Published Resources Details Journal Article

Robertson, P. L.
Technical Education in the British Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering Industries, 1863-1914
The Economic History Review; Second Series
vol. 27, no. 1-4, 1974, pp. 222-235

Accession No.1942


"Although it is now acknowledged that Britain lagged behind certain other industrial nations in providing facilities for technical education, the controversy over the economic effects of the lag continues. All too often the debate has been conducted in general terms, drawing on possibly unrepresentative examples from a few industries without providing any evidence that increased expenditures on education would have paid off economically. While the provision of a sound educational system was a national concern, the need for improvements would have varied from industry to industry, depending upon such factors as the rate of technical progress, the quality of training within the industry, and the degree of foreign competition.

The purpose of this article is to give a detailed account of the attitudes which British entrepreneurs in two important related industries - shipbuilding and marine engineering - held towards technical education for their employees, of what they did to put their ideas into effect, and of the economic reasons for their actions. It is suggested that, although the reluctance with which owners and managers of shipyards and marine engine works supported increased technical education was in part the result of the refusal of many of them to recognize the value of applied science to their industries, it was also, in the short run at least, economically rational. As late as 1914, both industries remained highly dependent upon skilled trades, which could best be learned through on-the-job training. By concentrating on the cultivation of manual skills, the British were able in many cases both to avoid the cost of providing extra schooling and to obtain a more productive workforce than their competitors abroad who gave more emphasis to technical education."