Copyright Sociological Research Online, 1997


Learning to Work: The Case for Reintegrating Job Training and Education

W. Norton Grubb
New York: Russell Sage Foundation
ISBN 0 87154 367 2
x + 152 pp.

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In 'Learning to Work: The case for reintegrating job training and education' Grubb sets out to describe (chapters 1 to 5), analyze (chapter 6) and prescribe (chapter 7) a possible future for the myriad of 'second-chance' programs which have been established in the US since the 1960's. The author seeks to assess critically the effects of job training and 'welfare-to-work' programs on 'unemployment, underemployment, and poverty' (p. 2). However, as broad, informative, and as accessible though the description is - the subsequent analysis and prescription leaves significant room for development.

Grubb argues that the 'mediocre effects' (p. 100) - despite the cost effectiveness of the programs (for participants and tax-payers) - would be improved via fuller (re)integration with the main-stream, 'first-chance' educational system. To the degree that this notion of reintegration means a broader valuing of alternative educational credentials (via 'vertical ladders', pp. 110 - 115), I could not be more supportive of Grubb's conclusions. Indeed, proponents of 'Prior Learning Assessment Recognition' throughout the world as well as those educationalist of the left (e.g. Illich, 1971; Willis, 1977; Apple, 1982; Livingstone, 1987) have been making convincing arguments around the inequities of mainstream schooling and credentialism for years. On the other hand, Grubb appears to wish to go further than this by, in effect, creating a more expansive 'first-chance' system. He does this by advocating for a job training system complete with class-room structure and more rigorous 'academic' curriculum that mirrors the mainstream system. To this Grubb would add heightened (computerized) control/surveillance through integrated information systems (pp. 108 - 121). But, this argument ignores the basic reasons that second-chance systems have sprung up in the first place, ie. as an alternative to the (classed, gendered, and racialized) effects of the first-chance system. Rather than simply reproducing or expanding the structures and processes of mainstream schooling, a second-chance system with significant differences is perhaps in order.

To be fair, Grubb points to several positive initiatives in the second-chance system from which the first-chance system could learn, for example a closer connection to the workplace and progressive pedagogy. In the end however, even he appears relatively unsure of his own recommendations and methods for achieving them, ie. 'Daunting as it may be, the appropriate task is to improve job training programs, not abolish them' (p. 104).

As outlined in detail in Livingstone (1996), the deeper problem with these types of solutions may lie in the inability to meaningfully engage in discussion of the reformation of the 'work' or 'demand-side' (p. 100) of the 'learning-work' linkage. Hemmed in by the (unfortunately very real) threat of having ideas labeled 'un-american' (p. 101), Grubb is forced into 'playing the old 'education as secular salvation' song' (Livingstone, 1996: p. 78). He appears unable to advocate for workplace reform - in the absence of which increased education/training only serves to create 'credential inflation' (in which unemployed workers gain extra credentials only to bump out workers currently employed and so the cycle goes), leaving aggregate unemployment levels, aggregate workers' earnings and welfare rolls virtually unchanged.

Some empirical research indicates that an adequate Grade 8 education is all that is needed to perform the typical factory or office job in advanced industrial societies. Further studies reveal that since the early 1970's at least a third of the employed North American workforce have work-related skills that they could use in their jobs but are not permitted to use. As education attainments have increased, this actual underuse appears to have grown to include over 40 percent of the entire workforce and half of those under twenty-five. (Livingstone, 1996: pp. 76 - 7)

The ironic contradiction (of the 'human capital theory') is that without workplace reforms, such as workplace democratization, in which people are allowed to use more of the skills they already have, more and better education will simply increase the current levels of underemployment.

All in all, this book is a worthwhile read for those seeking a good description of the relations within American educational policy as regards job training programs. Other than what I see as a less than balanced approach to the learning-work linkage, the author successfully draws attention to the need for an adequately funded, public lifelong learning structure which would have the potential to affect significant shifts in the patterns of social reproduction associated with schooling.

Peter H. Sawchuk
Ontario Institute for Studies in Education/University of Toronto, Canada


APPLE, Michael (1982) Education and Power. Boston, MA: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

ILLICH, Ivan (1971) Deschooling Society. New York: Harper and Row.

LIVINGSTONE, David W. (editor) (1987) Critical Pedagogy and Cultural Power. Toronto: Garamond Press.

LIVINGSTONE, David W. (1996) 'Wasted Education and Withered Work' in Thomas Dunk, Stephen McBride and Randle W. Nelsen (editors) The Training Trap: Ideology, Training and the Labour Market. Winnipeg: Fernwood.

WILLIS, Paul (1977) Learning to Labour. London: Collier Macmillan.

Copyright Sociological Research Online, 1997