Orchestrator of Coordination: The Role of the State in Collective Skill Formation Regimes

Patrick Emmenegger, Martin B. Carstensen

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In the last two decades, scholars have tended to downplay the role of the state in accounts of institutional trajectories of change in collective skill formation regimes. This applies particularly to the scholarship on comparative capitalism originating in the Varieties of Capitalism-approach (VoC). This strand of literature focuses on employer coordination as the backbone of skill formation -- working as a deterrent against poaching of trained employees and shirking in the provision of in-firm training -- and argues that based on effective employer coordination, collective skill formation systems have historically been able to straddle the twin demands of providing inclusion and relevant skills for employers. In turn, this approach tends to relegate the state to a secondary role in accounting for diverse pathways of institutional change within the systems. More recent work has highlighted the possibility that high capacity states may take on a central role in taking over inclusiveness functions previously upheld through employer coordination, in effect maintaining a relatively high level of equality, but to the detriment of employer coordination. In this paper, we argue that low capacity states too can take on a central role in producing solidaristic outcomes through vocational education and training (VET), and that they may do so without undermining employer coordination. We propose a conceptualization of the state as an orchestrator of employer coordination that employs material and ideational resources to mobilize business associations on a voluntary basis in pursuit of joint governance goals. Applying our framework to the case of institutional change in VET, we study two states with low state capacity, Switzerland and Germany, that have fared very differently in terms of producing equality enhancing outcomes. We show that the surprising success of the Swiss VET system depended on a combination of continuous coalition building between the state and small and midsized employers, well-timed interventions by key decision-makers that induced continued coordination between employers, and consensus around a number of key reforms that turned out vital for the continued strength as well as high levels of inclusiveness of the Swiss VET system. In contrast, state orchestration has been less successful in the German VET system, which is increasingly geared towards the interests of large employers, leading to an undermining of employer coordination and decreasing levels of inclusiveness.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2020
Publication statusPublished - 2020
EventSASE 32nd Annual Conference 2020 - Virtual: Development Today: Accumulation, Surveillance, Redistribution - Virtual, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Duration: 18 Jul 202021 Jul 2021
Conference number: 32


ConferenceSASE 32nd Annual Conference 2020 - Virtual
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