Skip to main content
Article thumbnail
Location of Repository

Firm Size and Skill Formation Processes: an Emerging Debate

By Daniel Bishop


This is an electronic version of an article published in Journal of Education and Work, 2012 (in press). Journal of Education and Work is available online at: research has established that small firms tend to develop and acquire the skills they need in different ways to those employed by larger organisations. More specifically, due to certain characteristics inherent to their small size, small firms generally display greater informality in their learning processes. As such, it is now broadly accepted that they cannot normally be expected to learn in the highly formalised and structured ways more often pursued by their larger counterparts. However, this enlightened perspective has, in certain parts of the literature, arguably led to a neglect of formal training as a means of developing skills. Small firms can and do benefit from formal training – some more than others – but this is at risk of being ignored. Based on a critical review of the relevant research, the paper aims to bring a measure of clarity and structure to this emerging debate. In doing so, it draws on the concept of ‘learning architecture’ (Jenlink 1994) to illuminate the connection between firm size and learning processes.Peer-reviewedPost-prin

Topics: learning, skill formation, firm size small firms
Publisher: Routledge, an imprint of Taylor & Francis
Year: 2012
DOI identifier: 10.1080/13639080.2012.661848
OAI identifier:

Suggested articles


  1. (2008). 16-19, in
  2. (2005). A conceptual model of management learning in micro businesses: Implications for research and policy. doi
  3. (2009). A process model of small business owner-managers’ learning in peer networks. doi
  4. (2006). Building capability in small businesses: tales from the training front. doi
  5. (2004). Changing HRM Practices With Firm Growth. doi
  6. (2011). Coaching SME Managers: business development or personal therapy? A mixed methods study. doi
  7. (2007). Collaborative business relationships: helping firms to acquire skills and economies to prosper. doi
  8. (2004). Contemporary Training Initiatives in Britain: A Small Business Perspective. doi
  9. (2008). Does Training Facilitate SME’s Performance? doi
  10. (2007). Education and Training that Meets the Needs of Small Business: A Systematic Review of Research.
  11. (2006). Employee Training Decisions, Business Strategies and Human Resource Management Practices: A Study by Size of Business.
  12. (2007). Employee Training in SMEs: Effect of size and firm type – family and non-family. doi
  13. (2004). Entrepreneurial learning: a process of co-participation. doi
  14. (2002). Formal entrepreneurial mentoring: the efficacy of third party managed programs. doi
  15. (2005). Formal Human Resource Management Practices in Small Growing Firms. doi
  16. (2008). Formalizing Relationships: time, change and the psychological contract in team entrepreneurial companies. doi
  17. (2004). HRM in small firms: hunting the Snark?
  18. (2007). Human Resource Management in Growing Small Firms. doi
  19. (2005). Implications of the Participa Project for Policy, Practice and Research.
  20. (2010). Informality and Formality in Medium-sized Companies: Contestation and Synchronization. doi
  21. (2000). Knowledge, context and learning in the small business. doi
  22. (2002). Learning and Training at Work 2001: first release.
  23. (2007). Learning from Other People in the Workplace. doi
  24. (2008). Learning Through Work: exploring instances of relational interdependencies. doi
  25. (2004). Learning Without Lessons: supporting learning in small businesses.
  26. (2007). Life Cycles of Growing Organizations: a review with implications for knowledge and learning. doi
  27. (2005). Management Development: key differences between small and large businesses in Europe. doi
  28. (1996). Management Training and Small Firm Performance: Why is the link so weak? doi
  29. (1992). Organizational Structural Changes: Life-cycle Stage Influences and Managers' and Interventionists' Challenges. doi
  30. (1999). Owner-manager learning in small firms, doi
  31. (2002). Pre-growth Small Businesses: learning architecture. doi
  32. (2000). Recruitment and Training in Small Firms. doi
  33. (2008). Rethinking UK Small Employers’ Skills Policies and the Role of Workplace Learning. doi
  34. (2002). Review of the Evidence on the Rate of Return to Employers of Investment in Training and Employer Training Measures.
  35. (2005). Schumpeter’s legacy: a new perspective on the relationship between firm size and R&D. doi
  36. (2008). Should workers care about firm size? doi
  37. (2010). Skill and Performance. doi
  38. (2010). Skills and the Small Firm: A Research and Policy Briefing. Wath-upon-Dearne:
  39. (2005). Skills: Getting on in Business, Getting on in Work. White Paper.
  40. (2005). Small business and online training in Australia: Who is willing to participate? doi
  41. (2007). Small Business Owners: Too busy to train?’ doi
  42. (2009). Small Firms and Universities: How Training Markets are Socially Constructed. Saarbrucken:
  43. (1997). Small Firms’ Training and Competitiveness: Building Upon the Small Business as a Learning Organisation’. doi
  44. (1998). So Much Opportunity, So Little Take Up: The Use of Training in Smaller Firms. doi
  45. (2006). Statistical Press Release URN 06/92. London: Department for Trade and Industry.
  46. (1994). Strategies for Success: A profile of growing small and medium-sized enterprises (GSMEs) in Canada. Ottawa: Statistics Canada.
  47. (2006). The Antecedents of Training Activity doi
  48. (2002). The Nature of Training and Motivation to Train in Small Firms.
  49. (2010). The Slow Death of Formal Learning: A Polemic. doi
  50. (1999). The Small Business of Developing People. doi
  51. (2008). The Small Enterprise in the Training Market. doi
  52. (2010). Theories of Work, Place and Learning: New Directions. doi
  53. (2006). Training and Performance in Small Firms. doi
  54. (2007). Training in small firms: An analysis of when small firms should emphasize formal and informal training to maximize performance.
  55. (1994). Using Evaluation to Understand the Learning Architecture of an Organization. doi

To submit an update or takedown request for this paper, please submit an Update/Correction/Removal Request.