The value of practical knowledge: Skilled workrs’ job switching within, to and from mining in Norway from ca. 1787 to 1940

Nya Fest Session 5: There ain’t no mountain high enough, ain’t no valley low enough: Ownership, redistribution, and extraction of natural resources, 1800-2000 organized by Kasper Hage Stjern


Kristin Ranestad


This paper provides an empirical analysis of skilled workers’ work careers in mining in Norway, 1787-1940. It seeks to give new insights into recruitment to mining and job switching within, to and from, this industry, which were at the time undergoing radical technological changes. With the aim of exploring the value of “practical (tacit) knowledge”, gained through work experience, the analysis shows that skilled workers (workers with formal education) frequently switched jobs throughout their career. This seemed to be an unusual long-lasting “tradition”. On the one hand, skilled workers switched easily between mining branches (silver, copper, iron etc.), in fact it was more common to switch between mining branches than within. On the other hand, they switched between mining branches and “technologically linked” sectors, notably mechanical workshops, energy sectors, the chemical industry and infrastructure. Although the reasons for job switching were many, it indicates that mining employers valued work experience which was closely related to their own, yet with certain different knowledge specialisations from which they could learn. Finally, many skilled workers with long working experience in the field ended their careers in public mining institutions. Thus, a significant share of “practical mining knowledge” ended up there. This supports the argument that the state played an active role in advancing the mining industry from early on, and throughout in this period.


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