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Comparative institutional disadvantage: Small firms and vocational training in the British manufacturing sector in comparative perspective

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)371-390
Number of pages20
JournalBritish Journal of Industrial Relations
Issue number2
Accepted/In press2021
Published1 Jun 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information: This project was supported by the Economic and Social Research Council (PI: Chiara Benassi, Ref: ESN01605 × 1). Funding Information: This project was supported by the Economic and Social Research Council (PI: Chiara Benassi, Ref: ESN01605???1). The authors are grateful to Fabio Bulfone, Lukas Graf as well as participants in the following occasions: the employment relations seminars at Leeds and Cardiff Business Schools, the Work, Employment and Welfare seminar at the University of Edinburgh, and the 2018 SASE and WES conferences. Chiara Benassi thanks Alessandro Powell and Isabella Cesareo for their research assistance and the Max Planck Institute for hosting her during the fieldwork in Germany. Publisher Copyright: © 2021 The Authors. British Journal of Industrial Relations published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


King's Authors


This article asks why British manufacturing small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) struggle to meet their intermediate technical skills needs. While the comparative political economy literature typically attributes the failure to train in Britain to collective action problems, we complement this perspective by pointing at the ill-conceived policy design of the quasi-market for vocational education and training. In particular, we shed light on the role of training providers, as they respond to the incentive structure of the quasi-market, especially the output-based nature of standards and the system of funding distribution. To strengthen our argument, we compare the British case with the Italian statist system, which enables SMEs to access technical skills through school-based vocational education, and with the German collective system, in which SMEs develop skills through apprenticeships.

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