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1 Changing Modes of Employment: Problems of Skill Development and Qualities of Work Leuven, October 27-28, 2011 Catherine Casey Professor of Organization.

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Presentation on theme: "1 Changing Modes of Employment: Problems of Skill Development and Qualities of Work Leuven, October 27-28, 2011 Catherine Casey Professor of Organization."— Presentation transcript:

1 1 Changing Modes of Employment: Problems of Skill Development and Qualities of Work Leuven, October 27-28, 2011 Catherine Casey Professor of Organization and Society School of Management University of Leicester, United Kingdom

2 2 Objectives To review trends in flexible organizations and employment practices To draw attention to questions of flexibility: of skills and training and of concerns for quality of jobs and development of workers. To draw further connections between those questions and wider social concerns for inequality and social cohesion.

3 3 Introduction Dynamic and flexible labour markets have become a salient feature of contemporary economies. Macroeconomic policies of liberalization at supranational and national levels in the European Union have facilitated the dispersion of changing modes of employment and encouraged greater labour market participation across the population. Flexibility of employment has become so widely commonplace across industries that a newer generation of workers is policy- encouraged to expect flexible, impermanent employment.

4 4 Policy emphasis on education and skills  Accompanying liberalized flexibility has been a highly visible policy promotion of knowledge-based and innovative economies which are expected to require higher levels of skills across a wider population in society.  The dispersion of changing modes of employment and greater participation in employment and in education and training systems has undoubtedly brought many benefits to EU economies and societies.  But equally undoubtedly, it brings particular costs and concerns.

5 5 Prevailing economic views: Education and training increase the wealth of nations and improve the knowledge, skills, and employment prospects of individuals. Education and training systems require further modernization and rationalization to stimulate more productive and competitive economies. People with higher skill levels are better able to fend for themselves in labour markets and are less dependent on the welfare state. But…. 5

6 6 We observe: uneven dispersion of knowledge-based economies, and absorption of higher skilled workers polarisation of labour markets, persistent low-skilled and low- waged worked Lowering wage premium for higher skilled workers as education systems expand and Further pressures on individuals to gain skills and ‘good’ jobs Disparagement of lower-skilled jobs, and workers

7 7 Flexible firms, flexible employment Much literature addresses the rise and dispersion of flexible organizational and employment practices: organizational structural contingencies, subsidiarization, horizontal networks, multi-employer worksites, strengthening vertical integration Industrial relations researchers point to uneven distribution of benefits and advantages incurred for employers in relation to workers growth in contingent, temporary, low-commitment jobs

8 8 Flexibility and skills Many lifelong learning educators, HR trainers and policy-makers point to possibilities for workers’ skill development in the midst of flexible employment. Other researchers point to economic organizational imperatives to reduce labour costs by minimizing skills training and qualification benefits. The strategic use of temporary workers discourages, or avoids, provision of opportunities for further skill development. That avoidance is a rational organizational action of cost minimization.

9 9 Flexibility and skills Flexible employment – in terms of temporary contracts – falls unevenly on lower skilled jobs and workers. Some elite sectors of workers in specialist ICT, project development and consultancy work may maintain flexible arrangements of their own design. But the majority of flexible employment is found in firms’ use of low skilled jobs. From the firm’s vantage point, flexible employment enables contingent utility of skill levels with low, or no investment

10 10 Divisions of skill Firms increase investment in sectors of workers at the core of production activity. Those workers typically receive permanent contracts, further skills development opportunities, more favourable conditions. Research reports that temporary workers, including agency workers, receive little or no further training opportunities in their placements. Temporary workers must gain and develop their skills base themselves.

11 11 Skills and competencies UK research (Ackroyd 2010) reports that manufacturing industries frequently employ temporary workers who are formally low-skilled. These workers may be deployed in teams which share tasks and require cooperative and communicational skills which may be considerable. But those skills are not recognised or remunerated. Informal skills learning and utilisation is required. But the temporary status of the worker’s job enables the employer’s formal discounting of that learning and provision of low wages.

12 12 Informal skills learning Meunchhausen (2008) reports that in regard to competencies development “enterprises make a clear distinction between the permanent workforce and the temporary workers”. Temporary workers are routinely excluded from skill development opportunities at work. temporary workers rely on informal skills learning opportunities gleaned from asking established co-workers They report that their principal skills development lies in their ability to be adaptable: frequently changing work situations with different co-workers is temporary workers’ salient skill.

13 13 Skills applications Casey and Alach (2004) report on women temps utilising their formal skills base and developing their competencies for fast learning and adaptablity They report on women (in their NZ sample) expressing pride and confidence in their skills of adaptability and independence Importantly, their study focussed on women who had self- chosen to work temporarily. The role of choice of self-initiation, against employer prerogative, may be a decisive factor in the well-being and skills development or utilisation of temporary workers.

14 14 From permanent to temporary Casey et al. (2012 ) report on the shifting of baggage handlers and security workers (formerly employed on continuous contracts) into subsidiaries in German airport firms. Qualified baggage-handlers are replaced by low skilled workers on temporary contracts. New employees receive only the minimum required training to perform specific activities and in health & safety. The workers’ temporary contracts ensure their exclusion from skill-gaining opportunities in baggage handling and security qualifications.

15 15 Flexible, temporary, individualised workers Contingent workers frequently fall outside union capacities to collectivize and organize them they typically lack capacity, skills, confidence to engage in direct negotiation with employers Flexible organizational forms and employment relations intensify demand on workers while providing weakened avenues of participation in the regulation of workplace life. Organizations utilising higher numbers of contingent, temporary workers see a fall-off in works council formation.

16 16 Quality of jobs Researchers point to hidden costs to organizational workplaces as well as workers’ experiences through effects of employer-required flexibility of employment relations and skill development on various qualities of working life. Low-commitment jobs encourages highly instrumental orientations to work and workplaces. Workers involuntarily employed on temporary, low-commitment contracts experience difficulty in constructing coherence and intrinsic satisfactions in work as well as earning sustainable wages.

17 17 Quality of jobs  Poorer-skilled workers, or workers who are unable to utilize their skills gained in formal education and training systems, are denied opportunities to participate in the regulation of quality of work.  Research reports t(Bradley 2009) that temporary workers feel treated as ‘second-class citizens’ by the union in their workplace.  Temporary jobs incur a tendency for reduced quality of jobs and work life over time.  Expectations of impermanence reduce commitments on the parts of employers, workers and unions.

18 18 Polarising workers Labour market polarisation is generally observed at a macro level But it occurs within organizations deploying flexible structures and employment relations Skills, wages, and conditions gaps widen between sectors of workers – even those on continuing contracts. Leads to: lack of workplace trust and collegiality, lack of participation Increased localised inequalities and conflicts

19 19 Advantages under-utilised  Flexibility is not necessarily equated with a neo-liberal, employer- biased agenda  Flexibility of organizations and employment can be utilised in ways that lead to new forms of relationships for actors within labour market work.  The potential of ‘a new working life’ remains rich.  Flexible organizations and working lives can be designed in democratic societies in ways that more widely and evenly distribute advantanges.  But…

20 20 Social concerns Flexible work is more typically linked to contingent organizational practices which engender precarious jobs Precarious jobs lead to a more generalized precariousness for sectors of the population. Conditions of sustained low pay and precarious employment affect significant dimensions of a person’s life in addition to income. People holding temporary and intermittent jobs are at greater risk of poverty and social exclusion than those on continuous employment contracts (Debels 2008; Gallie 2004)

21 21 Social concerns  Esping-Andersen (2009:55-56) reports: “We are witnessing a tidal wave of rising income inequality... With only one or two exceptions, all the OECD countries have experienced widening income differentials over the past decades; in some cases, like the UK and the US, dramatically so.”  Predominant practices of flexible employment risk worsening gender gaps in workplaces and societies.

22 22 Conclusion There is no doubt that flexible organizations and employment practices can have much potential to enable the development of a new working life and relationship to economic participation. But there are significant gaps in the utilisation and formation of skills and competencies under conditions of flexible work. Workers are under greater policy pressure to gain and maintain employable skills, yet uncertain of employers’ demand and utilisation of them. Flexible work, if shaped predominantly by firms’ strategic economic interests, has deleterious effects on work and skills development.


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