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Workforce Transition Systems and Job Quality in Times of Occupational Structural Change: the Case of Displaced Manufacturing Workers in 21st Century Germany and the United States.



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Akkilic, Esma 


Deepening deindustrialisation owing to increased globalisation and technological change has destroyed millions of manufacturing jobs in advanced capitalist economies. Despite the sizeable impacts of these shifts, we know little about the specific 21st century job quality trajectories of a ‘most vulnerable’ group of displaced manufacturing workers, whose skillsets have been deemed largely obsolete during these processes. Moreover, the theoretical comparative political economy literature is divided on the question of how advanced economies have managed disruptions in a contemporary context. Specifically, there is disagreement as to whether labour market institutions have converged on a similar market-liberal model in the face of intensifying global competition and race-to-the-bottom pressures, or whether they have continued on their resiliently dissimilar institutional pathways. This thesis fills this gap by systematically tracing job quality trajectories of displaced manufacturing workers in two countries that have undergone deindustrialisation but are ordinarily regarded archetypically ‘opposite’ models in the comparative capitalism and welfare state models literature: the United States and Germany. Invoking the recent social investment literature, the thesis puts forth the concept of the Workforce Transition System (WTS), capturing the policies and institutions most essential to mitigating job dislocations in times of occupational structural change and skill obsolescence. Analysing survey data from 1998–2018, the thesis finds chiefly similar and negative post-displacement job quality trajectories for the same group of displaced US and German manufacturing workers. Next, systematic review of the two countries’ WTS’s and of two ‘best-case scenario’ bespoke labour market instruments (US Trade Adjustment Assistance and German Transfergesellschaften), drawing on primary in- depth elite interviews and process-tracing of impact evaluations and programme reviews, reveals that these outcomes are also mirrored in notable institutional similarities in the purportedly distinct political economies. Commonalities between the two economies have become more pronounced over time, especially through visible convergence on ‘workfare’ policies. However, in other realms, both countries have always been more similar than perceived in the established literature, lending support to the continuing dissimilarity argument. The thesis demonstrates that legacies of a vast ‘hidden welfare state’ in the US and the continued centrality of businesses in both countries’ adult lifelong learning and skills’ training systems further elucidate the analogously unfavourable worker job quality trajectories recorded. Overall, this indicates a mounting need for holistic government re-training and up- skilling initiatives to safeguard job quality during disruptive labour market junctures, which seem to have been insufficient in both economies.





Coyle, Diane
Thompson, Helen


Workforce transition system, Deindustrialisation, Labour market policy, Comparative capitalism


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge