JITE v32n3 - Vocational-Technical Education and the Occupational Work Ethic

Volume 32, Number 3
Spring 1995

Vocational-Technical Education and the Occupational Work Ethic

Gregory C. Petty
University of Tennessee--Knoxville

Educators in the trades and crafts strive to teach the skills and knowledge of the world of work. However, information regarding work habits, values, and attitudes should also be a component of curriculum development ( Hall, 1990 ; Miller, 1980 ). Assuming that all workers should have or do have the same work ethic is as naive as saying all occupations should be taught in the same manner. Without knowledge about clear patterns of affective worker characteristics, vocational-technical teachers cannot be sure that the affective domain is being addressed effectively by material and methods currently used in the classroom and laboratory ( Crosby & Petrosko, 1988 ).

Educators who suggest that they know the work ethic of their occupation or that of different groups/cultures may be mistaken. For example, Petty and Campbell ( 1988 ) reveal that practitioners often have significantly different work attitudes than do teachers of a particular trade. Vocational-technical educators must better understand components of the affective domain if they are to teach their subjects effectively. Teacher educators have a responsibility to recognize potential differences in the occupational work ethic in different types of occupations so they can assist teachers in their occupational instruction.

This study investigated different occupations so that an analysis could provide vocational-technical educators and teacher educators with information about the affective domain. The purpose of this study was to compare the work ethic of workers from private industry across standard occupational classifications.



The instrument used in this study was the Occupational Work Ethic Inventory (OWEI) , developed as part of a research project at the University of Tennessee--Knoxville ( Petty, 1991 ). Items for the instrument were selected from a list extracted from a review of literature regarding work attitudes, work values, and work habits. These items were reviewed by a panel of experts as suggested by Buros ( 1978 ). The panel focused on descriptors for the occupational work ethic and reviewed the appropriateness for each item. Descriptors selected for the final instrument were listed alphabetically and a random number table was consulted to sort the items in a random order.

To establish factorial validity, exploratory factor analysis procedures were used to identify the desired explanatory concepts. Factor analysis is a technique for achieving parsimony by identifying the smallest number of descriptive terms to explain the maximum amount of common variance in a correlation matrix. These procedures yielded a more objective, statistically based assessment of the items. A principal-components analysis was used to extract the initial factors. Kaiser's criterion was then applied prior to factor rotation, thus retaining only those factors with an eigenvalue of 1.0 or greater. This procedure was used to eliminate error variance that would be included along with common variance and specific variance ( Tinsley & Tinsley, 1987 ). Orthogonal rotation using a Varimax procedure ( SAS, 1987 ) was employed in this study to maximize parsimony in the final solution. Extracted factors were examined using a content analysis to find the most concise list of items representative of the data collected.

Factor analysis was used to identify a concise list of constructs representative of work ethic as measured by the OWEI . Using squared multiple correlations as the initial communality estimates, principal-components analysis of the data yielded four factors which met the Kaiser's criterion to be retained. To further refine and focus the results, however, orthogonal rotation using a Varimax procedure was used to compute solutions with from 4 to 9 factors. These factor matrices were then examined to determine which was most appropriate to provide a meaningful and concise list of constructs representative of the issues and problems included in the study. From this examination a four-factor solution was suggested by the analysis of data.

The factors identified were working well with others , striving for advancement/success , being dependable , and acceptance of duty . Collectively, these factors explained 37 of the 50 items contained on the OWEI and accounted for 18.36% of the total variance ( see Table 1 ). While the ability of a short list of factors was limited in its capacity to embody the meaning of the 50 items on the OWEI, the factors provided a practical focus for efforts to assess or influence key work ethic characteristics.

Table 2 provides eigenvalues and the actual items which loaded on each factor. Only those items with a factor loading of .30 or greater were retained for each of the factors identified. The .30 level is a generally accepted minimum factor loading because it indicates that approximately 10% of the variance for a correspondent variable has been explained by a factor ( Tinsley & Tinsley, 1987 ).

Factor 1: Working well with others . This factor was comprised of items related to interpersonal relationships with other people. The items that loaded here were related to personal characteristics which would facilitate good working relationships and would contribute to job performance in a setting where cooperation was important. One item, stubborn, had a negative loading, which met the criteria to be retained.

Factor 2: Striving for advancement/success . The items which loaded on this factor were descriptive of characteristics that would facilitate advancement and not being satisfied with status quo performance. Some of the descriptors which loaded on this factor also encompassed the concept of persevering in a job situation that might not be going smoothly.

Table 1
Occupational Work Ethic Inventory Factor Loadings

Variable Loadings for Factor 1:
Working well with others
Variable Loadings Factor 2:
Striving for advancement/success
Loading Item Loading Item

.72 friendly .55 resourceful
.69 courteous .54 productive
.66 pleasant .54 initiating
.66 considerate .51 enthusiastic
.62 likable .50 perceptive
.59 cooperative .49 dedicated
.53 helpful .49 persistent
.44 appreciative .49 efficient
.43 patient .49 ambitious
.39 emotionally stable .49 devoted
.38 well groomed .42 persevering
-.36 stubborn .37 independent
.32 orderly

Variable Loadings for Factor 3:
Being dependable
Variable Loadings for Factor 4:
Acceptance of duty

Loading Item Loading Item
.60 following directions .66 hostile*
.51 dependable .52 careless*
.37 punctual .50 irresponsible*
.37 honest .49 devious*
.46 selfish*
.40 negligent*
.38 depressed*
.36 tardy*

Note: 18.36% total variance accounted for.
*These items are reversed.
Table 2
Variance Explained by Each Factor

Factor 1 Factor 2 Factor 3 Factor 4 Totals

Variance 6.21% 5.18% 3.48% 3.48% 18.36%

Factor 3: Being dependable . This factor was made up of items which had to do with fulfilling the expectations and the implicit agreement to perform certain functions at work. The combined meaning involved meeting at least the minimum expectations for satisfactory job performance, but did not necessarily include going beyond the call of duty.

Factor 4: Acceptance of duty . All of the items that loaded on this factor were stated in the negative on the OWEI . Although other reversed items loaded on other factors, careful analysis of constructs represented by these items showed that they related to the acceptance of job duties and responsibilities. A worker who was characterized by these descriptors would either be derelict of duty or would exhibit only conditional acceptance of the requirements of the job.

A stem of At work I can describe myself as: was used to direct the readers to their responses. A Likert-type rating scale of 1 to 7 was developed for purposes of scaling the instrument. Respondents were asked to describe their standards for each item with the following ratings: 1 = Never , 2 = Almost Never , 3 = Seldom , 4 = Sometimes , 5 = Usually , 6 = Almost Always , and 7 = Always . This scaling is similar to that recommended by Nunnally ( 1978 ).

Preliminary inventories were distributed to 152 subjects for a pilot study. The instrument achieved a measured Coefficient Alpha of .95 on the pilot group, which indicated that the instrument was highly consistent internally. As a result of this analysis the items were left intact.

The independent variables for this study were Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) aggregate group classifications, as defined by the U.S. Office of Federal Statistical Policy and Standards ( 1980 ). The SOC aggregate group had six levels: (1) administrative, engineering, scientific, teaching, and related occupations, including creative artists; (2) technical, clerical, sales, and related occupations; (3) service occupations, including military occupations; (4) farming, forestry, fishing, and hunting occupations; (5) precision production, craft, and repair; and (6) operators, fabricators, and laborers.

Table 3
Partial Correlation Coefficients for the Four Factorial OWEI Subscales

Source Working well
with others
Striving for
of duty

Working well
with others
1.00 .60 .54 .46
Striving for
1.00 .53 .38
Being dependable 1.00 .39
Acceptance of duty 1.00


Dependent Variables

The dependent variables for this study consisted of the four dimensions of occupational work ethic represented by the subscales of the OWEI as determined by the factor analysis: working well with others , striving for advancement/success , being dependable , and acceptance of duty

This study was conducted in the state of Tennessee. A list of businesses and industries was obtained from the Chambers of Commerce of several regional communities. A master list of all of these industries was developed from the individual lists. A Table of Random Numbers was used to select more than 200 industries randomly for block design as possible participants in the study. A representative from each selected industry was contacted to obtain his or her participation and a count of the number of employees available as subjects for the study.

Inventories were delivered to each contact person for distribution. A personal follow up by telephone or site visit was made within two weeks and a letter was sent at four weeks. At six weeks the final contact was made and the data collection procedure was terminated. Approximately 3600 inventories were distributed to these industries, and 2,279 responses were returned. Only 2,260 inventories were used in the analysis due to missing values. This yielded a 62.77% response rate. The data were collected over a period of several weeks because of the large size of the sample.

Data Analysis

Partial correlation coefficients for the four OWEI subscales were calculated to assure that the dependent variables were significantly correlated and that a multivariate analysis of variance was appropriate for use in testing the null hypotheses. Partial correlation coefficients and the results of all other statistical procedures were accepted as being significant at the p < .05 level. These correlations are shown in Table 3.

To test the null hypotheses, a multivariate analysis of variance was used to determine whether significant differences in self rated levels could be shown on the dependent variables using scores based on OWEI subscale responses. If the multivariate procedure indicated significant differences in the independent variable on the set of dependent variables, a univariate analysis of variance procedure was used to determine significant differences for the levels of the independent variable. When significant differences were found, results of the F test were sufficient to identify mean subscale scores that were significantly higher for the independent variable. A Fisher's Protected LSD Procedure was used to perform the pairwise comparisons and to determine which mean subscale scores were significantly different from others. Fisher's Protected LSD Procedure consists of running a Fisher's LSD test only after the F test for the treatments, or level of independent variable, has been shown to be significant ( Ott, 1988 ). Research studies by Cramer and Swanson ( 1973 ) showed that the experimentwise error rate for the protected LSD procedure is controlled at a level approximately equal to the alpha for the F test. All statistical calculations were performed using SAS statistical software for personal computers, version 6.04 ( SAS, 1987 ).

Eight hundred thirty-two (36.7%) of the respondents were employed in occupations classified as technical, clerical, or sales--more than in any other field. Relatively large percentages (33.7% or 764 respondents) were also found in the administrative, engineering, scientific, teaching, and creative artists category. Three hundred fifty one (15.5%) were in occupations classified as operator, fabricator, laborer category; 135 (7.3%) were in service occupations, including military occupations; precision production, craft, or repair accounted for 130 (5.7%) of the research participants; and farming, forestry, fishing, or hunting were the occupations of 22 (1.0%) of the research participants.

Table 4
Univariate Analysis of Variance for the Four OWEI Factors for the SOC Aggregate Grouping

Source df SS MS MS F ((r)(r)) Mean

Working well
with others
5 8.4296 1.6859 .4114 4.10* 0.009 5.77
Striving for
5 40.4050 8.0810 .4571 17.68* 0.038 5.60
5 14.9245 2.9849 .4150 7.19* 0.016 6.22
of duty
5 80.9660 16.1932 .6781 23.88* 0.050 5.66

Note: * p < .05

A Hotelling-Lawley Trace statistical procedure was used to answer the research question--Is there a significant difference in the work ethic, as measured by the OWEI , among aggregate groupings of the Standard Occupational Classifications?--before proceeding with the univariate analysis of variance. If the multivariate analysis had failed to show a significant difference, univariate comparisons would not have been performed.

The multivariate F -value for group comparison on occupational classification using the Hotelling-Lawley Trace for 20 and 8,998 degrees of freedom was 16.1227. This value was significant at the .05 level, so a univariate comparison was performed to examine group responses for each OWEI subscale.

Classified by SOC

Using a univariate analysis of variance to test for significant differences in responses for each OWEI subscale, it was determined that the SOC aggregate groups differed for each of the following dimensions of the work ethic shown in Table 4.

Since all of the OWEI subscales were significant at the .05 level, an LSD test was performed ( Table 5 ) on each subscale variable which controlled for the type I comparisonwise error rate. The respondents from occupational group 1 (administrative, engineering, scientific, teaching, and related occupations, including creative artists) scored significantly lower than occupational group 2 on working well with others , higher than all other groups on striving for advancement/success , higher than groups 5 and 6 on being dependable , and higher than groups 3, 4, 5 and 6 on acceptance of duty . Group 2 (technical, clerical, sales, and related occupations) scored higher than groups 3, 5, and 6 for working well with others , striving for advancement/success , being dependable and acceptance of duty , and higher than group 4 on acceptance of duty . Group 3 (service occupations, including military occupations) scored higher than group 4 for acceptance of duty . Group 4 (farming, forestry, fishing, and hunting occupations scored lower than groups 5 and 6 on acceptance of duty , and group 5 (precision production, craft, and repair) scored higher than group 6 (operators, fabricators, and laborers) on acceptance of duty .

Table 5
Fisher's LSD Test of Significant Difference Between Means(*1) of Occupational Classifications by OWEI Factor(*2)

Working well with others 1 2 3 4 5 6

1 -- -0.092* 0.034 0.037 0.057 0.172
2 -- 0.127* 0.264 0.129* 0.149*
3 -- 0.138 0.002 0.022
4 -- -0.135 -0.115
5 -- 0.020
6 --

Striving for advancement/success 1 2 3 4 5 6

1 -- 0.107* 0.335* 0.287* 0.309* 0.341*
2 -- 0.228* 0.180 0.202* 0.234*
3 -- -0.048 -0.026 0.005
4 -- 0.022 0.054
5 -- 0.032
6 --

Being dependable 1 2 3 4 5 6

1 -- -0.049 0.097 -0.039 0.193* 0.149
2 -- 0.145* 0.009 0.142* 0.197*
3 -- -0.136 0.097 0.052
4 -- 0.232 0.188
5 -- -0.045
6 --

Acceptance of duty 1 2 3 4 5 6

1 -- 0.008 0.308* 0.903* 0.246* 0.450*
2 -- 0.300* 0.895* 0.239* 0.442*
3 -- 0.600* -0.061 0.143
4 -- -0.657* -0.453*
5 -- 0.204*
6 --

Note: *p < .05.
(*1)Controlling the Type I comparisonwise error rate at the .05 significance level.
(*2)SOC Aggregate Groups: (1) administrative, engineering, scientific, teaching, creative artists; (2) technical, clerical, sales; (3) service occupations, including military occupations; (4) farming, forestry, fishing, hunting; (5) precision production, craft, repair; (6) operators, fabricators, laborers.

An examination of the job titles for the occupational areas reveal some interesting patterns applicable for vocational-technical teacher educators. These patterns indicate that occupational areas related to generally known teaching areas in industrial-technical teacher education are as follows:

  • Group 1. (administrative, engineering, scientific, teaching, and related occupations, including creative artists) could be considered professionals ;
  • Group 2. (technical, clerical, sales, and related occupations) could be considered clerical ;
  • Group 3. (service occupations, including military occupations) could be considered service occupations ;
  • Group 4. (farming, forestry, fishing, hunting) could be considered agriculture occupations ;
  • Group 5. (precision production, craft and repair) could be considered crafts occupations ; and
  • Group 6. (operators, fabricators, and laborers) could be considered unskilled or general labor occupations .

Professionals. These findings indicate that persons working in the professional fields rated themselves lower on the factor working well with others than those in clerical, and they rated themselves higher on the factor striving for advancement/success than all the other groups of workers. The factor of being dependable was rated higher by professionals than by workers from crafts and general laborers. Professionals rated acceptance of duty more highly than all other worker groups except the clerical group.

Clerical occupations. Clerical workers rated themselves higher than service occupations, crafts, and general laborers on the factors of working well with others , striving for advancement/success , being dependable , and acceptance of duty . They also rated themselves higher on the factor acceptance of duty than did the agriculture workers.

Service occupations. Service workers' self reported ratings were higher than agriculture workers on acceptance of duty .

Agriculture occupations. Agriculture workers rated themselves lower than both crafts workers and general laborers on the factor acceptance of duty .

Crafts occupations. Crafts workers' self ratings were higher on acceptance of duty than those of general laborers.

General labor occupations. General laborers rated themselves lower than clerical workers on the work ethic factor of working well with others ; lower than professional and clerical workers on the factors of striving for advancement/success , being dependable , and acceptance of duty ; higher than agriculture workers, and lower than crafts workers on acceptance of duty .


This study demonstrates that the self rated perception of work ethic does differ by occupations. For vocational-technical educators, recognizing that these differences exist can provide critical information for the design and implementation of training for new employees in industry. Just as a job analysis of one occupation yields different required skills and knowledge than a job analysis of another occupation, the work ethic of one occupation can be expected to be different from that of another.

Industrial technical teacher educators must be continually vigilant and concerned about their students' (current and future teachers and trainers) understanding of knowledge and skills, as well as the necessary occupational attitudes or the affective domain of behavior. At the very least educators should collect data supporting the value of a vocational and skills technical training for developing the work ethic of the work force of tomorrow.

Classroom and laboratory teachers of occupational subjects should also be aware of all occupational differences, particularly those in the affective domain. While this study has revealed that differences exist, there is little evidence to substantiate a firm course of action based on the knowledge of these differences. More research is necessary before we understand what teachers should do regarding the work ethic.

Vocational-technical teachers and teacher educators need to defend the value of vocational and technical education, and the significant factors that can be measured in the affective domain must not be overlooked. If significant differences exist across the occupations of those employed in private industry, then there are likely to also be significant differences in the teaching of these different occupations. While there are universal standards of work ethic (i. e., punctuality, politeness, cheerfulness, enthusiasm), these traits are not inherent in all individuals; in some cases they must be learned.

Teachers should explain to their students that if their behavior or trait of the affective domain is not suitable for a particular occupational area, then perhaps they should choose another occupation. Vocational-technical educators teaching in the world of work should also change their curriculum to adapt more closely to the behavior expected of workers in these occupational classifications. While these recommendations are general rather than specific, they are clearly justified by the findings of this study.

This study indicates that more research on work ethics is warranted. Empirical evidence regarding affective traits of learning should be integrated into the secondary and post-secondary curriculum of our schools, institutes, and colleges. Special efforts should be made to provide data that can be used to guide the practice of teacher educators, vocational and technical educators, and curriculum development specialists of the future. For the preparation of technical practitioners, vocational-technical educators need information from the affective as well as cognitive and psychomotor domains regarding world of work success.


Petty is Associate Professor and Acting Head, Department of Human Resource Development, The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tennessee.


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Reference Citation: Petty, G. C. (1995). Vocational-technical education and the occupational work ethic. Journal of Industrial Teacher Education, 32 (3), 45-58.