Labour relations and the transfer of knowledge in industrial clusters: Why do skilled workers share knowledge with colleagues in other firms

L Wilson, John Spoehr

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Industrial clusters are held to offer competitive advantages to firms that accrue from the transfer of tacit knowledge between skilled workers co-located in spatially bound regions. This paper argues that informal knowledge transfers between skilled employees working in spatially bounded industrial clusters might have an association with the labour relationship between employers and employees. In the literature on industrial clusters general knowledge is readily traded through codified texts and collegial networks but high value, tacit knowledge transfers occur less frequently but are critical to the success of firms located in clusters. Tacit knowledge transfers are held to occur when workers move to other firms because of firm death or poaching but less frequently through contacts between colleagues from other firms. Industrial clusters are said to offer labour market advantages for skilled workers in the form of ample job opportunities and rising wages, which engender firm loyalty and discourage the transfer of tacit knowledge of competitive value to other firms. However, the limited empirical evidence available on actual working conditions for skilled workers in regional industrial clusters indicates that this argument is contestable. Some evidence suggests that there are limited wage premiums accruing to the industrial districts, a limited role for geographic proximity, and weak localised returns on seniority and education. We argue that in such circumstances high value knowledge between workers in different firms might be traded as an act of epistemic solidarity or sociability that disregards the interests of employer organisations. Such actions might vary by region and country in relation to the prevailing system of labour relations. Australian labour relations are offered as a case in point.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)42-51
Number of pages10
JournalGeographical Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Codified
  • Industrial relations
  • Industry clusters
  • Knowledge transfers
  • Sociability
  • Solidarity
  • Tacit


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