The vulnerability of quasi-professional experts: a study of the changing character of US airline pilots work

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This article contributes to ‘sociology of professions’ theory through the study of changes that occurred in US airline pilots’ work. Findings reveal that airline pilots are quasi-professional experts who developed specialized skills based on talent and experience which allowed them to work autonomously and enjoy a correspondingly high sense of trust and prestige for which they were often well compensated. However, results of this study suggest high labour costs and weak professional communities leave quasi-professional experts vulnerable to managerial cost-cutting and work intensification agendas, particularly during periods of merger, downsizing and other forms of industry restructuring. Findings signal a deprofessionalization of some elite fields in which experts’ specialized skills become devalued and the industry-specific nature of their expertise reduces career options and job mobility. Although the present study identifies this trend in aviation, recent changes in a wide range of industries from healthcare to high-tech portend applicability in a variety of domains.


Original languageEnglish
JournalEconomic and Industrial Democracy
Early online date4 Oct 2016
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 4 Oct 2016


  • Airline pilots, deprofessionalization, sociology of professions, work intensification