Learning and strain in dual VET: A test of Karasek’s demand-control model
Karasek’s job demand-control model (JDC-model), which is a leading work stress model in occupational health psychology, assumes that a work environment can be characterized by a combination of the demands of the job and the amount of control employees have to cope with these demands (Karasek, 1979; Karasek & Theorell, 1990; Taris & Feij, 2004). While a vast body of research has focused on the effect of job demands and job control on strain and health, only few studies have considered also their implications for job-related learning (De Witte, Verhofstadt & Omey, 2007). The learning hypothesis of the JDC model states that learning will be enhanced, if jobs include high job demands (e.g., high time pressure) and job control (e.g., possibilities to take autonomous decisions in the job). The highest learning possibilities will occur when high job demands are matched by high job control, because both foster the acquisition of new skills and behaviour patterns as well as effective problem solving. In contrast, the strain hypothesis states that strain will be highest in work situations, where high job demands are combined with low job control, because an individual cannot react optimally to situational demands.
How people perceive and cope with job demands is not only related to work characteristics like job control, but also to individual dispositions, such as their core self-evaluations (CSE). CSE are fundamental premises that individuals hold about themselves and their self-worth (Judge, Locke, & Durham, 1997). Positive CSE include four dispositional traits: high self-esteem, high generalized self-efficacy, internal locus of control, and high emotional stability (Judge, Erez, Bono, & Thoresen, 2002; Kammeyer-Mueller, Judge, & Scott, 2009). Research has shown that CSE is a significant predictor for job and life satisfaction, lower perceived stress levels, and higher levels of life balance. Hence individuals with low CSE might perceive jobs with high job demands as stressful, while those with high CSE don’t.
In the present contribution we test the core hypotheses of Karasek’s JDC-model on learners in dual VET programs and include CSE as individual resource affecting learning and strain. To our knowledge, the JDC-model has not been tested for VET learners so far. As the development of professional competencies through work place learning is the main goal of dual VET and because apprentices are not yet influenced by other job experience, we expect that the model is especially suited to explain learning outcomes in VET.
Following the learning hypothesis we assume that high job demands (H1a) and high job control (H1b) at the workplace are associated with high possibilities for job-related learning. The highest learning possibilities will occur when high job demands are combined with high job control (H1c).
Following the strain hypothesis we assume that high job demands (H2a) and low job control (H2b) are associated with high strain. Highest levels of strain will be experienced when high job demands are combined with low job control (H2c).
Further we assume in line with previous research on core-self evaluations that high levels of CSE increase learning (H3a) and reduce strain (H3b). Highest levels of learning will occur if learners with high CSE work in jobs with high demands and high control (H3c), while highest levels of strain might occur for learners with low CSE in jobs with high demands and low control (H3d).
To test our hypotheses we rely on cross-sectional data from a sample of 2100 apprentices (1020 fe-male) in their second year of VET, which were surveyed by the Swiss longitudinal youth study Transition from Education to Employment (TREE) (Stalder et al., 2011).
Job demands were measured with five items, including quantitative work load (time pressure) and qualitative workload (complexity of tasks). Job control was assessed by three items (decision latitude with respect to task assignment and timing). CSE was measured by a composite variable, including self-efficacy (four items), self-esteem (eight items), and affectivity (10 items). Learning was measured by three items (possibility to learn, using new skills). Strain was assessed by a scale of nine items on ill-health and a scale of three items on resigned job satisfaction (cf. Stalder, 2003 for a detailed de-scription).
Control variables included gender, level of education in lower secondary school and intellectual de-mands of the apprenticeship.
Hierarchical regression analyses were used to test direct effects of job demands, job control and CSE on learning and strain (H1a, H1b, H2a, H2b, H3a and H3b). Interaction terms were included in the models to test H1c, H2c, H3c and H3d.
In line with Karasek (1979) and de Witte et al. (2007), results support both the strain and the learning hypothesis. Learners in apprenticeships with high demands (H1a) and high job control (H1b) reported higher levels of learning; those with high demands (H2a) and low job control (H2b) were confronted with higher levels of ill-health and resigned job satisfaction. H1c and H2c (interaction effects) were not supported, meaning that the level of job control did not influence the effect of job demands on learning, and could not buffer the negative effect of demands an strain.
For CSE it was found, that high CSE was linked with better learning outcomes (H3a), lower ill-health and resigned job satisfaction (H3b), when controlled for the job variables. Interaction effects (H3c and H3d) were non-significant for learning (H3c) and only by tendency significant for strain (H3d). Results suggest that learners with high CSE can cope more effectively with high levels of demands, which results in lower levels of resigned job satisfaction.
In general, results points out that it is important to create work situations in dual apprenticeships which include demanding tasks and the possibility to co-decide on job contents and timing, as both stimulate learning at the workplace and help to prevent health problems and negatives attitudes towards the ap-prenticeship. The results will be discussed and further elaborated with respect to previous findings on workplace learning of young workers and learners in apprenticeship.
De Witte, H., Verhofstadt, E., Omey, E., (2007). Testing Karasek’s learning and strain hypotheses on young workers in their first job. Work & Stress, 21, 131-141.
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Taris, T., & Feij, J. (2004). Learning and Strain Among Newcomers: A Three-Wave Study on the Effects of Job Demands and Job Control. The Journal of Psychology, 138(6), 543-563.
This proposal is part of a master or doctoral thesis.