SPERI Spotlight: Introducing Dr Merve Sancak

Our ‘SPERI Spotlight’ series showcases the work of a researcher at SPERI to give an insight into their research. This month we speak to Dr Merve Sancak about their research on inclusive development and skills formation systems.

What does your research focus on?

My research examines the ways through which countries can achieve more inclusive development. I’m particularly interested in transition economies and middle income countries, because they’ve achieved large economic growth in the 2000s but they didn’t achieve any notable social improvements; particularly in terms of social inequality. My PhD looked at the skilling of workers who either didn’t access higher education, and on how small and medium enterprises seek to find workers with technical skills, develop methods to generate the necessary skills, and how this impacts on workers in terms of income development and upgrading opportunities for small firms. The automotive sector is a critical one for both Mexico and Turkey- which was the empirical focus of my work. This comparative focus allowed me to investigate the ways through which global conditions and national institutions impacted on these sectors. For example, I looked at how firm linkages within the global economy affected their methods for finding skilled workers, and I compared this with the impact of national institutions upon firm strategies.

What led to you becoming interested in these issues?

During my masters degree, I studied social policy in European countries and became interested in the topic of skills formation systems and how this affects workers and small firms’ competitiveness. This led me to wonder how this works in other countries. Following my masters, I worked at UNDP-IICPSD in Istanbul as an intern which gave me more practical experience about how vocational education works in Turkey. I wanted to compare Turkey with another similar country, and Mexico was a good choice in terms of structural similarities and their links with the global economy.

What are the challenges involved in researching these areas of interest?

Research in Mexico was the biggest challenge because initially I had no contacts in the country, but I was keen to conduct fieldwork. It took time to build a network of contacts there, but eventually it became easier to do research in Mexico than Turkey. I felt there was more interest from participants in speaking to me in Mexico, as opposed to Turkey.

What are the key future research questions in your area of study?

I have two future research questions. I found in my PhD that the Mexican and Turkish firms in the automotive sector had different methods for recruiting workers because of the different vocational educational systems, so I would like to explore further the historical reasons behind the emergence of these different educational systems. Secondly, I would like to examine the employment characteristics of female workers and whether they are linked to variations within the education system within these countries, and to also include South Korea in my analysis.

What does being a member of SPERI mean to you?

I enjoy working at SPERI because I am surrounded by like-minded people, who share a similar outlook and perspective on solutions to tackling the most pressing issues facing political economy today. It is fantastic to be part of an organisation which has links with institutions such as the OECD, and which recognises that research can create real impacts in the world. The mentorship I have received has been very useful in the process of moving from the position of doctoral research to one of a postdoctoral researcher.

What are you currently working on?

I’ve recently finished work on an OECD project on ‘new approaches to economic challenges’ which was led by my colleague Michael Jacobs. We presented our research recently, which was a fantastic experience. I am also involved in an inclusive growth project with the OECD, and I’m about to begin work with Michael Jacobs on the subject of paradigm shifts and economic theory. I am also working to publish a book based on my comparative research on Mexico and Turkey.