for an important set of job-related interests and aptitudes. But these examples also show that the selection process screens for factors that presuppose particular experiences of socialization. The candidate imagined here is not simply competent at repairing motorcycles – he “loves” his motocross; he is enthusiastic about the sport, and comfortable and confident in the male-dominated social milieu that surrounds it. Candidates selected through this kind of authentic assessment will have the cultural aptitude to relate to a selection committee of tradesmen, and to convey confidence in their suitability to join them. While the attributes being selected for may be highly appropriate to the work, they are learned through long processes of practice, instruction, and acculturation. Respondents readily acknowledged that males are more likely than females to have had the sorts of experience and developed the aptitudes that shop managers in this organization would typically select for, but they tended to view this as a matter of deep societal patterns beyond their control, rather than a weakness of the selection or training process. Similarly, informants are aware of the study site’s very distinct demographic profile, but see it as a simple mismatch between the organization’s legitimate requirements and the available labour pool. A number of respondents explained, both in written submissions and in the interviews, that the low representation of both women and visible minorities in the study population resulted from ambient social conditions, and not any mechanism of exclusion operating within the workplace. For instance, the relatively high proportion of immigrants from the UK and western Europe was natural, given that these are countries with ship-building industries and strong traditions of apprenticeship training. It was understood that visible-minority immigrants, by contrast, seemed to regard skilled trades occupations as unattractive, whether because of cultural values, or because the Canadian immigration process has selected for professionals. The observation that Asian youth in particular seem to avoid the trades in favour of university is plausible, given the findings of Finnie, Lascelles, and Sweetman (2005). As far as the gender balance of the workforce is concerned, the consensus seemed to be a resigned acceptance that the work available in the facility is simply not of interest to women. Physical gender differences were occasionally mentioned: 143  Chapter 5  M5  I just can’t see a woman doing some of the work we do. A grinder weighs nine pounds; I don’t know what a woman would look like who could lie on her back and hold that up over her head for two hours at a time.  However, biological arguments were relatively rare, possibly because they would stretch credulity, given the obvious range of capabilities of both genders as well as this employer’s evident ability to ensure that work tasks are safe and manageable. Though several fathers said that they would not want to see their daughters enter a trades career, their primary concern was not with the typical hazards and discomforts of industrial workplaces – dirt, noise, confined spaces, heights, heavy weights, fumes, and so on – which were acknowledged to be as potentially repellent to men as to women. More commonly, it was that the male-dominated cultural environment of most trades workplaces would be uncomfortable and/or demand adaptations that these fathers would find unfortunate. One spoke of having arranged to have a group of girls from his daughter’s high-school class tour the workplace, in the hope that some of them might consider a career in a non-traditional occupation. As the group passed through one shop, a worker was ostentatiously removing his overalls in what was apparently an overt effort to mark the masculine boundaries of the workplace. “She said right then and there, ‘Dad, I’m never going into the trades’” (T1). Respondents generally concurred that this sort of behaviour is rare and reflects a dwindling minority of poorly educated, older workers. However, a second anecdote suggests that while the environment may not be aggressively misogynistic, it remains self-consciously masculine nonetheless. The story, repeated in essentially the same terms in two separate interviews, concerned a trades woman who had proven herself a worthy colleague: T27  I’ve got to tell you, when she first started, I was nervous as hell – always afraid I was going to say “fuck” in front of her or something. But after a while, we all settled in and it was perfectly natural. She was just like one of the boys – hell, she was one of the boys.  The optimistic moral of the story is that even the cultural attributes required here are not biologically determined, but are learnable competencies, and that therefore the prevailing standards are not discriminatory. Ostensibly, anyone could succeed here who could meet the bona fide requirements of the job: the technical skills to perform the work and a tolerance for the attendant working conditions. In fact, however, what the anecdote highlights is the speakers’ awareness that the work environment is explicitly male-oriented, and that its customary speech patterns are fully expected to be repellent to the typical woman. Though perhaps less dramatic  144  Chapter 5  than the incident of the overalls, the effect is similar – a virtual “men at work” sign warning outsiders that they enter at their own risk. The fact that the woman in the story is able to qualify as one of the boys provides a great relief to the speakers, since her act leaves this mechanism of membership control intact. Perhaps she had studied Braid’s (2003) “Ms. Manners for the Nontraditional.” In fact, her example legitimates the prevailing norms by demonstrating that the version of masculinity practiced here is not an absolute barrier to women’s entry. The rare, conformist woman can be granted membership with minimal disruption to the established group norms. Far more threatening would be efforts to feminize the trades workplace and to make it relatively comfortable for non-exceptional women. In anecdotes, these laudable cases of adaptation were contrasted with others where female trades candidates were perceived to have “overreacted” to the work environment or to have cultivated a “victim” mentality – and were no longer in the workplace. Business environment and official culture  Whereas elements of the “separatist” discourse discussed above might be recognized as part of a broader skilled trades culture in Canada, some of the practices and messages here are clearly specific to this organization. A number of factors, including the stability of the labour force, the public-service bureaucracy, and the fundamental fact of its military support role, all seem to contribute to a strong sense of corporate purpose. Interviews revealed a deep and very conscious sense of workplace culture, grounded in a number of proudly held values. Like the ritualized descriptions of the essential tradesman, these statements of cultural commitment present what Weber would have called substantive or wertrational grounds for certain kinds of behaviour, and rationales for reinterpreting or resisting other organizational imperatives. Two ritualized themes centre on what could be called “duties of care.” One has to do with care for employees: M4  Now, I worked over at [private shipyard] for a while. And I can tell you, it’s not family over there, that’s for sure. And other places … [ABC] Construction isn’t family; and [XYZ] Construction isn’t family. We’ve got guys here who are older who’ve put in their hard years. And we don’t kick them to the curb. That’s not how you treat family. Well, that’s what likely would happen to them in those other places. If you can’t hoist that two-byfour, you’re out of here; go get a job at Wal-Mart. And that’s what I really  145  Chapter 5  like about this place – that they treat people like human beings and not just as commodities. M7  …And by operating that way we send a message to our younger workers. “We’re sending you down to the bilge because old Tom here has done his heavy work, and we’re assigning him to something lighter. And you know what? When you get old you’ll get that same opportunity to be looked after.”  Apart from the overt claim about workplace culture, this comment also acknowledges the organization’s opportunity structure, and the quid pro quo that most trades workers can expect: long-term security in exchange for the immobility of a permanent occupational title. Whereas workers in a flexible labour market would hope to have advanced by their later years into physically non-demanding occupations, here it is understood that they retain essentially the same job title for an entire career, but have their tasks adjusted to their diminishing physical capabilities. Bolstering the view that pride of workmanship could not be “beaten out” of the true tradesman, a second, and related duty-of-care discourse uplifts a commitment to work quality over economic efficiency. The corporate sentiment is that authentic trades workers are unwaveringly motivated by a commitment to trade pride and identity. In one interview, a manager used a coffee cup to represent a work assignment: M4  We’ve tried to have the guys, say, just repair the cup without painting it. But they insist, even if we try to get the financial message across. A lot of the guys we have here just won’t send that cup back if, in their view, the work is only half done. They see it as a quality issue.  M9  Right. The comment would be, “I don’t want to work like them at [private-sector facility]. I’ve got my standards, and I haven’t put in all these years to compromise them.”  The subtext of the exchange is about this organization’s unique capacity to support traditional standards of trades workmanship and occupational identity, in contrast with the private sector where these are eroded by market logic. M9  On the shop floor they call it the “lifetime warranty.” So, yes, I’ll do it right the first time because I don’t want to repair it again in a couple of weeks or a year. So most people here put that lifetime warranty on it. At  146  Chapter 5  [private-sector facility], well, it’s only a 30-day warranty. And we see that in the quality of work that comes in from other places. In stark contrast with the private sector, the DND trades workers’ ethos of “quality first” trumps the business imperative of cost efficiency, with the tacit approval of management. Though it may seem unorthodox or even transgressive in conventional business terms, this rhetorical strategy works by subordinating the immediate business consideration to what can be understood as the organization’s higher ends: M6  There’s certainly a different value structure around here. We are unique in that our customers are our friends. We’re down here for many years, and we have personal relationships with these individuals who go to sea. And so we have a duty certainly to them as friends. Now, when you build a house for Joe Smith, you have a contract and that’s probably the last time you’re ever going to see him. You’re certainly not going to come to his daughter’s wedding or go curling with him. These people on board the ships are our friends, and that’s another reason we have this lifetime warranty.  M3  There aren’t too many [other] places where you’ll see pipefitters down on the jetty waving goodbye to a ship, or waving as it comes back in. And when it’s all clear they swarm the ship because all these things are broken and they want to get them fixed.  However, these are not just any friends or “customers.” The sentiment that is encouraged is not simple affection, but is deeply rooted in the most sacrosanct values of the organization: M11  It is well realized that those are our fellow Canadians out there sailing over the horizon into harm’s way. We have a real strong allegiance to our military members; we’re all Canadians and there’s a lot of pride in sending our fellow Canadians in uniform out in those ships, and supporting them as best we can. Those are people who live right down the street from us. That cultural aspect is something that is taught right from the beginning of the apprenticeship process. This is why we do it: it’s more than just fixing a turbine or a satellite antenna on a ship, or whatever. Its providing that support to our fellow Canadians.  Clearly, the message has been well received. The survey data confirm that the vast majority of respondents derive a sense of pride and motivation from knowing that their work contributes to the military mission (Table T134). Without doubting the sincerity of this sentiment, it is important to note how this official discourse of duty also constitutes a bulwark against  147  Chapter 5  affirmative action. At its simplest, the argument is that the fundamental test of employee “merit” is the ability to provide the high-quality workmanship that is morally required by the mission, and implicit in the image of the proud tradesman. As the discourse has it, this primary objective would be undermined by employment equity policies, understood as politically correct pandering to special interests. Just as line workers rejected standardized testing on the grounds that it fails to capture the subtle essentials of tradesmanship, the managers here portray employment equity requirements as a threat to the organization’s higher purposes: M7  The HR department would like us to do equity hires to target [a] particular demographic. I think that to a man our group believes that morally and ethically we have to hire on merit. … Morally and ethically, you have a short list of say twenty people, five of them with some kind of e.e. [employment equity status]. But you know what? Morally and ethically, I don’t care. I just want the best. And if the best is a WASP male, then that’s the guy who should get hired. Because I owe that to the organization and to the customer. I’m not going to lower my standards because someone tells me to lower my standards.  As previous researchers (Winslow & Dunn, 2002) have found among the military, principles of patriotic duty are called upon here to trump the more insipid and “formally rational” rights promised by civil law and employment standards. Here, just as with the irrepressible commitment to workmanship, it is with a mixture of resignation and admiration that managers speak of the resistance they could expect from the shop floor if a hiring decision were perceived to be driven by considerations of employment equity rather than quality: M13  As a manager you’re not going to reach down and choose that equity candidate who’s tenth on the list. You’re going to choose the best guy there; because when that guy – or that person – hits the shop floor, there’s not going to be that back swell of feeling that says, “What’s that manager doing? I know that there’s a whole group who were a hell of a lot better than the person who got selected.”  Not surprisingly, the prediction pans out. Among trades workers, a similar discourse delegitimizes employment equity objectives: T5  But … You’ve got a double sword there. You’ve got this employment equity thing. They’ll do apprenticeships and they’ll do hiring, but you have to hire a female or you’ve gotta have a minority, or you know …And that’s wrong. That’s’ totally reverse discrimination.  148  Chapter 5  Much of the evidence presented so far indicates that the Dockyard is a quite exceptional workplace in many respects. Asked about the fundamental factor that sets it apart from other employers of skilled trades workers, one participant summed it up: “It’s simple: in the private sector the point is to make money; here, the point is to spend it” (T21). Senior managers might phrase it differently, but the comment captures the crucial fact that the organization’s core operating budget is allocated through the public policy process rather than through its success in a competitive market. The national defence mission implies that the basic level of activity can never fall below a certain threshold. Even when military spending ebbs, the maintenance work which is this facility’s raison d’etre must continue in order to sustain minimum operating capabilities, and to preserve the value of previous investments. Nor can this work be simply handed to the market. Although the vast majority of the DND’s master procurement budget for national fleet maintenance is already spent in the private sector, a core of work remains which for a variety of technical and operational reasons cannot practically be contracted out. Even viewed in contemporary terms as an “enterprise” rather than a welfare state institution, the organization enjoys an extremely stable, sole-source relationship with its primary client. This creates an environment where managers are able to concentrate on production with minimal distractions from the demands of business development, and to make long-term investments, particularly in human resources. The technological complexity of naval ships requires at least a core cadre of highly skilled workers. Given the time and cost of developing these skills, employee retention is clearly in management’s interest. Conversely, the contractual commitment to long-term employment, as well as the essentially flat pay structure of the trades labour force, means that all permanent employees are paid at the top of the scale and that the employer has no cost incentive for rationalizing or deskilling the work. Although it is acknowledged that all employees are not in fact equally productive, management accepts a degree of cost inefficiency in an apparent exchange for administrative simplicity and labour peace. The understanding that “a tradesman is a tradesman” is an important tenet in the cultural solidarity of this workplace. In sharp contrast to the independent construction contractors whose advocacy brought about the current BC experiment in modularized trade certification and deregulation, managers here are adamant that the minimum standard of competency in this facility is the Red Seal, ideally preceded by a full four or five-year apprenticeship. In interviews, management’s commitment to the conventional apprenticeship system was widely supported by labour representatives and line  149  Chapter 5  workers, who condemned the province’s move to what one group referred to as “little bullshit tickets” as a threat both to the economic viability of trades careers, and to basic competency and workplace safety. U1  They butchered the apprenticeship system when they eliminated ITAC and went to module-based training. In my mind they’ve destroyed the future of apprenticeship for thousands of apprentices.… You don’t come out with a fully functional trades person any more. Personally, I think it’s done a major disservice. BC apprentices used to be able to go around the world on their trades tickets. You had the best training in the world. And now that’s gone. It’s sad.  Apart from its non-competitive business position, the organization’s status as a public-sector entity also contributes to its uniqueness as a workplace. Apart from the specific advantages identified in Chapter 4, regarding workplace hygiene, environmental protection, and collective agreement rights, the sheer inertia of a large bureaucratic system has its own benefits: the long chain of command reaching back to Ottawa, and the formal structures of accountability and due diligence all mean that no local manager has either the incentive or the authority to introduce dramatic changes that would affect worker rights. Long tenure, the ability (for at least some workers) to rotate among shops within the facility, and the slow progression of line workers into management positions all create opportunities for motivated workers to gain exposure to the operation, and for future managers to build credibility with the rank and file. In sum, this combination of public-sector mission, sunk capital investments, and bureaucratic decisionmaking and accountability structures, all contributes to an organizational climate oriented to long-term stability and internal harmony. It would be wrong to view the organization’s relationship with the government and the public service bureaucracy as essentially constraining. Formal structures also provide opportunities and resources for strategic behaviour. For example, senior managers sharply contrasted their facility not only with private-sector dockyards, but also with its counterpart on the Atlantic coast, and used numerous examples to show that even the bureaucratic shackles of the federal government allow for creative problem solving and innovation. An example is this facility’s relationship with private industry. On the one hand, ship repair managers have shown entrepreneurial flair of their own. By successfully bidding on DND contracts (for instance to manufacture army tents, repair night-vision goggles, and upgrade armoured vehicles), the organization has been able to generate  150  Chapter 5  a sizeable revenue stream beyond the core operating budget, which it has reinvested both in hiring the necessary trades workers (on temporary contract) and in stabilizing the funding for its apprenticeship program. In both cases, the underlying objective is to secure the organization’s long-term labour supply. But its entrepreneurial strategy has not driven the organization into a competitive or adversarial relationship with the private sector. On the contrary, the organization has taken a leading role in advocating for sectoral cooperation to strengthen the capacity of the industry and develop the necessary labour market. Managers’ immediate concern is with meeting the predicted demand for DND repair work, in view of the limitations not only of this facility, but of the west coast ship repair industry as a whole: M4  When you think about the amount of work that is potentially there – for arctic sovereignty, new ships, mid-life repair, etc, there’s no way it can happen if we don’t partner, and I think everybody on this coast recognizes that. There’s no capacity out there to get the work done.  M3  There are 600,000 hours of refit work per frigate, and five of them, so a total of 3 million hours of refit work coming up just on the frigates. But there’s not 3 million hours of capacity out here to do it. The industry as a whole isn’t big enough; that’s why we have to pull together.  Nor, according to these managers, is the private sector able to foster and sustain the kind of skill base that this naval work will require. The sense is that market pressures compel employers in the regional ship repair industry to specialize in niche processes based on limited skill sets, and to minimize their training investments. The consequence is an industry that increasingly survives on relatively simple work and that lacks the collective capacity either to compete in the international market, or even to fully service the public-sector clients in its own region. Managers conceded that the provincial government’s recent decision to purchase new ferries from Germany was probably prudent, given the current state of the industry in BC: M3  The BC government has said they don’t have the confidence in this industry to buy their ferries here – and these are not even complex boats. They’re saying the industry doesn’t exist. And I hate to say it but they were probably right. The first one would probably have been a disaster. The second one would have been better.  The concern is less with the skill supply than with the regional industry’s lack of coordination on infrastructure and business practices. At a formal level, CFBE management has taken a leading role in a consortium of west coast ship repair facilities and trainers, to ensure that curricula are 151  Chapter 5  kept current and that the necessary training is available.33 Managers described their vision for a comprehensive, regional ship repair industry where a network of private-sector yards would perform the vast bulk of the work. The DND facility would anchor this network in part by subcontracting and collaborating with other shipyards on work at common quality standards, and in part by continuing to function as a specialized, capital-intensive facility with the capacity both to carry out and to provide training on advanced or specialized procedures. It would also play a key role both in catalyzing this network in the short term, and in helping to coordinate and sustain it into the future. Managers are quite clear that their integration with the private sector serves to diffuse skills throughout the regional industry as the many journeymen who pass through the facility on temporary contracts acquire specialized experience and on-the-job training. Simultaneously, integration helps to sustain Red Seal certification, and the occupational boundaries that come with it, as recognized units of competency within the industry. Managers have no doubt – and no compunction – that their contributions to training and coordination in the regional labour market constitute an informal subsidy of the private ship repair sector. As one manager put it, M6  We’re employed by the taxpayer, and I think we have some obligation to contribute to the health of the trades as a whole. We have an obligation to put trades back into the mainstream and keep industry viable out there. I mean, we’re not the only show in town, and let’s not kid ourselves – we never will be, nor should we.… We can’t be working in isolation. We have to start building partnerships with outside industry. They have a bottom line which we don’t have. And we have to respect that: we see shipyards going under because they don’t pay attention to their bottom line. So, we can’t expect that either of us is going to do it all. To expect that we’re probably going to carry the lion’s share when it comes to the training of apprentices – that’s probably a fact. It’s just a fact of life.  These comments illustrate the capacity of local actors to direct organizational energies and resources to ends that, while broadly consistent with the overall institutional mission, were not integral or explicit within it. In some respects, this vision involves what Brown, Green, and Lauder (2001) have called a “high-skills” approach to labour force development. Yet it is has a very distinctive thrust, which reflects the initiative’s origins in relatively local interests rather than what these authors would see as a truly “joined-up” policy vision. It is not mandated within  33  A possibility under discussion is to provide apprenticeship technical training through the CFBE facility. 152  Chapter 5  an overarching industrial policy, nor informed by consultation among “social partners” as in the European and Asian industrial models (emulated in British Columbia during the 1990s). Rather, it is a local initiative of managers (supported by labour) within a public-sector facility. At the most mundane level it is an effort to meet the organization’s medium-term needs for skilled labour, but it is also overlaid with a values-based – i.e., wertrational – narrative about advancing the public good, both by revitalizing the skilled trades and ensuring excellent service to the navy. Since the Gulf War of 1990, and particularly since September 2001, the Canadian Forces have experienced a resurgence in both government funding and popular support. This has had a dramatic effect on the Dockyard, not only fuelling substantial growth in its trades labour force and enhancing its attractiveness as a workplace, but also reinforcing aspects of its distinctive culture. A manager describes some of the effects: M3  Well, we didn’t think it would last as long as it has, but the tempo has just gone through the roof. And when the guys come in here instead of thinking it’s a retirement home, we get them focused. Around the [management] table here, if the guys don’t cut it we’ll even get rid of apprentices. That was unheard of before, but I’m sorry but if you don’t fit in with what we’re trying to do here it’s not a free ride here or a charity. We follow all the rules and respect people’s rights, but we have let people go; we’re not just here to give them a paycheque. And the shops and the unions are on board. A shop steward will come to management and ask them to deal with a guy because he’s not holding up his part of the bargain; and they want management to do something about it. The unions are obliged to support their members, but they don’t go out of their way to ensure that we keep a guy who’s going to be a detriment to the shop. After 9/11 the pride and the esprit de corps here put everybody on the same page. For me the big culture shifts have come with these outbreaks of war.  Labour representatives concurred that, with minor and temporary exceptions, labourmanagement relations here have generally been excellent, and also that the revitalization of the military has only enhanced the sense of solidarity. U1  I remember Operation Friction – the first Gulf war. The admiral called everybody … to the parade square and said, “Look, this is what’s going on. The Restigouche is going on date X. As of today I need 150% from every one of you”. And we all went, “Holy shit – we’re going to war!” It was an unbelievable motivator. It pulled people together like crazy. We worked twelve-hour days for something like 50 days straight. We didn’t have to go there, but somehow part of us did. And that hasn’t changed  153  Chapter 5  ever since. Now, when the guys know that a ship is going into a theatre, they’re all going “Holy crap – I hope it comes back.” The palpable emotion in these comments is a reminder that workplaces are not only sites of mechanical productivity, but are also cultural communities bound together by common commitments to symbols and values. It may be a peculiarity of a defence-industry workplace that it can resonate simultaneously with the vocational values of the skilled trades and the esprit de corps of the military. There is no doubt that the managers’ efforts to strengthen the apprenticeable trades both within the facility and across the regional industry are well-intended, creative, and executed with genuine compassion and respect for trades workers. But it is also clear by now that the case study workplace is animated by complex social processes that harness both institutional resources and cultural meanings to the pursuit of perceived interests. Its public-sector status has afforded this organization space for creative, long-term investments in the apprenticeable trades, making it in some ways an exceptionally enlightened industrial employer by Canadian standards. However, the organization’s freedom from market constraints also enables it to tolerate other, less visible costs and inefficiencies that are built into the traditional model of Canadian trades occupations. Reskin (2000) has argued that workplace gender discrimination has diminished more rapidly in private-sector organizations than in public ones because the inefficiency of recruiting from a restricted talent pool is unsustainable in a competitive market. The evidence has shown that this employer is able and willing to tolerate inefficiencies that arise, for instance from having unequally productive workers in the same job title and pay level, or from a recruitment and selection system that is more sensitive to sociocultural compatibility than to measurable productive capacity. The recent revitalization of the military, as the above comments indicate, has added new moral authority to the organization’s mission, thereby reinforcing the cultural messages about quality and patriotism that underpin its selective membership processes. Undoubtedly, the present system operates smoothly and produces acceptable results, particularly from the perspective of its members. But it is equally clear that, in drawing on and reinforcing the traditional elements of the skilled trades system in Canada, it also sustains and reproduces the distinctive social profile of those occupations. The institutional core is a structure of Red Seal qualifications which terminates at the journeyperson level without intersecting other avenues of post-secondary education; and the social profile includes both a dramatic gender imbalance and a 154  Chapter 5  popular discourse that celebrates and dignifies the separation of manual/technical from verbal/analytic forms of human ability. “Dark” social capital and the family  The mechanisms that sustain the membership profile of the organization also play into social reproduction at the family level. Those mechanisms include the use of social networks to convey information about hiring opportunities; a selection process where the “best fit” is assessed largely in terms of the self-ascribed characteristics of the incumbent group; and where authentic assessment procedures implicitly test for cultural and other forms of competency rooted in particular kinds of childhood experience. As it would be anywhere else, fluency in the distinctive cultural norms of the trades is an obvious advantage for anyone aspiring to enter that community. A father who works in the trades performs a valuable service by socializing his children into the practical competencies and the sense of identity that accomplished trades workers recognize, and by introducing them to the networks that will smooth their entry into employment. However, to the extent that the norms of trades identity are exclusive, they also demand commitments which may restrict in-group members’ opportunities. The following comments, intertwined with the earlier conversations on trades separatism, illustrate one aspect of what has been called the “dark side” of social capital. Here, two fathers reveal their own horizons of possibility and the limits of the career advice they can offer their kids. The first is proud to encourage his son to explore beyond his own footsteps and to consider a smorgasbord of potential careers … all within the apprenticeable trades: T12  I’m going to get my kid when he gets to that age – he likes working with metal now. [I’ll say] “You think you want to do sheet metal. Hey, go give it a try.” I told him, I can get him into [my own trade] ’cause the union told me, no problem, they’ll bring him in. But he said no, he wants to try sheet metal. He can always go back to [my trade] – or plumbing or carpentry ….  These may be very suitable options, but the context suggests that they were chosen from a limited menu. Another father laments that his child’s experience with university has not produced the sense of vocational identity that he derived from his own grounding in the trades: T11  My daughter has just completed two years of university and she doesn’t even know what direction she’s going in. She may have gained great knowledge, but it hasn’t helped her one bit. Two years! 155  Chapter 5  The daughter’s disorientation is hardly surprising, since the comment reveals her father’s own bafflement over the possible value of a university education. As much as he may support her general ambitions, this parent is not in a position to provide his daughter the inspiration or practical guidance that would help her pursue a professional career. His situation exactly parallels that of the ideal-typical school counselors and other professionals regularly mentioned both by CTS respondents and trades-friendly participants in other opinion research (Canadian Apprenticeship Forum, 2006), whose ignorance of the trades makes them incapable of steering young people toward those careers. These simple network processes help to explain the intergenerational transfer of occupation within families. On the “light” side, families are sources of intellectual, social, and cultural capital that enables their members to meet the entry requirements of norm-governed groups. They provide information: both the strategic kind that provides grounds for choosing or avoiding certain kinds of work, and the tactical kind that jobseekers can use to seize specific opportunities. Moreover, they cultivate in their offspring the sensibilities and behaviours that allow them to feel at home in particular occupational milieux. On the “dark” side, deficits of information or competence in these areas will necessarily limit actors’ ability to form ambitions, weigh options, and take the practical steps that lead beyond the status quo. It is in this light that the finding from the CTS survey must be viewed, where respondents with fathers in the trades were more likely to report parental influence as a factor in their career choice (Table T130). The respondents who reported such influence evidently had access to family resources which enabled them to form the inclinations and the complexes of competency that make for comfortable performance in the skilled trades as they currently exist. The two examples above illustrate a process, reflected in findings from several Canadian studies of family education patterns, suggesting that attitudes and expectations for success in PSE are established in early childhood (de Broucker, 2005). Whether such influence is beneficial, and whether it contributes more to social constraint or mobility, can only be judged in individual context. The same input might foster “opportunity” in one case and “constraint” in another, depending on whether it has the effect of broadening or narrowing the options available, and leading to greater or lesser welfare or utility, however those might be defined.  156  Chapter 5  Summary Social action is rooted in individuals’ pursuit of their perceived self-interests, and facilitated and exercised through formal and informal social institutions including policies and regulations, information networks, group norms, and cultural rituals. Evidence of “advantage,” presented in Chapter 4, justified the assumption that the key social regularities in the case study arise from incumbents’ efforts to preserve their existing advantages, largely by controlling access to employment in the workplace, and perhaps more broadly to the trades in general. Interview comments were accepted both as direct information about respondents’ views and understandings and as evidence of strategic behaviour. The organization maintains an opportunity structure that offers long-term security, but very little mobility. While incumbents accept this trade-off, they also collaborate in maintaining the mechanisms that their security depends on. The selection function is performed both through informal networks inside and outside the organization – word-of-mouth recruitment through family and industry networks; the probationary period – and a decision making process that emphasizes local control. The formal selection process, which systematically and legitimately selects for a wide range of relevant competencies, also screens for compliance with formal and informal cultural norms, of which some are peculiar to the case study site and others extend into the broader community of workers in these occupations. A discourse of “trades separatism,” which closely mirrors the supposed “trades stigma,” evidently serves a defensive purpose for workers who would be threatened by open competition in a seamless occupational structure. The survey data show that the view of the trades as a distinct and separate occupational realm is supported especially by respondents with weaker education and information skills. While not all incumbents would endorse the antiintellectual image that the separatist discourse portrays, the great majority support preserving the key policy mechanisms that have historically defined the skilled trades in Canada: their established occupational boundaries and the apprenticeship process. While private-sector interests have led the campaign to erode these structures in British Columbia, this organization shows an extraordinary commitment to preserving and strengthening the Red Seal trades system. Its capacity to do so arises from its extraordinary position as a public-sector entity. Insulated from immediate market imperatives, the organization is mandated instead to pursue a number of overlapping policy objectives: not only to support the military mission, but simultaneously to fulfill – and to be seen to fulfill – its obligations regarding the 157  Chapter 5  rights of its employees, employment equity, environmental protection, workplace safety, public service renewal, and so on. And yet the outcomes are not the Rhine-model utopia that might be imagined. The organization’s complex mandate and internal structure also provide interstices in which local interests can be pursued. Ironically, official support for values of workmanship, workplace solidarity, and patriotic duty serves to reinforce the selection mechanisms, including the cultural discourse of trades separatism, and to delegitimize competing values such as employment equity and career mobility which might be seen as fundamental threats – or essential reforms – to the social organization of the industrial labour force.  158  Chapter 6  CHAPTER 6 Discussion and Further Research This project has sought insight into the apprenticeable skilled trades in Canada by approaching them as phenomena of social practice. It was motivated in part by the desire, if not to reconcile, then at least to gain some perspective on the conflicting accounts and perceptions of the skilled trades that appear in the mass media, popular opinion, and various branches of academic and policy-related literature. The apprenticeable trades are nothing if not practical, and much of the commentary and debate on them is concerned with very pragmatic issues of maintaining the supply of skilled manual labour and ensuring that educational pathways lead to good employment opportunities. At this level, the question that oriented the project was for whom, under what circumstances, and by what means the skilled trades can be routes to success. But it was also recognized that the formal and informal boundaries that define occupations and educational pathways are significant in more than strictly economic terms, and have consequences for social inclusion and the distribution of opportunity. Here, the splendidly mundane realm of manual labour intersects with important questions of social organization and welfare, as well as fundamental debates in social theory. The most basic of these is the conundrum of free will versus determinism, or agency versus structure. The limited scholarly research on vocational occupations reflects this division, invoking on one hand the rational actor of labour economics and on the other the determining structures of critical sociology and political economy. For the present project, a neo-Weberian conceptual framework was adopted, which offered a vantage point congruent with, but also distinct from, both of these traditions. Within this framework, social action is animated by an interest-seeking actor who is alwaysalready embedded in established social relations, practices, and institutions. Interest-driven behaviour sustains and/or alters these practices, conditioning the possibilities of future behaviour, but also giving rise to regular patterns of welfare, status, and authority that can be conceived of, in a purely descriptive sense, as social structure. As neo-Weberian principles have been explored and applied over a period of decades, they have helped to clarify theoretical issues in social structuration and generated robust new concepts such as social and cultural capital that have facilitated practical research.  159  Chapter 6  The research questions of the present study were meant to resonate with the established debates on the trades, but were phrased to reflect the adopted research perspective. Questions concerning structural position and mobility were phrased in terms of measurable advantage and disadvantage, and observable stability or change in the circumstances of specific individuals. Popular and academic accounts of the skilled trades also raise important questions of social action, concerning for instance how “barriers” of various kinds keep certain groups in or out of trades occupations, and how policies and organizational practices might affect the size and the characteristics of the trades labour force. This project’s research questions and methods also reflect the assumption that, while it is possible conceptually to distinguish individual behaviour from institutionalized practices and abstract social structures, in real life these are inevitably intertwined. Hence, the findings from the case study tend to suggest circular or recursive processes rather than simple, linear ones which might warrant calls for definitive interventions or “solutions.” For instance, it is not assumed that the demographic or cultural characteristics of the trades are a “problem” in any absolute sense (though they certainly may be disadvantageous to particular interests), much less that they could be remedied by addressing some single, underlying cause. Nonetheless, a description of the specific social practices that give them their present character is potentially useful, both as a resource for strategic behaviour and as a contribution to a more complete picture of their dynamics. The intended value of the present research is not as a critique of the trades, but rather as a description of their deep and active connections to social life. Defining “the skilled trades”  In 1957, Gertrude Williams read the contradictions and incongruities of the apprenticeable trades in post-war Britain as evidence of interest-driven social behaviour. The historical residue of guild jurisdictions and archaic workplace relationships had carried over to shape modern industrial practices, with uneven and sometimes negative consequences for the welfare of workers and apprentices and for the efficiency of industry. The present study suggests that in Canada, too, understanding the skilled trades requires attention not only to labour market exchanges and the productive power of skills, but also to interest-seeking behaviour mediated by groups. The comparative data presented in Chapter 4 found great variations in the potential benefits of apprenticeable occupations including income and job security as well as working conditions, safety, and workplace ambience. The evidence revealed that workers in the case study site could 160  Chapter 6  be regarded as relatively advantaged on all of these measures. The study also noted, as Williams had, that the grounds for distinguishing “trades” from other occupations are often ambiguous. In the general labour market it is quite common to find workers who, with little or no formal training, perform much of the same work and operate under the same job titles as certified journeypersons. Meanwhile, the skill content and performance expectations of a given trades job title can vary considerably depending on the nature of the workplace or the abilities of the individual. Within the Dockyard the evidence suggests both a tolerance for skill ranges within trades, and seemingly arbitrary job divisions. In respect of some electronics-related positions, interviewees reported that essentially identical duties are performed in one area by apprenticed trades workers and in another by college and university-educated technicians, with the main distinction not being the technical work of the two groups, but social factors such as their gender composition and cultural norms. Such anomalies, both within this facility and outside it, suggest that the term “skilled trade” is ever less meaningful as a descriptor of specialized bodies of knowledge and productive skill. The variability in their benefits, and the fundamental ambiguity about their defining features, calls for caution regarding the generalizations about “the skilled trades” made by both their advocates and detractors. Despite widespread reports of a crisis in the supply of skilled manual labour, it is unclear exactly what kinds of skill are in short supply. Beyond the usual problems of methodology, and the recognized tendency of employers to overstate labour shortages, the more fundamental question is about the specific skills required, and how they are to be deployed and configured in the workplace. Forecasts of labour demand are normally based on employer’s projections of vacancies in given occupational titles. However, if the job titles themselves are poor indicators of actual skills, or becoming obsolete, this approach is arguably unreliable and inefficient. Both the extensive use of untrained and/or uncertified workers in apprenticeable occupations, and formal initiatives to redraw trades boundaries as in the BC New Model, highlight an evident mismatch between the established categories of the skilled trades and the apparent skill requirements of employers. Even in unionized industry, efforts to create more flexible workforces (or, in the case of the study site, to promote “broader employability”) are testing the established boundaries of apprenticeable occupations, and raising basic questions about how skills and knowledge should be compartmentalized for production. An avenue for further research would be a systematic but open-ended analysis of the skill inputs required for 161  Chapter 6  the production of given products. Such research would depart from conventional job analysis techniques (e.g., DACUM) which simply document established work practices, and instead would approach product design and job design simultaneously, as facets of an overall production challenge that might be met in a variety of different ways. If only as a thought experiment, the prospect of such an analysis is a reminder that industrial processes or technologies are not only means of producing material goods, but fundamentally involve the organization of human activity. As such, they are simultaneously shaped by their established social environment, and have consequences for social relations in the workplace and often beyond it. Established practices as frames for social action  Despite their great variability in contents and rewards, the institutional common denominator among the skilled trades in Canada is their place in the educational system. The “skilled trades” signifies that broad group of occupations accessible through sub-baccalaureate vocational training and particularly the apprenticeship process. Viewed as an environment or context, the question is what kinds of social action this institutional framework enables, and with what outcomes. From the practical perspective of students, parents, and policy makers, the specific concern is how the vocational pathway can contribute to the learner’s long-term security. Historically, the apprenticeship, and its professional variants such as medical and legal internships, was understood as the quintessential model of “vocational” preparation. Though the concept of vocation is commonly associated with notions of utility, the more fundamental connotation is its permanence as an occupational identity. As a practical matter, the “calling” also needed to be viable as a long-term source of livelihood. Hence, vocationally oriented training, whether for manual-technical occupations such as plumber and millwright or for professions like architect and psychiatrist, has conventionally led graduates into occupational labour markets where they might expect to spend the rest of their working lives in the security of an earned occupational title. Whether in its professional or its manual-technical variant, the vocational strategy differs markedly from the alternative, where learners receive a non-specific or comprehensive education and pursue their security through diverse forms of work and recurrent learning. The development of sub-baccalaureate vocational training in Canada as a separate and terminal path did not only reflect the assumption that higher skills would be irrelevant to trainees’ eventual work, or possibly beyond their intellectual grasp. It also implied  162  Chapter 6  the understanding that the occupational status acquired through apprenticeship would provide a foundation for permanent financial independence. The economic-social logic of vocational occupations has not been well articulated in the dominant commentary on the trades in Canada. Comparative data on the economic returns to apprenticeship, presented in Chapters 2 and 4, demonstrate that the matter is not as simple as enhancing the trainee’s human capital. The viability of the fixed career also depends crucially on practitioners’ ability to limit the supply of their services in the market by restricting entry to their fields. In Canada, this has been achieved in the professions through licensure requirements typically enforced by producer organizations such as medical and bar associations, and in the skilled trades by means of compulsory certification and the closed union shop. The latter have been largely restricted to the capital-intensive industry sectors of heavy manufacturing, resource extraction, and commercial/industrial construction. Throughout the “long boom” of the post-war period, the profitability of these sectors offered trades workers a reasonable bargain: good wages and income security within a fixed occupational niche. Both on objective measures and in the explicit intentions of managers and unionists, the Dockyard exemplifies this offer, and remains a haven for the craft apprenticeship model. The research also showed that members of the study population, like other Canadian males in similar occupations, take a characteristically vocational approach to education, investing moderately in training that is directly work-related, but less than most other groups in comprehensive education, particularly at the university level. Incumbents in the case population perceive that this approach has paid off for them in the form of secure, longterm skilled trades careers. It was argued that the organization’s ability to sustain this model, despite major contractions in the surrounding shipbuilding sector, is rooted in its unique position as an essential service of the federal government. While workers and managers at the Dockyard are strong ambassadors for the conventional model of the trades, they also acknowledge that the high standards represented by their workplace are increasingly rare. Over the past several decades, a number of trends have undermined the security of the trades-vocational option, while others have raised the risks for non-participants in university education. From 1981 to 2004, the rate of unionization in construction and manufacturing declined by 13% nationally, and by substantially more in British Columbia. The decline in union density was partly responsible for a 10% drop in wages for male workers 25 to  163  Chapter 6  34 years old through the 1980s and ’90s, and for a similar decline in pension coverage (Statistics Canada, 2005a). The practice of apprenticeable trades by non-certified workers has been common in particular sectors (Gunderson, 2001), but in British Columbia this has been formalized and expanded with the elimination of compulsory trade certification in 2003 and the introduction of modular sub-trades credentials under the New Model of apprenticeship. Meanwhile, the viability of trades occupations has also been affected by developments on the other side of the labour market and the education system. The decline of highly paid, blue-collar employment in the primary and secondary sectors coincided with both an unprecedented rise in educational attainment in Canada and the rapid expansion of employment in the services sector. Regardless of whether the rise in attainment has been driven more by genuine skill requirements or by positional competition, the outcome is a labour market increasingly divided into “good” and “bad” jobs on the basis of educational qualification. The evidence is now overwhelming that in this circumstance, those with least education are at greatest risk of unstable and low-paid employment. Given a bifurcated education system where trades credentials have no academic currency, the vocational option in Canada is arguably a more extreme gamble now than ever: not only are the payoffs to apprenticeship less certain, but the risks to underqualified competitors in the general labour market are much higher than a generation or two ago when PSE credentials were relatively rare. It should not be assumed that manual-technical occupations are no longer viable or advisable. But the changes in the environment imply that participation in nominally apprenticeable occupations will call for different strategies than in the past. Proponents of British Columbia’s New Model argued that it would benefit marginalized workers by reducing the costs of labour market entry (Coalition of BC Businesses, 2001). It is conceivable that a flexible labour market for technical skills could also create other opportunities, for instance by enabling workers to incorporate trades experience into a mobility-oriented career strategy, possibly moving on to self-employment, or using their trades earnings to finance further studies. The recent Campus 2020 report (British Columbia Ministry of Advanced Education, 2007) envisions radically reformed occupational and educational structures, where manual-technical training and employment might be formally integrated into internship processes leading to professional employment. What seems a far more likely outcome of the present reforms, however, and of the indiscriminate recruitment campaign that has accompanied them, is that young workers will be 164  Chapter 6  encouraged to enter semi-skilled trades employment that neither provides them the security of a protected, vocational niche nor the educational foundations for success in an information-driven, flexible labour market. Further research is needed to understand how trades-vocational options are paying off for learners and workers in a labour market where the traditional protections for apprenticeable careers have been substantially eroded. Such research would look for trends in the employment of non-certified workers, as well as possible impacts on earnings and job security for certified tradespersons, and possibly on productivity and quality for employers and consumers. A particular question is whether the comparative weakening of returns to the journeyperson ticket helps to explain why, despite recent growth in apprenticeship registrations, the rate of completions in BC persists at below 40% (Industry Training Authority, 2008; Skof, 2006). To disentangle the effects of institutional changes from the short-term business cycle, the research would go beyond the usual snapshots of employment status on graduation, and would gather detailed information on participants’ occupational and educational transitions over multi-year intervals. The results would not only contribute to assessing the impact of the recent reforms, but could also provide valuable guidance for the design of educational and workplace practices that align with the contemporary labour market and the aspirations of the current generation. It would be interesting to know, for instance, what proportion of participants in British Columbia’s remodeled apprenticeship system are using their manual-technical experience and training within mobility-oriented career strategies, perhaps applying their training and experience to selfemployment as Akyeampong (1991) described, or as a means of financing their higher education or transition to other fields. Social action as a driver of institutional practices  The possibility of “post-industrial” approaches to manual-technical work raises the equally hypothetical prospect of reformed social relations in the workplace. Despite its position within a federal public service that is ostensibly committed to employment equity, the Dockyard does no better than other skilled trades employers in the woefully low proportion of “non-traditional” workers it employs. Indeed, the market-protected niches of unionized heavy industry and state enterprise are not only the sectors where the conventional apprenticeship model has managed to survive the longest, but also the ones where the skilled trades have best fit the stereotype of  165  Chapter 6  exclusively masculine and anti-theoretical enclaves. The present research argues that these sociocultural features are not the inevitable consequence of inherently rough working conditions, but are substantially the products of strategic behaviour. Here, as the compliment to the process described above, interest-oriented individual behaviour is found to help sustain institutional and group-level practices. Arguably, these give rise in turn to structural patterns observable in the workplace population and in the skilled trades more generally. Consistent with other research on social capital, it was argued that members of the study population were able to advance their career interests both by “bridging” to the organization through their social network connections, and by “bonding” within it to preserve a membership selection process that reflects their own characteristics. The mechanisms included recruitment and selection processes that depend heavily on network contacts and approval by incumbent members. The process is formally underwritten by public service hiring regulations which are interpreted as encouraging unit supervisors to test candidates extensively for their compatibility with the existing work group. An important dynamic observed within the case workplace (and observable in the apprenticeable trades beyond it), is a cultural discourse that characterizes trades skills as esoteric forms of expertise only attainable through mentorship under incumbents in the workplace. It is ritually agreed that trades smarts are not comparable with theoretical knowledge, and not accurately testable except by experienced trades workers themselves. Through this defensive strategy, legitimate pride in craft expertise is fused with a rejection and depreciation of academic and theoretical competency. Survey evidence showed that although support was strongest among less-educated workers, “trades separatist” opinions were held by a majority of respondents. The process is also bolstered by explicit cultural commitments, first to ideals of tradesmanship, but also to values of group solidarity, mutual care, and patriotic duty, that are apparently specific to this organization. Rehearsing these commitments serves to sustain the informal, cultural consensus around “fitness” for membership, but also to delegitimize possible efforts to introduce more transparent or “formally rational” hiring processes at an official level. Similarly, the separatist discourse would seem to reinforce another important institutional fact – i.e., the separation of trades-vocational and academic pathways in education. In circular fashion, trades workers’ distinctive approach to educational investment, along with their concerted support for the separateness of vocational PSE, has the effect reinforcing an institutional circumstance by which they might also be seen to be “disadvantaged.” The point here is not that 166  Chapter 6  these streams are the respective destinations of different social classes. Rather, the present research suggests that the institutional and sociocultural practices that constitute “the skilled trades” define a set of possibilities for strategic behaviour, and that actors will contrive to preserve institutions and resources that they perceive to be beneficial. Similar processes connect the strategic behaviour of socially embedded trades workers to apparent patterns of social reproduction in the family. The research showed that, although many members of the study population were related to other trades workers, there was no evidence that their families were “essentially” trades-oriented in the sense of producing children with a higherthan-average probability of entering a trades occupation. Families at the far ends of the educational and occupational spectrums showed a tendency to reproduce their own characteristics, but there was no evidence that this was a feature of skilled trades workers per se. When the comparative data on earnings, working conditions, and satisfaction were also considered, it became implausible to conclude that the case study population manifested the reproduction of social disadvantage. Rather, the evidence of family connections to the trades was interpreted as one aspect of strategic behaviour, whereby incumbents had been able to draw on valuable resources of social, cultural, and intellectual capital available through their families and social networks. These resources had enabled them to develop the interests, aptitudes, cultural fluency, contacts, and confidence that are appropriate both to performing the technical work and interacting socially in conventional skilled trades workplaces. The research also revealed the limits of such resources. Comparative data on literacy skills shows that skilled trades workers typically score relatively low on some indicators; and interview comments suggested that some respondents are not well equipped to help their own children pursue aspirations to higher education and professional careers. But even these indicators do not support generalizations about disadvantage or social immobility. The evidence showed that a number of respondents felt that their work in the trades had enabled them to achieve a higher standard of living than their families of origin had; and most respondents, especially the better-educated, were quite adamant that their careers in the trades were more the product of their own preferences than of any deficit or constraint. In short, it was found that the density of family connections to the trades within this population reflects a common pattern of strategic behaviour shared by these individuals, more than some structural commonality among their families.  167  Chapter 6  The processes of bridging and bonding discovered here are relevant to the challenge of integrating non-traditional participants into trades or other occupational niches. Within the dominant, human capital paradigm, the problems facing under-represented groups are invariably presented as issues of competency and/or labour market signaling. The competency issue is remedied through the development of additional skills, whether related directly to work performance or to ancillary areas such as job-finding techniques, while the issue of signaling is addressed by equipping clients with recognized credentials. Programs designed to integrate nontraditional groups into the trades have typically comprised a core of technical training, for instance in basic electronics or carpentry, supplemented with elements on literacy improvement, self-esteem and job search. The neo-Weberian perspective calls attention to the blind spot in this approach which, in regarding occupations solely in terms of their production and labour market functions, overlooks their character as membership organizations. The case study described a complex process of selection and normative compliance that explicitly favours individuals whose early socialization has made them comfortable in both the technical and the cultural aspects of the trades as they currently exist. This cultural competency enables members to interact effectively with others in the same occupations and hence to maintain work-related social networks and to join similar networks elsewhere in the event of a move. It would be quite unrealistic to believe that women or other minority-group members would be able to substantially increase their prospects of successful integration into these occupations simply by demonstrating the formal, technical competencies essential to performing “the job.” Moreover, as long as incumbents perceive that their interests are advanced by these forms of bonding and bridging capital, it would be irrational of them to redefine their membership norms. The upshot is that efforts to integrate “non-traditional” workers into trades occupations will continue to fail to the extent that they concentrate on human capital development to the neglect of the social closure mechanisms that make the vocations viable for their members. This logic is clearly not peculiar to the skilled trades, but presumably applies to many other kinds of identity-conscious group. The difficulties faced by foreign-trained professionals in Canada have received considerable attention (Finnie et al., 2005), but again are usually framed as human capital problems, to be remedied through skills upgrading and certification. The challenges for both “non-traditional” candidates for the trades and immigrant professionals suggest interesting avenues for further research. The experience of immigrant groups who tended to settle in 168  Chapter 6  particular occupations or commercial sectors has been described by social historians (see, for instance, Colantonio, 1997), but detailed study, particularly of contemporary instances, could potentially reveal important social capital processes. It would be valuable, for instance, to compare how immigrants from particular ethnic or regional groups have fared in the Canadian labour market, and to investigate whether any differences in their success could be attributed to their ability to tap into networks of previously established members from the same groups. The findings from such research could provide useful guidance for the development of integration programs for other groups, including marginalized non-immigrants. In the process, they might invert the explanation given by respondents in the present case study for the ethnic uniformity of their workforce. That is, rather than the Dockyard’s profile reflecting the ethnic makeup of the surrounding community, it is conceivable that the community’s ethnic profile is affected by the fact that an established sociocultural group has historically dominated the recruitment process to a major source of employment there. Serious efforts to enhance under-represented groups’ participation in the trades, whether motivated by objectives of labour supply or equity, would explicitly engage with social closure processes that this study suggests underpin both the reward structure and the narrow social profile of contemporary skilled trades occupations. On Weber’s analysis, the logic of social closure entails two strategic postures: the preservation of group boundaries for the benefit of members (bonding), and individuals’ efforts to perforate group boundaries and gain access to their benefits (bridging). Evidence from the Dockyard illustrates the creative resistance of ingroup members’ to initiatives that would facilitate bridging and the admission of non-traditional members. Meanwhile, the current neo-liberal reforms to the skilled trades in BC suggest that the excessive erosion of conventional boundary mechanisms may undermine the very viability and attractiveness of vocational occupations. With respect to under-represented groups, the policy challenge is to enhance access while ensuring that the ultimate rewards of admission are still worth winning. Assuming that the basic institutional mechanisms were in place to ensure the market value of trades credentials, specific initiatives for under-represented groups would draw on one or other of Weber’s strategic options. The tendency for immigrant workers to become concentrated in particular occupational niches points to bonding strategies which could  169  Chapter 6  potentially be applied in pro-active fashion to raise the participation rates of under-represented groups. A number of Aboriginal-owned businesses seem to illustrate this principle.34 Initiatives of this kind present, on one hand, the potential for members of minority groups to capitalize on their existing cultural competencies and network connections as resources for access to the workplace rather than having to demonstrate their fluency in the norms of traditionally dominant groups. Of course, they also carry the risks inherent to bonding strategies in general, including such ‘dark-side’ effects as isolation, excessive dependency on the in-group, and potential for exploitation. An alternative strategy would draw on the logic of bridging, aiming generally to promote the greatest possible diversity of access while preserving the benefits of membership. Here, one can imagine employers – whether acting independently or in sectoral consortia – committing seriously to promote employment diversity within the skilled trades workplace. Just as organic and “fair trade” food products have become successfully entrenched in the market place, consumer demand might reward enterprises that could certify their compliance with specific standards on the employment, training, and fair workplace treatment of underrepresented groups. Such consumer demand, however, would clearly exist only in select industry sectors (e.g., home renovations, artisanal manufacturing). In the business-to-business markets of heavy industry or market-protected organizations such as the present case study site the membership dynamics observed here can be predicted to persist. These suppositions suggest additional avenues for further empirical research. Historical and geographic comparisons show that industrial production systems are ultimately social arrangements which can be configured in countless different ways. The present research suggests that the configuration of “skilled trades” occupations in Canada has consequences not only for productivity and innovative capacity, but also for social stratification and inclusion. Further investigation on these lines could include ethnographic research into the social bonding and bridging practices of other occupational groups. 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