DP1036 | Human Capital and Productivity in Manufacturing during the Twentieth Century: Britain, Germany and the United States

Publication Date

31/10/1994

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Abstract

In this paper we relate trends in the accumulation of human capital in Britain, Germany and the United States to overall production strategy and productivity trends. In the United States a strategy of standardized mass production led to high levels of labour productivity and concentration on the development of managerial capabilities, but neglect of the skills of the shop-floor labour force, while in Britain and Germany concentration on craft production led to greater emphasis on shop-floor skills. After the Second World War, however, British firms made an unsuccessful move towards standardized mass production. Since shop-floor skills were neglected, British firms were left in a weak position to take advantage of the recent switch of technological leadership away from American mass production methods to German modern craft production or `flexible production' methods, intensive in the use of skilled shop-floor labour within a small batch industrial environment. British manufacturing also adopted an American style `mission oriented' approach to R&D in contrast to the German style `diffusion oriented' approach, which helped to reinforce the move away from craft production. Since the 1980s, Britain has returned to a more skilled labour intensive strategy but still has a large skills gap to make good.