Education and Jobs: Exploring the Gaps

April 1, 2010

This book derives from a Canadian research initiative called The Education-Job Requirement Matching Research Project. The study's overall aim was to bring forward research into the relationship between education and employment. Several academics worked on this project, which was led by D.W. Livingstone, and eight of his research partners have contributed to this edited volume with one or more chapters each or as his co-author. The data consist of a nationwide sample of the Canadian adult population, an additional sample of employees in the province of Ontario, and a sub-sample of teachers, computer programmers, clerical workers and auto workers, as well as disabled workers in these four occupations.

Education and Jobs offers two diametrically different perspectives for studying gaps or matches between education and employment. On the one hand, the book is introduced by the traditional and mainstream theories within economy and sociology. On the other hand, this introduction is followed by a critique (which is comprehensible from my point of view) of these all-embracing theories, followed by five case studies with an ethnographic approach.

This book is too lengthy for those who have only a general interest in this topic, but it could be useful as an introduction for those who are considering writing a thesis about matching or lifelong learning.

The introduction offers a neat sorting-out of concepts that is helpful. For example, a distinction is made between different kinds of matching: credential matching, performance matching, field of study matching and subjective matching. Moreover, several synonyms for the mismatch between education and work are used in the literature; the authors try to bring some order into it. In summary, it is a nice introduction for the beginner; however, the economic and large-scale sociological perspective is overwhelming. There is certainly a lot of research based on small-scale studies applying theories other than those presented here, but they are simply not mentioned.

The case studies are interesting and well described, and although they were undertaken in Canada, they could, with minor deviation, be representative of other Western countries. All four employment sectors under study, and the particular focus on people with some disability within these four sectors, are introduced by a broad description including general statistics of the development of the sector during the past 50 years or more, the gender and ethnic composition of the workforce, typical work tasks and income level.

For people who would like to dig into any of these fields, the case studies are nicely structured following similar patterns. Quotes from the survey participants add vitality to the text. I see the case studies as examples of lifelong learning, showing how people in a variety of occupations learn continuously, often as a result of changes in society. This is a portrayal of lifelong learning as a response to competition for jobs. The most salient example of over-qualification is among disabled workers who, more than others in the workforce, must prove their skills and ability, particularly in a time of cutbacks and increasing demand for jobs.

The outcomes of the case studies are summarised in the penultimate chapter, a chapter I would like to recommend as a starting point for those who may hesitate to begin an almost 400-page long journey. The last chapter, however, is in dissonance with European (and in particular Nordic) ways of expressing the usefulness of the results that have emerged. Some of the statements could have been tested by making use of the respondents who had managerial positions; the employer's perspective could have offered some explanations about why it is difficult, or even undesired, to utilise employees' competences. Other statements, such as "this is a new paradigm", could have been avoided by a careful editorial review.

The first half of the book deals with the field of matching in a "traditional" way, and the second half of the book can be understood as a critique of the studies and theories that have predominated until now. But researchers before Livingstone and his colleagues have raised similar critiques; I would have liked to have seen a brief review of the economic literature as a starting point, followed by a review of the small-scale studies that have had similar aims as it appears these authors had. Therefore the main gap in this book, I would say, is between the introduction and the content.

Choose the pieces you need here, and leave the rest.

Education and Jobs: Exploring the Gaps

Edited by D.W. Livingstone. University of Toronto Press. 382pp, £43.58, £20.57. ISBN 9781442600522 and 0508. Published 30 September 2009

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