Employability among low-skill workers: Organizational expectations and practices in the US health care sector

Janette S. Dill, Jennifer Craft Morgan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


In today’s unstable and uncertain economy, middle-class and professional workers are expected to participate in employability activities, such as ongoing higher education and obtaining additional credentials. These activities are expected by employers, protect workers against layoff, and help to advance workers’ careers. In this article, we argue that the expectations of employability are increasingly being placed on lower-level workers by their employers, in partnership with educational institutions. We draw on 20 case studies of career development programs in a variety of health care settings across the United States. We found that through the development (and requirement) of credentials and partnerships with educational institutions, employers encouraged low-level employees to be continually considering their employability and career pathways. However, while the career development programs in our sample use many of the same employability practices seen among middle-class and professional workers, there were often minimal financial or educational rewards for low-level workers. Career programs that focused on established credentials (e.g. surgical technicians, registered nurses), though, were able to provide substantial upward social mobility for workers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1001-1022
Number of pages22
JournalHuman Relations
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 1 2018
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by funding from the Hitachi Foundation (grant number: 5-40680) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (grant number: 59245).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017, © The Author(s) 2017.


  • career ladders
  • health care
  • low-wage workers
  • social mobility


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