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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Setting patterns : technological change, labour adjustment, and training in British Columbia’s lumber manufacturing industry Hommen, Leif


This inquiry used a case study approach and a method of structured, controlled comparisons to investigate regional differences in the impact of recent changes in technology, product markets, and labour markets on the volume and distribution of employer-sponsored training and institutional arrangements for the organization and governance of workplace education in the British Columbia lumber manufacturing industry. Following an initial “pilot” case study, three paired comparisons were conducted among cases which represented -- for the interior and coastal regions of the industry, respectively -- “traditional”, “high tech”, and “transitional” lumber manufacturing operations. The theoretical framework employed was based on the identification, elaboration, and explication of three competing political economic theories of work and education and their respective “production paradigms”, or micro-level theoretical institutional models of factory organization and training. Case study data was used to test these rival theories through the analytical techniques of pattern-matching and explanation-building. Data for this study was collected by means of a schedule of structured interviews and the study of relevant documentary information obtained at each case study site. At each plant selected as a case study site, parallel parts of the interview schedule were administered to a series of respondents selected by, and representing, respectively, plant-level management and union organizations. Additional, or background, information on the British Columbia lumber manufacturing industry was obtained from a review of government, industry, and academic publications concerning the industry. The analysis of data shows that a fundamental restructuring of establishmentlevel internal labour markets -- involving a considerable expansion of training and a significant downward shift in the distribution of training by occupational category, together with greatly increased union involvement in the planning and administration of training -- is more pronounced in the coastal sector of the industry. The main factor of explanation for this regional difference is the relative instability of employment, which has been much greater in the coastal region throughout the past decade. By demonstrating the effects that the destabilization of employment has had on the collective mobilization of workers on training and related issues, the analysis indicates the crucial role of labour relations in mediating the impacts of technological and structural change on the determination of skill requirements and training provision in the industrial workplace. The study finds that one of three competing “production paradigms” best describes the restructuring of employment relations, work organization, and training arrangements now taking place in the industry. However, it also finds that these developments are best explained by another, rival theory of industrial change. Drawing upon appropriate elements of the two theories, the study develops recommendations for industry-level strategies and public policies that will strengthen and support the emerging structural solution to the training dilemmas incurred by rapid and extensive technological and structural change. These recommendations focus on the need for the proposed British Columbia Training and Adjustment Board to institute either “bargained” or “statutory” mechanisms for the co-determination of industry- and establishment-level strategies and programs for internal training and external labour adjustment. The study’s conclusions emphasize the implications of struggles for democracy in the workplace -- including a more equitable distribution of training provision and a more adequate representation of workers in the organization and governance of training provision -- for the development of recurrent education policies and the democratization of educational institutions, It is argued that a successful implementation of existing policies for labour force development and economic modernization can not be accomplished in the absence of representative institutions that will operate to regulate fundamental social conflicts relating to the development of human resources, within both the industrial and the educational communities.

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