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Volume 33, Number 1
Fall 1995


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From Apprentice to Instructor: Work Ethic in Apprenticeship Training

Tim Hatcher
University of Arkansas

More people fail at or lose their jobs because of personal qualities or inappropriate attitudes than because of insufficient knowledge or skills. Research suggests that positive attitudes toward work and work ethic are more important to job success and employability than knowledge or skills (Cherrington, 1980; Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce, 1990; Crosby & Petrosko, 1990; Petty, 1983; Pucel, 1993; Yankelovich, 1985). Employers consider work ethic an essential attribute of job applicants and incumbent workers. A survey of managers found that almost 80 percent of them agreed that productivity is suffering because the work ethic has eroded (Lipset, 1990).

Work ethic is a system of values or beliefs that guides employees' attitudes and behaviors (Siegel, 1983). Employees with a positive work ethic relate to work as valued and desirable activities with positive consequences. Thus, work ethic plays a key role in an individual's responses in the workplace (Aldag & Brief, 1975).

Training programs can advocate and transfer positive work ethics to trainees, especially newcomers to an occupation or organization (Cherrington, 1980). Work-based apprenticeship training programs, more than any other formalized training, have the capability to instill the work ethic in trainees that is considered essential in the occupation and the organization (Blau, 1988; Fullagar, McCoy, & Shull, 1992). Apprenticeship training teaches more than a specific trade; it fosters the work ethic and prepares workers for other adult roles (Riccucci, 1991). Cherrington (1980) added that "work values are learned values, employees will learn the values they are taught in their work [learning] environment" (p. 16).

Identification and transfer of work ethics that are conducive to success on the job are important tasks for instructors in apprenticeship training programs. Additionally, they socialize the transfer of cultural norms and occupational work ethics, which enhances trainees' work attitudes on the job. However, there are little data in the literature that have actually described the perceived work ethics of instructors or apprentices in an apprenticeship training program. The influence that apprenticeship training has on perceived work ethics of trainees and instructors has not been studied.

Achieving the goal of transmitting work ethics to employees and learners in an apprenticeship training setting requires an examination of the perceived work ethics of apprenticeship instructors and apprentices. Industrial educators, learners, and instructors need to understand the patterns of perceived work ethics of apprentices and instructors in order to determine the work ethics that are conducive to job success. This is critical in establishing and maintaining apprenticeship training programs that teach and reflect positive work ethics.

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this study was to collect baseline data on the occupational work ethic of apprentices and instructors in an industrial trade union apprenticeship training program. The study examined the differences in the level of occupational work ethic according to different job title and specialization, years of work experience, and year of participation in the program. A second purpose was to determine if there were relationships between variables and differences and interactions in the level of perceived work ethic of apprentices and instructors in the apprenticeship program. More specifically, the study focused on identifying differences in perceived work ethic between apprentices and instructors categorized by job titles, job specialization, years of full-time work experience, and year of participation in the apprenticeship program. The relationship between years of full-time work experience and the perceived work ethic of apprentices and instructors was also addressed. Additionally, the study examined the interaction between various independent variables and questioned whether a significant difference in work ethic existed for respondents in years three, four, and five (later years) as compared to those participating in the first two years (early years) of the program.

Background

Contributions to the historical and theoretical development of the work ethic in America and in trade union apprenticeship training programs have been made by Bjorkquist (1988), Cherrington (1980), Rodgers (1978), Rorabaugh (1986), Yankelovich (1981), and others. The influences of socialization and formalized apprenticeship training systems on the development of work ethic in trainees were reported by Cherrington (1980), Feldman (1976), and Fullagar, McCoy, and Shull (1992). Several reports and studies (Elbaum, 1989; Hamilton, 1990; Jacoby, 1991; Riccucci, 1991) indicate that apprenticeship teaches more than a specific trade; it also fosters the work ethic and prepares workers for other work roles.

A review of related literature revealed diverse definitions and conceptual constructs of the work ethic (Buchholz, 1978; Cherrington, 1980; Wayne, 1984). Theoretical models of measurement of values and ethics as attitudes, and transfer of values and ethics were developed by Fishbein and Ajzen (1975) and Cherrington (1980) respectively and were synthesized as the theoretical construct in this study.

Much of the research on work ethic has been concerned with devising psychometrically acceptable measures of work ethic and work values. Instruments measuring the Judeo-Christian work ethic, work values, and occupational work ethic have been developed by Blood (1969), Buchholz (1976), Furnham (1983), Petty, (1995a), Super (1969), and Wayne (1984).

Cherrington (1980) examined the facilitation of a positive work ethic through the integration of work and training. Several studies supported the theoretical construct that work ethics were influenced by socialization as a component of training (Blau, 1988; Fullagar et al., 1992; Van Maanen, 1975; Wanous, 1980). Other studies have addressed comparisons of work ethics among occupational groups (Hill, 1992; Petty & Campbell, 1988; Shapira & Griffith, 1990). Generally speaking, occupations categorized as low-discretion and non-technical did not emphasize strong work ethics (Hill, 1992; Yankelovich, 1981).

While each of the above studies has examined various and salient aspects of work ethic, the focus of this study was on the establishment of occupational work ethic dimensions of apprentices and instructors and the influence of training as a socialization activity on the development of perceived work ethic in a trade union apprenticeship training program, not on measurement of work values, or other related non-occupational work ethic constructs.

Methodology

Subjects

The population for this study included apprentices and instructors directly involved with the union locals in the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and National Electrical Contractors Association (IBEW-NECA) national apprenticeship training program. Due to the geographic dispersion of the population, a random block sample stratified by geographic region and by size of union local membership was used. This resulted in a sample of 39 local unions selected from the 308 total local unions in the continental United States. This large sample size was chosen to make the research instrument "more discriminating" and to assure that "good decisions about the research under investigation could be made" (Ostle & Malone, 1988, p. 105). Data were collected from all 4489 available apprentices and instructors during the first week of instruction. Four thousand forty-six (4046) completed instruments were returned for a response rate of 90.1%. Twenty-six of the 39 union locals (66.7%) were represented. This high response rate was attributed to data collection and follow-up procedures.

The sample included 3,822 apprentices and 224 instructors, with the majority of apprentices (59.4%) and instructors (63.5%) reporting their job specialization as construction electrician. Approximately 12% of total respondents reported their job specialization as residential electrician and approximately one quarter (28%) as wireman.

The instructors' length of full-time work experience was almost four times that of apprentices. Instructors reported a mean of 20.95 years of full-time work experience while apprentices reported 4.65 years of experience.

There were approximately equal numbers of apprentices and instructors participating or teaching in each of the five years of the apprenticeship training program. The majority (57.8%) were participating in later years (years three, four, and five) versus the early years (years one and two) of the training program.

Instrumentation

The research instrument used in the study was the Occupational Work Ethic Inventory (OWEI), developed by Petty (1991). This inventory was built upon the work of Kazanas (1978) and was further developed by Brauchle, Petty, and Morgan (1983). The OWEI was designed to measure work ethic accurately by building on previous affective work competencies and work values research. The OWEI measures occupational work ethic by the use of simple one-word descriptors, is easy to understand and administer, quick to complete, and suited for use by the targeted population of this study, and discriminates work ethic qualities through the OWEI subscales.

The OWEI used in this study was divided into three segments. The first segment introduced the purpose of the survey and assured participants of confidentiality. The second segment included directions for use and fifty items to measure participant work ethic. Responses given were on a scale from one to seven representing never to always, respectively. The third segment obtained demographic information on participants.

The OWEI scale examined the work ethic subscales of dependable, ambitious, considerate, and cooperative along with attributes of each (Petty, 1995b). Content validity of these OWEI subscales was initially developed by a panel of occupational education and work values experts and has been used in previous studies for analysis and discussion purposes. Face and content validity of the OWEI instrument used in this study was verified by a panel of work values experts.

Factors from subsequent factor analysis were identified and labeled as being dependable, interpersonal skills, and initiative (Hill & Petty, 1995). The factor analysis for the present study was performed using orthogonal rotation with a Varimax procedure. Results indicated factor loadings similar to Hill and Petty (1995), but with the addition of the factor of work commitment. Four extracted factors were examined and named: interpersonal skills, initiative, being dependable, and work commitment. The four factors explained 30 of the 50 OWEI items and accounted for 65.2% of the total variance. Table 1 provides eigenvalues, item means, standard deviations, and the items which loaded on each of the four factors. The factor of interpersonal skills includes items related to working relationships and personal characteristics that support interpersonal relations and contribute to individual success in team or cooperative work environments. Items that loaded on the factor of initiative describe characteristics that promote change and an aversion for satisfaction with the status quo. The factor of dependable included items that imply one's ability to meet an employment contract and provide performance that is reliable. The work commitment factor was comprised of items that had to do with a sense of belonging and a willingness to invest effort in work. Reversed items as part of the instrument design loaded on one factor and thus were not interpreted for further use in this study.

The OWEI has been shown to be highly reliable with recorded coefficient alphas of .95 (Hill, 1992) and .90 for this study. Subscale correlation coefficients were .89 for being dependable, .92 for interpersonal skills, .88 for initiative, and .80 for work commitment.

Table 1
Means, Standard Deviations, and Loadings for OWEI Factors

Factor/Item Item Mean SD Loading

Dependable
dependable 6.40 .76 .63432
reliable 6.41 .76 .62321
punctual 5.96 .98 .51908
careful 6.06 .90 .48871

Initiative
effective 5.97 .80 .64376
perceptive 5.73 .90 .63075
efficient 5.87 .81 .60744
initiating 5.25 1.11 .57986
independent 5.56 1.17 .57761
ambitious 6.08 .90 .55832
accurate 5.74 .77 .51103
productive 6.09 .78 .48620
adaptable 6.01 .86 .46975
resourceful 6.03 .83 .46864

Interpersonal skill
friendly 6.14 .84 .74062
likable 5.93 .89 .71831
pleasant 5.80 .88 .70649
courteous 6.02 .90 .64301
cheerful 5.64 .95 .64060
considerate 5.99 .94 .62644
helpful 6.19 .78 .60478
cooperative 6.16 .76 .58592
well groomed 5.89 1.02 .49049
appreciative 6.01 .96 .45180
patient 5.21 1.19 .45011

Work Commitment
devoted 5.98 .95 .75190
dedicated 6.05 .92 .73787
loyal 6.11 .91 .54959
enthusiastic 5.74 .92 .51708
hard working 6.39 .75 .46210
persistent 5.82 .96 .45772

Procedures and Data Collection

Instruments were mailed to selected union locals, completed by all available apprentices and instructors, and then returned by mail. The sampling unit for the apprenticeship program participants consisted of apprentices or instructors who were randomly selected from the union locals.

Permission to conduct this study within the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union was granted in writing. An announcement notifying each geographic district of the coming research survey was made to district training directors during the NJATC's annual training directors' conference. A letter notifying local training directors of the research project and a sample of the survey instrument were mailed two weeks prior to the mailing of the survey packets. Survey packets were then sent to union locals. Each survey packet included a letter of endorsement for the study, a letter of introduction and thanks, instructions for administration, OWEI instruments, and self-addressed and stamped envelopes for survey returns.

To assure an adequate response rate, follow-up activities included an announcement of the research made to approximately 600 IBEW-NECA apprenticeship instructors and training directors participating in the IBEW-NECA Instructor Training Institute held at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, follow-up letters mailed within one week of the survey due date to non-respondent locals, and telephone calls to non-respondent locals one week after the due date.

Analysis

Descriptive analyses were conducted on demographic data from the instrument, and inferential statistics were used to analyze the data from sections two and three of the OWEI questionnaire. Multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) was used to answer all research questions except number 3. Pearson's product moment correlation coefficients were used to test relationships between variables for research question three. Partial correlation coefficients, scatter plots, and homogeneity of variance tests for the four OWEI instrument subscales or factors were calculated prior to deciding whether a MANOVA was appropriate for use in testing the research questions. A significance level of p < .05 was selected a priori for this study.

When significant differences were found, a Fisher's Least Significant Difference (LSD) multiple comparison follow-up procedure was used to determine which mean scores were significantly different from others. For the independent variable of occupation, with only two levels, the F-value data was sufficient to identify mean subscale scores, which were significant. Additionally, stepwise multiple regression analyses were computed for each variable to determine measures of variance.

Results

Differences in Work Ethic Among Participants

The purpose of the study was to provide data on the occupational work ethic of apprentices and instructors in a trade union apprenticeship program and to determine if there were differences and interactions in the level of occupational work ethic based on the independent variables of occupation, job specialization, year participating or teaching in the program, and years of full-time work experience. As indicated in Table 2, multivariate analyses of variance indicated significant differences in levels of work ethic between instructors and apprentices, between differing years participating or teaching in the program, and between early versus later years of the program. No significant differences were found for the variable of job specialization. In addition, to address interaction, multivariate F-value main effects were reported for each of the four OWEI subscale scores for each independent variable. No interaction was reported and none of the regressions was significant (i.e., Regression coefficients and multiple correlations were very low, and Beta weights were small).

Partial correlation coefficients were computed on the OWEI subscale scores for each independent variable prior to performing the MANOVA. A significant interrelationship (p < .05) existed among the four dependent variables.

Differences found in the work ethic of respondents based on occupation indicated that two of four subscales were found to be significantly different while the subscales of interpersonal skill and work commitment were not significant: (a) dependable with F = 20.27, (b) initiative with F = 4.06, (c) interpersonal skill with F = 3.37, and (d) work commitment with F = .086 and PR > F = .769. Instructors scored significantly higher (6.460) than apprentices (6.249) on the subscale of dependable and slightly higher for initiative (5.924). Apprentices had higher (5.997), but not statistically significant, mean scores than instructors (5.914) on the factor of interpersonal skills. Responses given were on a scale from one to seven representing never, almost never, seldom, sometimes, usually, almost always, and always, respectively.

Table 2
MANOVA for Mean Scores of Respondents Classified by Occupation, Job Specialization, Years of Full-Time Work Experience, Early Years and Later Years, and Year in Program

  Hotelling-
Lawley Trace
df F

Occupation .01056 4,4005 10.56*
Job Specialization .00365 7,994 1.82
Years of Full-Time
Work Experience
.02583 16,054 6.48*
Early years
and later years
.02041 4,003 20.43*
Year in program .02406 15,994 6.01*

Note: *p < .05

Although multivariate analysis was not significant for the subscale of job specialization, ANOVA indicated that the subscales of initiative and work commitment were significant (F = 3.42 and F = 1.769, respectively). The post hoc tests indicated that wiremen scored significantly higher on the subscales of initiative and work commitment than construction electricians.

The work ethic of respondents categorized by years of full-time work experience was found to be significantly different for three of four OWEI subscales: (a) dependable with F = 7.644, (b) initiative with F = 7.722, and (c) work commitment with F = 2.56. The subscale of interpersonal skill was not significant. Those with over 21 years of full-time work experience had significantly higher work ethic scores on the subscales of dependable, initiative, and work commitment than other respondent groups (see Table 3). The post hoc tests further revealed that apprentices and instructors with more than 5 years of work experience had higher scores on initiative than those with less than 5 years work experience and that those with from 6 to 10 years of work experience had higher scores on work commitment than those with less than 5 years of work experience.

Table 3
OWEI Subscale Means and Standard Deviations for
Variable of Years of Full-Time Work Experience

Variable n[a] Mean SD

Dependable *
0 - 5 years 2849 6.237 .667
6 - 10 years 697 6.272 .630
11 - 15 years 216 6.328 .651
16 - 21 years 105 6.279 .751
> 21 years 160 6.518 .651
Initiative *
0 - 5 years 2849 5.816 .565
6 - 10 years 698 5.921 .570
11 - 15 years 216 5.922 .540
16 - 21 years 105 5.854 .657
> 21 years 160 5.937 .605
Work commitment *
0 - 5 years 2846 6.060 .690
6 - 10 years 697 6.120 .708
11 - 15 years 216 6.080 .604
16 - 21 years 105 5.990 .819
> 21 years 160 6.186 .664
Interpersonal skill *
0 - 5 years 2848 6.002 .623
6 - 10 years 698 5.984 .656
11 - 15 years 216 5.912 .592
16 - 21 years 105 5.944 .727
> 21 years 160 5.984 .639

Note: [a] Total n = 4022. Total missing values = 6. * Significant p < .05

As shown in Table 4, the subscales of interpersonal skill and work commitment were significant when differences in the work ethic of the respondents were categorized by their year of participation or teaching in the five year apprenticeship training program. Participants in the first year of the program scored higher than respondents in all other years on the subscales of interpersonal skill and work commitment.

Table 4
OWEI Subscale Means and Standard Deviations for Variable
of Year Participatingor Teaching in Apprenticeship Program

Variable n[a] Mean SD

Dependable
Year one 835 6.308 .649
Year two 838 6.244 .683
Year three 756 6.244 .647
Year four 932 6.250 .639
Year five 651 6.250 .676
Initiative
Year one 835 5.897 .567
Year two 838 5.837 .576
Year three 757 5.826 .571
Year four 932 5.831 .556
Year five 651 5.838 .588
[a]Work Commitment*
Year one 834 6.208 .633
Year two 838 6.110 .698
Year three 755 6.024 .695
Year four 932 6.021 .700
Year five 650 5.980 .712
[a]Interpersonal skill*
Year one 834 6.116 .592
Year two 838 6.042 .616
Year three 757 5.974 .635
Year four 932 5.938 .631
Year five 651 5.898 .660


Note: Total n = 4012. Total missing values = 16. [a]Work
commitment F = 14.29, PR > F = .0000. [b] Interpersonal skill
F = 15.86, PR > F = .0000. * p < .05

In further consideration of the variable of year of participation or teaching in the apprenticeship program, respondents participating or teaching in the early years of the program (first two years) reported significantly higher work ethic scores than those in the later years (years three, four, and five) on all but one subscale: (a) initiative with F = 3.89, (b) interpersonal skill with F = 55.17, and (c) work commitment with F = 48.26 (see Table 5) . The subscale of dependable, with F = 1.71 and PR > F = .1914, was not significant.

Relationships in Work Ethic and Work Experience

A goal of the study was to identify relationships between apprenticeship training program participants' work ethic and their years of full-time work experience. Work experience is a continuous variable with a range of from 0 to 57 years of work experience. Table 6 shows weak correlations between respondents' work ethic and years of full-time work experience. For example, Pearson's product-moment correlation coefficient for the subscale of dependable and years of full-time work experience was .03. The coefficient for the subscale of initiative was .10. For interpersonal skills, the correlation was reported as -.08, and for work commitment and years of full-time work experience the correlation was calculated as -.13. Table 6 also indicates strong correlations between OWEI subscale scores.

Table 5
OWEI Subscale Means and Standard Deviations for
Variable of Early Years and Later Years

Variable n[a] Mean SD

Dependable
Early years 1673 6.276 .666
Later years 2339 6.248 .660
Initiative*
Early years 1673 5.867 .572
Later years 2340 5.831 .569
Interpersonal skill*
Early years 1672 6.074 .605
Later years 2340 5.930 .640
Work commitment*
Early years 1672 6.164 .668
Later years 2337 6.011 .702

Note: [a] Total n = 401. Total missing values = 15.
* Significant p < .05


Table 6
Summary of Correlations for Years of Full-Time Work Experience and OWEI Subscale Scores

  [a]WrkExp Dependable Initiative Interpersonal
skills
Work
commitment

WrkExp 1.00 .03 .10 -.08 -.13
Dependable   1.00 .80 .75 .69
Initiative   1.00 .78 .71
Interpersonal skills   1.00 .77
Work commitment   1.00

Note: Range 0-57 years.[a]Years of full-time work experience is a continuous variable.

Discussion

Providing data on the occupational work ethic of apprentices and instructors in an industrial apprenticeship program was the impetus of this study. The large sample size and power of multivariate data analysis provided a substantial data base of information on the work ethic of apprenticeship participants categorized by independent variables important in making planning, development, curriculum, evaluation, and other program and individual decisions. Additionally, it should be noted that with the large sample size, the mean differences of rating points between statistically significant groups was not large enough to assume practical contrast between groups. The following discussion topics serve to organize and synthesize the study's research.

Work Ethic and Apprenticeship Training

Based on results of previous studies using the OWEI, apprentices and instructors in this study reported a relatively high level of occupational work ethic. The overall mean score on a seven-point scale was 5.89 for apprentices and 5.93 for instructors. However, results of analyses of variance indicate that participation in the apprenticeship program is inconsistent with Cherrington's (1980) suggestion that apprenticeship training has a positive impact on the development of work ethic. It should be noted that the differences in mean scores in this study were so small that no practical difference in work ethic subscales between groups can be inferred. Therefore, this result is not evidence that the apprenticeship training program had an adverse affect on development of work ethic.

As noted earlier, apprentices and instructors in this study reported a relatively high level of occupational work ethic when compared with other OWEI studies. This result may indicate that self perceptions of work ethic by apprentices and instructors are generally positive and may, in turn, be reflected in their overall attitudes toward the union, their employer, and work.

Work Ethic and Occupational Roles

The data collected suggested differing profiles of apprenticeship program participants. Generally speaking, apprentices characterized themselves as cooperative, friendly, likable, pleasant, courteous, cheerful, considerate, helpful, well groomed, appreciative, and patient. They perceived their occupational work ethic characteristics similar to those workers categorized in technical, teaching, and scientific occupations reported by Hill (1992). Apprentices perceived their work ethic similar to workers in team environments requiring collaboration. Additionally, they self-rated themselves as dependable, having initiative, being committed to work, and with interpersonal skills. Instructors characterized themselves as dependable, reliable, punctual, careful, effective, perceptive, efficient, ambitious, productive, and resourceful. They identified their work ethic characteristics similar to those workers categorized in managerial and professional occupations as reported by Hill (1992). Instructors also highly self-rated their initiative, work commitment, and interpersonal skills. The small (albeit statistically significant) mean differences in self perceptions between instructors and apprentices may be the result of the intense concentration of the study's apprenticeship training program to develop desired work attributes in apprentices and instructors (A. J. Pearson, Executive Director, IBEW- NJATC, personal communication, August 10, 1993).

The small differences in apprentice and instructor categorizations may also be attributed to socialization from an occupation where one works primarily with tools to an occupation where one works primarily with ideas, concepts, and symbols--what Yankelovich and Immerwahr (1983) identified as low and high discretion jobs, and Reich (1992) categorized as routine production and symbolic-analytic occupations, respectively.

Work Experience, Training, and the Work Ethic

The work of Cherrington (1980) suggested that work ethics can be taught and are influenced by work experiences and socialization processes such as training and apprenticeship. It could be inferred that the work experiences hypothesis was only partially supported in this study by results that indicated that respondents with many years of work experience had a significantly higher work ethic than respondents with little work experience. However, since work experience and work ethic were not significantly correlated and the differences in mean scores were so small, Cherrington's (1980) hypothesis cannot be fully supported.

This study also found that participants in later years of the apprenticeship training program did not have significantly higher levels of work ethic than respondents in the early years of the program as suggested. It is possible that occupational work ethic may be influenced not only by the length of the training or apprenticeship program, but also by what occurs during the training. Many of the related studies of work ethic and socialization were carried out on newly hired participants just entering the workforce or participating in short-term training. The impact of the socialization process on development of occupational work ethic may be adversely influenced in a long-term training or apprenticeship environment similar to the five year program in this study. Although Hill (1992) reported different work ethics based on occupational roles, more research is needed to identify to what extent socialization issues, such as apprenticeships and other formal learning activities, influence the initial and on-going development of the work ethic. More research is also needed to identify the characteristics of training programs that have a positive influence on work ethic. Additionally, more sensitive instrument scales are needed to differentiate between work ethic factors or subscales, especially when using large samples.

Work Ethic and Teamwork

As stated above, apprentices self-reported their work ethic characteristics as cooperative, friendly, likable, pleasant, courteous, cheerful, considerate, helpful, well groomed, appreciative, and patient. Instructors generally characterized themselves as dependable, reliable, punctual, careful, effective, perceptive, efficient, ambitious, productive, and resourceful. Research into group work and concepts of teamwork suggested that humanistic values such as cooperation, friendliness, and consideration are humanistic skills currently required in the workplace (Parker, 1990; Varney, 1990). Assuming differences in mean scores can be operationalized, apprentices displaying work ethic dimensions of cooperation and consideration may be better equipped for a workplace requiring teamwork and humanistic skills, while instructors may be less equipped for the increased people skills required in a rapidly changing workplace, and as the role of instructor changes from "transmitter of content" to facilitator or coach (Knowles, 1990, p. 179). Again, the differences in mean scores were so small that no practical difference in work ethic subscales between groups can be inferred. Therefore, this result is not adequate evidence that a practical differentiation in work ethic subscales exists between apprentices and instructors.

Work Ethic, Work Experience, and Maturity

Overall differences suggested that the work ethic dimension of being dependable revealed the largest difference in mean scores between instructors and apprentices. Instructors characterized themselves as more dependable, reliable, punctual, and careful than did apprentices. These results suggested that maturity may be related to instructors' work ethics. Their work ethic characteristic traits were more attributable to mature adults.

The correlation between participants' work ethic and their reported years of full-time work experience was not significant. A relationship was found between previous work experience and the work ethic of participants based on their participation in the apprenticeship program. Instructors had much more work experience than apprentices, thus more on the job learning, socialization, and opportunities to develop positive work ethics. On the other hand, apprentices self-rated themselves as cooperative, friendly, likable, pleasant, courteous, cheerful, considerate, helpful, well groomed, appreciative, and patient. Again, experience and maturity may be related to the self-reported work ethic scores of instructors. For the most part this study supported Levinson's (1978) notion that as individuals mature, they become less adaptable to change and more likely to seek a mentor role.

Workers with more work experience are usually older than workers with less work experience and may have reported a more realistic view of work ethic. Rodgers and Herzog (1987) reported that older respondents tended to rate themselves more accurately than younger respondents. This study supported previous research by Cherrington (1980) and Hill (1992) by suggesting that age was an important variable when studying diverse populations. It may be that younger workers have less mature attitudes about their perceived work values and work ethics and thus tend to rate themselves higher on attitude scales. As workers grow older, more mature, and gain more work experience, or move from trainee status to worker or instructor status, their work ethics may change.

Work Ethic and Job Specialization

This study detected no significant differences in the work ethic of apprentices and instructors when categorized by job specialization. This may be an indication that apprentices and instructors did not perceive a distinct difference in the terms wireman, construction electrician, and residential electrician. More detailed definitions for the different job specializations used in the electrical trade are needed. A detailed job and task analysis would assist in the development of job descriptions and job specializations. These results support research that suggested the lack of agreement about perceptions of work ethic based on occupational roles may be due to differing standards and definitions (Crosby & Petrosko, 1988; Petty & Campbell, 1988).

Implications for Educators and Researchers

In many ways, the success or failure of individuals and organizations depends on employees' work ethics and attitudes toward work. An increased awareness of the occupational work ethic may have an effect on the quality of instruction and learning.

The use of occupational work ethic surveys could assist teachers, instructors, and trainers in consistently measuring the development and change in work ethic of their students or apprentices over time. Longitudinal studies with various student and incumbent worker demographic variables may identify specific work ethic characteristics that also change over time. Work ethic measurement could help vocational and industrial instructors and trainers periodically examine and modify their own work ethic. Such a review and any subsequent modification may improve teaching strategies and provide positive role models for students and apprentices. Consistent use of information obtained by instruments such as the OWEI may help vocational educators identify work ethics of particular occupations and emphasize the importance and impact of work ethic.

This study focused on a relatively homogeneous group of apprentices and instructors in a single trade union. Other more diverse populations and reference groups should be studied in order to establish profiles of organizational and career work ethic.

The impact that socialization has on the development of students' occupational work ethic in a formal training environment such as an apprenticeship training program is a crucial determinant in whether or not they will be successful on the job. Instructors and educators' socialization techniques and socialization techniques designed into training and instruction have a powerful influence on learners' work ethics. Because the apprenticeship training program in the present study did not indicate substantial differences in work ethic among participants, more research into the characteristics of apprenticeship training programs that impact development of certain work ethic attributes are needed. Additionally, there is a need to research relationships between the results of self-rating surveys of work ethic and actual on-the-job behaviors.

The outcomes of this study brought to light the importance of developing a baseline for the measurement of work ethics. It is hoped that this study will serve as an impetus for the continuing development of work ethic inventories and affective work competencies currently lacking in the analysis phase of most industrial training programs and in the design of vocational education curriculum. Finally, because work experience may play a critical role in the development of work ethic and attitudes toward work, future work ethic research should be sensitive to the impact of work experiences on trainees, learners on the job, newcomers, and instructors.

Author

Hatcher is Assistant Professor, Department of Vocational and Adult Education, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Acknowledgements

The author wishes to acknowledge the support of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the National Electrical Contractors Association (IBEW-NECA), and Mr. A.J. Pearson, Executive Director of the IBEW-NECA National Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee for making this research possible.

References

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