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Intermediate occupations and the conceptual and empirical limitations of the hourglass economy thesis

Anderson, P. (2009) Intermediate occupations and the conceptual and empirical limitations of the hourglass economy thesis. Work, Employment and Society, 23 (1). pp. 169-180. ISSN 0950-0170

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It is suggested that an hourglass-shaped occupational structure is emerging in the UK, with the polarization of jobs at top and bottom of the occupational hierarchy. Despite the implicit suggestion that jobs in the middle appear to be disappearing, somewhat paradoxically, there are ever-increasing reports of problems with recruitment and skill across intermediate occupations.This article attempts to address the paradox and propose better ways of conceptualizing what is happening to intermediate occupations within recent structural transformations. It is argued that while the hourglass economy thesis, or a variation of it, best describes recent occupational transformations, it is limited conceptually and empirically. More specifically, it neglects important dimensions of change within intermediate occupations — dimensions that may well provide a more fruitful foundation from which to explore the nature of and developments within these jobs and their broader repercussions.