Conditions and Development Prospects of Low-Skill Industrial Work

Starting Point

The research project analyses the conditions and development prospects of low-skill industrial work in Germany. In a first approximation, low-skill work can be understood to comprise activities that are characterised by a low complexity. They hardly make any great demands on the employees and require only limited qualifications to carry out.

For some time, the mainstream research argues that in the light of secular trends towards the upgrading of qualifications, this work type henceforth represents a residual quantity with regard to the development of gainful employment in advanced societies. In this view, advanced societies are often regarded as knowledge economies based on a continuous upgrading of skills and on a growing relevance of sectors with knowledge-intensive (skill-intensive) work. Consequently, low-skill industrial labour is seen to have become a more and more negligible factor in the course of globalisation because the respective production processes are increasingly being relocated to developing countries.



The project will challenge these mainstream perspectives. It aims at putting forward and verifying the thesis that under specific conditions such a work-type constitutes a stable development perspective for industrial work. More specifically, the empirical analysis is expected to show in detail whether and to which extent lowskilled work takes place and in which sectors, trades and possibly regions it occurs. This general objective can be specified as follows:

  • Analysis of the specific conditions of low-skill industrial work at the company and societal levels
  • Contribution to research in the sociology of work, in particular to a revision of the concepts of traditional work analysis

The research questions of the project can also be linked to a sociopolitical perspective and thus to practical political goals. Recommendations, conclusions and further differentiating insights regarding the labour market and employment policies can be gleaned from the findings.



The project draws on a combination of qualitative and quantitative data collection methods:

  • With regard to the qualitative methods, case study analyses and guided expert interviews will be conducted in selected small and medium-sized companies of different sectors of the manufacturing industry.
  • The case study analysis will be supplemented by a statistical analysis of available quantitative data on job and skill structures in the manufacturing sector of Germany.


Publications (see Publikationen link)

Hartmut Hirsch-Kreinsen (2008):
Low-Skill Industrial Work. Paper to be presented at the International Workshop on Performance, Skills, Competences in the 21st century. Lisbon, December 2008

Harmut Hirsch-Kreinsen, Peter Ittermann, Jörg Abel (2010):
Low-Skilled Industrial Work in Advanced Economies - The Case of the German Manufacturing Industry. Working paper. Dortmund. March 2010



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