Keywords: collective learning, industrial clusters, Philippines, furniture industry, skilled labour, localised learning, knowledge diffusion
Learning in small enterprise clusters: the role of skilled workers in the diffusion of knowledge in the Philippines
This paper concentrates on the contribution of skilled workers in the diffusion of knowledge in the furniture cluster in Cebu (Philippines). In the increasing body of literature on localised or collective learning, the 'skilled labour force' is still treated in an undifferentiated fashion, despite the recognition skilled workers get as carriers of the region-specific knowledge by which communities gain their competitive advantage. Based on empirical fieldwork conducted among managers and workers in Cebu, this paper concentrates on two issues in the discussion on localised learning processes in a developing country context. The first issue is how local circumstances, in terms of horizontal and vertical inter-firm relations, enable or hinder the diffusion of knowledge in this cluster. The evidence from Cebu demonstrates that an increasing 'informalisation' of production activity negatively affects the learning processes and knowledge accumulation in this cluster. The second issue that receives attention is which groups in the labour-force play a role in the diffusion of knowledge within this cluster. The fieldwork indicates that formally trained workers with special skills treat their specific knowledge as a scarce good on the local labour market. Protectionist behaviour of such workers hinders the diffusion of knowledge within the cluster. Poorly educated but highly skilled production workers, on the other hand, easily transmit knowledge but this learning mechanism hinders the development of distinctive and complementing skills.