Study finds women benefit from job training programs
By Amie Lynn Shirkie
A recent study conducted at the U of S reveals good news for women who want to pursue career-related training.
Using an interdisciplinary approach to her research, PhD student Elizabeth Quinlan has found that participation in job-related training programs can lead to significant benefits for women.
Combining economic, sociological and feminist theory, Quinlan has developed a model that suggests career training is “a crucial element in the reward structure of the labour market” for women.
Quinlan says her experiences as an instructor in job-related training programs inspired her to pursue this line of research. “I began to wonder about the differences in outcomes between male and female trainees. I was teaching adults, many of whom were women coming back into the job market after raising children.” Based on her observations, Quinlan feared “that for all their training, many female trainees weren’t receiving a lot of economic benefits, in terms of wage or job security.”
“What I really wanted to know was how representative were the trends I was seeing. I wanted to get the big picture. So, in my research I use a large national data set that has information on both men and women across Canada.”
Quinlan, who began her doctoral research in Interdisciplinary Studies in 1998, says the nature of her subject lent itself “quite naturally” to an interdisciplinary approach. The three labour market theories she wanted to work with each came from a different area of study. “So by doing Interdisciplinary Studies, I was able to take a broad sweep theoretically, and bring to bear theory from the different disciplines.”
She used human capital theory, segmentation theory and feminist theory to develop a model for her study.
Explaining human capital theory, Quinlan says this economic model purports that “what individuals bring to the job in terms of formal education, job experience and training will directly affect their productivity ... An assumption of this theory is that identical amounts of human capital translate into identical wages.” Quinlan points out this theory does little to explain the discrimination that some groups face in the labour market.
Segmentation theory, a sociological tenet, “really tries to address the issue that identical amounts of human capital don’t necessarily equal similar wages. It does this by focusing on structures in the labour market.”
Feminist theory, says Quinlan, “takes up the dynamic connection between women’s paid and unpaid work.”
She notes there is significant overlap among these theories. “Economic theory focuses on the individual, sociological theory looks at the industry and structures, and feminist theory looks at the connection between work and other aspects of our lives.”
Quinlan compared these three models “to shed light on the dynamic relationships between the determinants of training and its role in the reward structure of the labour market.”
She says it was beyond the scope of her study to develop distinct models for the experiences of male trainees; however, she says, “Once I developed the models for women, I also applied men’s data to the models and compared the results.”
The data for Quinlan’s study came from Statistics Canada’s Workplace and Employee Survey (WES). WES provides “an enormous range of information,” and focuses on employer/employee relationships. Quinlan says she was inspired by the breadth of this survey: “Its potential really captured my imagination.”
To test her models, she used a statistical technique known as structural equation modeling, a technique that combines factor analysis and path analysis. It allows researchers to test hypotheses about complex cause-and-effect relationships. “By applying it to the subject of job-related training, we can better understand the interactions that exist among the predictors and outcomes of training.”
Quinlan says her study’s findings show that training is actually a significant advantage to women in the labour market, “as it plays a dual role of being both a reward in itself and a predictor of other labour market rewards.”
Moreover, she asserts, contrary to the results of previous research, “this study finds that women’s family responsibilities are not impediments to women’s participation in training. In fact, family responsibilities positively predict women’s training participation.”
Thus, it would seem that family responsibilities encourage women to participate in job-related training, and their efforts are paying off. “Of all the predictors of women’s compensation, both direct and indirect, participation in training has the greatest impact on women’s wages and benefits.”
Quinlan believes her research will have a number of important policy implications: “Because it is found that women benefit from training, any measures that we take to make it easier for women to participate in training programs won’t be wasted.” Quinlan also hopes her study “will open up doors for future Interdisciplinary Studies research by making obvious the potential of this approach.”
Quinlan will defend her thesis April 12. In the meantime, she is preparing a post-doctoral proposal for research useful to members of multi-disciplinary health care teams.
Amie Lynn Shirkie writes graduate student profiles for the College of Graduate Studies & Research.