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Varieties of Skills Profiles in Latin America: A Reassessment of the Hierarchical Model of Capitalism

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  29 May 2020

Juan A. Bogliaccini
Department of Social and Political Sciences, Universidad Católica del Uruguay, Montevideo, Uruguay
Aldo Madariaga*
Centro de Economía y Políticas Sociales (Centre for Economics and Social Policy, CEAS), Universidad Mayor, Chile.
*Corresponding author. Email:


Research on the politics of skills formation in Latin America is severely underdeveloped. This article offers a novel characterisation of the supply of skills in the region or ‘skills supply profiles’, taking inspiration from the comparative capitalisms literature. We identify four configurations of skills supply profiles – universalising, dual academic-oriented, dual VET-oriented and exclusionary and analyse their historical dynamics. By doing this, we challenge general assessments of Latin America's skills formation systems as pertaining to one overarching type. This sets the stage for a deeper understanding of the politics of skills in the region and their connection with different development alternatives.

Spanish abstract

Spanish abstract

Las investigaciones sobre las políticas de formación de habilidades en Latinoamérica se encuentran muy poco desarrolladas. Este artículo ofrece una caracterización novedosa de la oferta de habilidades en la región o ‘perfiles de oferta de habilidades’, inspirándose en la literatura comparativa sobre los capitalismos. Identificamos cuatro configuraciones de perfiles de oferta de habilidades – universalizadores, dual orientado a lo académico, dual orientado a la educación vocacional y capacitación (VET por sus siglas en inglés) y excluyente – y analizamos sus dinámicas históricas. Así, desafiamos las evaluaciones generales de los sistemas de formación de habilidades en América Latina como pertenecientes a un solo tipo. Esto prepara el terreno para un entendimiento más profundo de las políticas de habilidades en la región y su conexión con alternativas diferentes de desarrollo.

Portuguese abstract

Portuguese abstract

Pesquisas sobre as políticas de formação profissional são pouco desenvolvidas na América Latina. Inspirado pela literatura sobre capitalismos comparados, este artigo oferece uma caracterização inovadora da oferta de competências na região, ou um ‘perfil de ofertas de competência’. Identificamos quatro configurações dos perfis de oferta de competência – universalizante, acadêmico dual, vocacional dual, e excludente – e analisamos suas dinâmicas históricas. Ao fazê-lo, desafiamos a visão comum de que o sistema de formação de competências na América Latina pertence a um tipo comum e dominante. Essa abordagem permite um entendimento das políticas de competência na região e suas conexões com diferentes alternativas de desenvolvimento.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2020

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10 Schneider and Karcher, ‘Complementarities and Continuities’, p. 632.

11 For example, Ilan Bizberg claims that ‘We are not able to include other relevant elements such as the educational and qualification system […] for lack of space.’ Bizberg, Ilan, ‘Types of Capitalism in Latin America’, Revue Interventions économiques, 49 (May 2014), fn. 2Google Scholar. See also Juan A. Bogliaccini, ‘Small Latecomers into the Global Market Power Conflict and Institutional Change in Chile and Uruguay’, PhD diss., University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, 2012.

12 Filgueira, Fernando, Welfare and Democracy in Latin America: The Development, Crises, and Aftermath of Universal, Dual, and Exclusionary Social States (Geneva: UNRISD, 2005)Google Scholar; Haggard, Stephan and Kaufman, Robert, Development, Democracy and Welfare States (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008)Google Scholar; Huber, Evelyne and Stephens, John, Democracy and the Left: Social Policy and Inequality in Latin America (Chicago, IL: Chicago University Press, 2012)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Martínez-Franzoni, Juliana, ‘Welfare Regimes in Latin America: Capturing Constellations of Markets, Families, and Policies’, Latin American Politics and Society, 50: 2 (2008), pp. 67100CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Pribble, Jennifer, Welfare and Party Politics in Latin America (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Segura-Ubiergo, Alex, The Political Economy of the Welfare State in Latin America: Globalization, Democracy, and Development (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

13 Huber and Stephens, ‘Democracy and the Left’; Pribble, Welfare and Party Politics; Segura-Ubiergo, The Political Economy of the Welfare State; Haggard and Kaufman, Development, Democracy and Welfare States.

14 But see Martínez-Franzoni, Juliana and Sánchez-Ancochea, Diego, ‘Can Latin American Production Regimes Complement Universalistic Welfare Regimes? Implications from the Costa Rican Case’, Latin American Research Review, 48: 2 (2013), pp. 148–73CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

15 Busemeyer, Skills and Inequality; Iversen, Torben and Stephens, John D., ‘Partisan Politics, the Welfare State, and Three Worlds of Human Capital Formation’, Comparative Political Studies, 41: 4–5 (2008), pp. 600–37CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

16 Hanushek and Woessmann, The Knowledge Capital of Nations.

17 See Segura-Ubiergo, The Political Economy of the Welfare State. Although skills formation usually also covers lifelong learning and in-firm training, data for the region is very scattered, which makes it difficult to systematically study them. Moreover, existing research shows that in-firm training in the region is very scarce outside large internationalised firms. See Juan Eberhard, Gabriel Moraga, Eleonora Nun and Aldo Madariaga, ‘The On-the-Job Training Decision in Latin America’, IDB Working Paper Series, no. IDB-WP-772 (Washington DC: Inter-American Development Bank, 2017); Schneider, Hierarchical Capitalism.

18 See, for example, Amable, Bruno, The Diversity of Modern Capitalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Schneider, Martin R. and Paunescu, Mihai, ‘Changing Varieties of Capitalism and Revealed Comparative Advantages from 1990 to 2005: A Test of the Hall and Soskice Claims’, Socio-Economic Review, 10: 4 (2012), pp. 731–53CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Esping-Andersen, Gøsta, The Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990)Google Scholar; Martínez-Franzoni, ‘Welfare Regimes in Latin America’; John S. Ahlquist and Christian Breunig, ‘Country Clustering in Comparative Political Economy’, MPIfG Discussion Paper, no. 09/5 (Cologne: MPIfG, 2009).

19 The concept of ‘skills’ is a contested one across disciplinary boundaries and has acquired different meanings over time and space. For a discussion, see Jonathan Payne, ‘The Changing Meaning of Skill: Still Contested, Still Important’, in Chris Warhust et al. (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Skills and Training, pp. 54–71.

20 In this article, we focus on the formal dimensions of skills acquisition. However, this should not obscure the fact that much of this acquisition occurs through prolonged experience and routinised problem-solving on the job. See Lall, Sanjaya, ‘Skills, Competitiveness and Policy in Developing Countries’, Greek Economic Review, 19: 2 (1999), pp. 81104Google Scholar.

21 Hanushek and Woessmann, The Knowledge Capital of Nations; Goldin, Claudia and Katz, Lawrence F., The Race between Education and Technology (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2008)Google Scholar; Lall, ‘Skills, Competitiveness and Policy’.

22 Busemeyer, Skills and Inequality; Iversen and Stephens, ‘Partisan Politics, the Welfare State’.

23 Payne, ‘The Changing Meaning of Skill’, pp. 56–7.

24 Lall, ‘Skills, Competitiveness and Policy’; Lall, Sanjaya, ‘The Technological Structure and Performance of Developing Country Manufactured Exports, 1985–98’, Oxford Development Studies, 28: 3 (2000), pp. 337–69CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

25 See, for example, Paus, Eva A., ‘Productivity Growth in Latin America: The Limits of Neoliberal Reforms’, World Development, 32: 3 (2004), pp. 427–45CrossRefGoogle Scholar; ECLAC, Structural Change for Equality: An Integrated Approach to Development (Santiago: ECLAC, 2012)Google Scholar.

26 Paus, ‘Productivity Growth in Latin America’.

27 Palma, José G., ‘Industrialization, “Premature” Deindustrialization and the Dutch Disease’, Revista NECAT, 3: 5 (2014), pp. 723Google Scholar.

28 The sectors are grouped by ECLAC according to their average labour productivity. Medium productivity includes construction, manufacturing and transportation.

29 ECLAC, Structural Change, pp. 209–10.

30 Ibid., p. 211.

31 Ibid., p. 198.

32 Schneider, Hierarchical Capitalism, pp. 91–2; Schneider and Karcher, ‘Complementarities and Continuities’.

33 Haggard and Kaufman, Development, Democracy and Welfare States; Filgueira, Welfare and Democracy in Latin America.

34 See ibid.; Barrientos, Armando, ‘Labour markets and the (Hyphenated) Welfare Regime in Latin America’, Economy and Society, 38: 1 (2009), pp. 87108CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

35 ECLAC/ILO, The Employment Situation in Latin America and the Caribbean: Challenges and Innovations in Labour Training (Santiago: ECLAC/ ILO, 2013)Google Scholar.

36 See Wolff, Lawrence and de Moura Castro, Claudio, ‘Education and Training: The Task Ahead’, in Kuczynski, Pedro Pablo and Williamson, John (eds.), After the Washington Consensus: Restarting Growth and Reform in Latin America (Washington, DC: Institute for International Economics, 2003), pp. 181211Google Scholar.

37 For a discussion, see Haggard and Kaufman, Development, Democracy and Welfare States.

38 Ibid.; Hanushek and Woessmann, The Knowledge Capital of Nations.

39 Haggard and Kaufman, Development, Democracy and Welfare States, pp. 35–8.

40 Hanushek and Woessmann, The Knowledge Capital of Nations.

41 Segura-Ubiergo, The Political Economy of the Welfare State; Wolff and Moura Castro, ‘Education and Training’.

42 Pagés et al., Job Creation in Latin America; Schneider, Hierarchical Capitalism.

43 Data from UNESCO's UIS database.

44 Hanushek and Woessmann, The Knowledge Capital of Nations, p. 117.

45 See Busso et al., Disconnected. For an analysis of Chile, the region's best performer according to international standards, see Mizala, Alejandra and Torche, Florencia, ‘Bringing the Schools Back In: the Stratification of Educational Achievement in the Chilean Voucher System’, International Journal of Educational Development, 32: 1 (2012), pp. 132–44CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

46 Filgueira, Welfare and Democracy in Latin America, p. 14.

47 Hanushek and Woessmann, The Knowledge Capital of Nations, p. 119

48 Schneider and Karcher, ‘Complementarities and Continuities’, p. 633.

49 Bogliaccini, Juan A. and Filgueira, Fernando, ‘Capitalismo en el Cono Sur de América Latina luego del final del Consenso de Washington: ¿notas sin partitura?’, Revista del CLAD Reforma y Democracia, 51 (Oct. 2011), pp. 4582Google Scholar; Schrank, Andrew, ‘Understanding Latin American Political Economy: Varieties of Capitalism or Fiscal Sociology?’, Economy and Society, 38: 1 (2009), pp. 5361CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

50 See, for example, Busemeyer, Skills and Inequality; Iversen and Stephens, ‘Partisan Politics, the Welfare State’; Busemeyer, Marius, ‘Asset Specificity, Institutional Complementarities and the Variety of Skill Regimes in Coordinated Market Economies’, Socio-Economic Review, 7: 3 (2009), pp. 375406CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

51 See, especially, Schrank, ‘Understanding Latin American Political Economy’.

52 See Levitsky, Steven and Murillo, María Victoria, ‘Building Institutions on Weak Foundations’, Journal of Democracy, 24: 2 (2013), pp. 93107CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Variation in Institutional Strength’, Annual Review of Political Science, 12: 1 (2009), pp. 115–33CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Kurtz, Marcus J., Latin American State Building in Comparative Perspective: Social Foundations of Institutional Order (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013)Google Scholar; Soifer, Hillel D., State Building in Latin America (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

53 This is, of course, an approximate measure and it should be complemented with data on dropout.

54 Filgueira, Welfare and Democracy in Latin America, pp. 11–12.

55 Ibid., p. 12.

56 See Iversen and Stephens, ‘Partisan Politics, the Welfare State’.

57 These two variables come from ECLAC's CEPALSTAT database.

58 LLECE's regional studies evaluate third- and sixth-grade students’ competencies in mathematics, reading, writing and natural sciences in a comparative perspective, taking national curricula to set common learning standards in the region. The third edition (2013) involved 15 countries and one sub-national unit. See UNESCO, Comparación de resultados del segundo y tercer estudio regional comparativo y explicativo: SERCE Y TERCE 2006–2013 (Santiago de Chile: UNESCO, 2014)Google Scholar. The scores are taken from the average provided by Hanushek and Woessmann, The Knowledge Capital of Nations. We have discarded the use of ‘quality’ data coming from the PISA programme because it is available for only eight countries in the region. Due to the nature of the cluster analysis and its results based on agglomeration of similar cases, this drop in the number of cases affects the results of the classification exercise. Nevertheless, a comparison between the two measures (LLECE and PISA) shows very similar results. Taking mathematics and reading averages for their latest edition, the ranking of countries is almost equal, except for Colombia and Peru (two countries that we categorise as belonging to the same cluster) swapping the sixth and seventh place.

59 Data on upper-secondary VET comes from Sevilla, ‘Panorama de la educación técnica’; data on post-secondary VET comes from UNESCO's UIS database.

60 We use the ‘agglomerative hierarchical clustering’ method as we conceive groups to be potentially nested, therefore opening the possibility for the existence of sub-clusters. We use a prototype-based approach in which clusters are represented by centroids, using Ward's agglomeration methods in order to minimise the sum of the squared distances of points from their cluster centroids. We have also defined a matrix of Euclidean distances.

61 See Grimm, Laurence G. and Yarnold, Paul R., Reading and Understanding More Multivariate Statistics (Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2000)Google Scholar; Cramer, Duncan, Advanced Quantitative Data Analysis (Maidenhead: McGraw-Hill, 2003)Google Scholar.

62 See Amable, The Diversity of Modern Capitalism; Schneider and Paunescu, ‘Changing Varieties of Capitalism’. For a discussion of the technique in comparative political economy, see Ahlquist and Breunig, ‘Country Clustering’.

63 See online Appendix, available at under the ‘Supplementary materials’ tab.

64 Ahlquist and Breunig, ‘Country Clustering’, p. 11.

65 For a similar exercise, see Schneider and Paunescu, ‘Changing Varieties of Capitalism’.

66 We have included Bolivia, Guatemala and Peru in the table. These countries did not enter the cluster analysis for lack of data in the Sevilla indicators for upper-secondary VET, but they can be clearly assigned to one of the clusters, given the data they have for the rest of variables. For other Latin American countries, data is missing in at least two of the variables and, therefore, we decided to leave them out of the analysis.

67 Given a scenario of incomplete incorporation into education, our quality measure does not generate a separate cleavage from the previous two, but reinforces them. In any case, since cognitive scores only consider the portion of the population that is effectively attending school at a corresponding age, quality measures need to be taken with caution precisely because of the important differences the region presents in coverage and attainment.

68 See Kurtz, Latin American State Building; Soifer, State Building in Latin America.

69 See Bogliaccini, Juan A. and Madariaga, Aldo, ‘State Capacity and Social Investment: Explaining Variation in Skills Creation Reforms in Latin America’, in Garritzman, Julian, Haüsermann, Silja and Palier, Bruno (eds.), The World Politics of Social Investment, vol. 1: Welfare States in the 21st Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, forthcoming)Google Scholar.

70 We substantiate this in more detail below.

71 See Bogliaccini and Madariaga, ‘State Capacity and Social Investment’.

72 See also Bogliaccini and Filgueira, ‘Capitalismo en el Cono Sur’; Filgueira, Welfare and Democracy in Latin America; Martínez-Franzoni, ‘Welfare Regimes in Latin America’.

73 We analyse the case of Chile separately because of its particularities as an outlier.

74 Data from UNESCO's UIS database and Sevilla, ‘Panorama de la educación técnica’, p. 36.

75 Ibid., pp. 26–7; Yapu, Mario, ‘Desafíos de la educación técnica y profesional y política educativa en Bolivia’, Edetania, 48 (Dec. 2015), pp. 81100Google Scholar.

76 Lizárraga, Kathlen, Educación técnica y producción en Bolivia (La Paz: PIEB, 2011), p. xv, p. 49Google Scholar.

77 Ibid., p.xv; Kathlen Lizárraga, ‘Formación para el trabajo en Bolivia: La paradoja de un país extractivo’, Development Research Working Paper Series, no. 03/2015 (La Paz: INESAD, 2015), p. 10.

78 OECD, Education Policy Outlook: Brazil (Paris: OECD, 2015), p. 15Google Scholar.

79 Data from UNESCO's UIS database.

80 Sevilla, ‘Panorama de la educación técnica’, p. 72.

81 S-system institutions operate at the sectoral level. The more important ones are the Serviço Nacional de Aprendizagem Industrial (National Service for Industrial Training, SENAI) – Serviço Social da Indústria (Industry Social Service, SESI), and the Serviço Nacional de Aprendizagem Comercial (National Service for Commercial Training, SENAC) – Serviço Social do Comércio (Commerce Social Service, SESC), both founded in the 1940s. Several other institutions have been established since the 1990s.

82 André Portela Souza, Lycia Lima, Amanda Arabage, Juliana Camargo, Thiago de Lucena and Sammara Soares, ‘Vocational Education and Training in Brazil’, IADB Discussion Paper, no. IDB-DP-387 (Washington, DC: Inter-American Development Bank, 2015).

83 Sevilla, ‘Panorama de la educación técnica’, p. 36.

84 Busso et al., Disconnected. On segmentation and quality differentials, see Mizala and Torche, ‘Bringing the Schools Back In’.

85 Interview by the authors with the director of the Human Capital Agenda at the Peak Employers’ Association (CPC), a former official at the Ministry of Education, and the director of the Department of Secondary Education, Ministry of Education, April/May 2017, Santiago.

86 Despite increases in PISA scores (mathematics and reading) from 2006 to 2016, differences are not statistically significant.

87 See Filgueira, Welfare and Democracy in Latin America.

88 Interview by the authors with German Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (Organisation for International Cooperation, GIZ) and United States Agency for International Development (USAID) employees, Guatemala City, June 2018.

89 Interview by the authors with INTECAP acting director, Guatemala City, June 2018.

90 Filgueira, Welfare and Democracy in Latin America, p. 24.

91 Bogliaccini, Juan A. and Rodríguez, Federico, ‘Education System Institutions and Educational Inequalities in Uruguay’, CEPAL Review, 116 (Aug. 2015), pp. 8599Google Scholar.

92 Data from UNESCO's UIS database.

93 See Bogliaccini and Madariaga, ‘State Capacity and Social Investment’.

94 Pribble, Welfare and Party Politics.

95 See Apella, Ignacio and Zunino, Gonzalo, Technological Change and the Labor Market in Argentina and Uruguay: A Task Content Analysis (Washington, DC: World Bank, 2017)Google Scholar.

96 See Schneider and Paunescu, ‘Changing Varieties of Capitalism’.

97 See Ben Ross Schneider, Pablo Cevallos Estarellas and Barbara Bruns, ‘The Politics of Transforming Education in Ecuador: Confrontation and Continuity, 2006–17’, RISE Working Paper, no. 18/021 (RISE, 2018).

98 See Lobo, Ívico Ahumada, ‘Formación profesional y capacitación en México’, Serie Macroeconomía del Desarrollo, no. 153 (Mexico City: CEPAL, 2014), pp. 54–5Google Scholar.

99 OECD, Mexico: Policy Priorities to Upgrade the Skills and Knowledge of Mexicans for Greater Productivity and Innovation (Paris: OECD, 2015)Google Scholar.

100 Ahumada Lobo, ‘Formación profesional’.

101 Ibid., p. 30.

102 Lobo, Ívico Ahumada, ‘Requerimientos para una efectiva política de capacitación de los trabajadores’, in Calva, José Luis (coord.), Educación, ciencia, tecnología y competitividad (Mexico City: UNAM / Miguel Ángel Porrúa, 2007), p. 296Google Scholar.

103 Sargent, John and Matthews, Linda, ‘Capital Intensity, Technology Intensity, and Skill Development in Post China/WTO Maquiladoras’, World Development, 36: 4 (2008), pp. 541–59CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

104 Ahumada Lobo, ‘Formación profesional’, pp. 54–5.

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