Stuck in the Middle: Problems with Recruitment, Skill and Training in Intermediate Occupations in the Hourglass Economy

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


The hourglass economy signals the death of intermediate occupations, yet the UK's economic competitiveness reportedly hinges on tackling the serious dearth in the supply of skills for these occupations. It is against this backdrop that this thesis examines intermediate occupations. It is argued that the hourglass economy thesis is limited conceptually and empirically and thus forms an inappropriate backdrop from which to interrogate the nature of the developments and reported problems within intermediate occupations. Intermediate occupations are not disappearing but undergoing a classification stretch linked to contrasting transformations in the three main initial systems of skill formation identified across intermediate occupations - the apprenticeship, 'professionalising' and 'enterprise' systems - and such transformations seem to be linked to problems of recruitment, skill and training. This thesis draws on the empirical findings from three in-depth occupational case studies purposely selected to explore these initial systems of skill formation and exemplify the trends across the intermediate downshifters, upshifters and ditherers. The thesis' empirical contribution is to reveal that polarisation is not only taking place between intermediate occupations but within them, with occupational specialisation and genericism essentially camouflaging occupational polarisation through fragmentation - a dynamic not captured in a simple downshifting, upshifting and dithering story. Neither of these competing polarisation dynamics, moreover, are captured by the hourglass economy thesis. This empirical contribution thus adds to current understanding of intermediate occupations. The thesis' conceptual contribution centres on the operationalisation of the concept 'skill ecosystems' and the utility of this operationalisation for embedding systems of skiIl formation within broader occupational skill ecosystems. Indeed, this thesis operationalises this inherently 'messy' concept in order to explore developments and problems within intermediate occupations without losing the essence and complexity of the relations and dynamics embodied in the concept.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University Of Strathclyde
  • Warhurst, Chris, Supervisor
  • Thompson, Paul, Supervisor
Place of PublicationGlasgow
Publication statusPublished - 2009


  • human resource management


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