Sam Vrankulj

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Work and Society


W. Lewchuk




This research explores the role of factory trade schools in the development and training of skilled metal workers in the North American automobile industry. The establishment of factory trade schools in the early 1900s by Henry Ford and others was not simply an approach to resolve skills supply shortages, but rather represented a strategy to erode craft worker power through the internal development of skilled workers socialized to the enterprise specific requirements of industrial capital. Factory-based trade schools provided industrialists with a mechanism through which to undermine craft worker power in several ways. Factory trade schools displaced craft union control over the recruitment and selection of apprentices. Control over the nature and scope of education and socialization allowed employers to narrow these to the unique technical and social requirements of their labour process. Finally, factory trade schools can be viewed as components of broader initiatives in workplace social control aimed at union avoidance.

Skilled workers remain central to the development and refinement of the machinery necessary for production in the automobile industry. Market pressures associated with the contemporary North American automobile industry continue to drive manufacturers to seek competitive advantage through process improvements that are in large measure underpinned by technological innovation that remains dependent on skilled workers. Concerns over the supply of skilled workers, quality, scope and cost of training, and union influence continue to inform corporate strategies across the automotive industry. Magna International, one of the world's largest automotive parts manufacturers, has established a skills training school to address these concerns. Although separated by a span of close to a century, the trade schools of Ford and Magna share objectives that have remained relatively unchanged over time. These objectives both include and transcend simple technical considerations, and incorporate the transfer of non-technical socialization aimed at inculcating students with norms and values consistent with a firm's productivity goals.

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