CERIC members publish Work, Employment and Society Special Issue

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Early career researchers, Gabriella Alberti, Ioulia Bessa, Kate Hardy, Vera Trappmann and Charles Umney have published a Special Issue of the high-ranking journal Work, Employment and Society.

The issue “In, Against and Beyond Precarity: The Struggles of Insecure Workers” contains pieces spanning geographic contexts from China to Chile and Britain to Brussels. The issue follows the 2016 Work, Employment and Society conference which was organised and hosted by Centre of Employment Relations Innovation and Change (CERIC) at the University of Leeds. Authors from Finland, Hong Kong, Germany, Denmark, Peru and the UK have contributed excellent pieces on workers including taxi-drivers, couriers, managers, mine and public-sector workers. In the round, they offer a close interrogation of the notion of precarity and the insecurity it produces, bringing in issues relating to worker struggle, the standard employment relationship and supply chain.

In their introduction, the CERIC editors take to task the concept of ‘precarity’, arguing instead that a focus on ‘processes of precarisation’ may be more analytically helpful for understanding the range of contexts in which the term is applied. They also point to the need to think about work and labour in the broadest terms, emphasizing a ‘need to address precariousness in the realm of social reproduction and post-wage politics’ as well as more formal studies of employment.

The Special Issue is on Open Access until 2nd July.

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The productivity crisis and the role of trade unions: partnership, productivity and skills in the UK

Bert Clough CERIC

Bert Clough, Visiting Professor, CERIC

As the Nobel Prize winner, Paul Krugman, has stated “productivity isn’t everything but in the long run it is almost everything”. A nation’s ability to improve its standard of living depends almost entirely on its ability to raise its hourly output per worker. That is why increasing productivity should be as important for trade unions as securing the fairer distribution of economic returns of GDP. But productivity has virtually flatlined since the financial crisis in 2008/9. Even more concerning is that the UK has the widest productivity gap with the G7 countries average since the mid-1990s. The General Secretary of the TUC, Frances O’Grady, has warned that the “productivity headache is a self-inflicted wound” resulting from years of cuts and low public investment. The TUC believes that enhanced productivity can only be achieved in investment and embedded in a culture of positive labour relations; with the workforce and their employers becoming “productivity partners”. This requires unions to adopt strategies based on integrative, not just distributive, bargaining.

Can such rhetoric about such social partnership arrangements over productivity be made reality? In 2000, as part of his Productivity Initiative, Gordon Brown asked the TUC and CBI to join forces to identify key priorities and joint recommendations to the Treasury on how to enhance productivity.  One key driver that was identified was that of skills. In a recent research paper, I have sought to assess the effectiveness of the skills strand of the initiative. As part of the Chancellor’s strategy to close the wide productivity gap with UK major competitors by 2010, the aim was for young people and adults to have knowledge and skills that matched the best in the world.

A fragile social partnership over skills had existed during the era of neo-corporatism in the 1970s. But this was ended by the Thatcher government, which abolished tripartite institutions such as the Manpower Services Commission and most of the industry training boards. New Labour was not however about devolving decisions over skills formation to social partners and restoring neo-corporate institutions. Nor was the “Third Way” about reintroducing training levies or establishing statutory collective bargaining over training. The Productivity Initiative was thus constrained by what has been described as a “social-democratic variant of labour market neo-liberalism”. Another constraint was the divergent approaches of the social partners to workforce development. Whereas the TUC has traditionally had a more expansive, employment-focussed approach that supported state intervention, the CBI has had a restrictive employer-focussed approach that cleaved to voluntarism. As a result, the remit of the skills working group under the Productivity Initiative (which was chaired by the then TUC General Secretary – John Monks) was narrow. The remit confined itself to four priorities which conveniently reflected the Government’s vocational education and training (VET) strategy:

  1. increasing the proportion of the adult workforce qualified to Level 2;
  2. tackling the basic skills problems of individuals;
  3. increasing the take-up of Investors in People by small organisations;
  4. improving VET delivery.

The major deficiencies in the exercise was that it was that it confined itself to the supply side as opposed to the demand side. It did not address the key skills components that help drive productivity – their utilisation and higher levels of training such as management and apprentice training which give high economic returns. These were policy areas that the CBI regarded as being subject to employer prerogative and therefore off a social partnership agenda.

The CBI wanted carrots but no sticks. The TUC wanted sticks but realised that it could only realistically press for individual entitlements to training. The working group did recommend carrots for employers to train. This took the form of employer tax credits to incentivise companies to train up to level 2 and basic skills and for small companies to commit to the Investors in People (IiP) standard. The Treasury however favoured a more targeted approach; introducing state subsidies to employers training workers to recognised qualifications through the Employer Training Pilots (ETP) (later universalised as Train to Gain). Direct subsidies were also given to small companies to prepare for IiP accreditation, through the Small Firms Initiative.

Trade unions (with the enhanced capacity provided by the Union Learning Fund and trained union learning reps) helped ETP to target workers with low or no qualifications. The union view was that helping their members to obtain basic skills and Level 2 qualifications could minimise social exclusion and lead to possible progression to higher levels, with ultimately higher returns.  Although the primary objective of ETP and its successor Train to Gain was to increase employer demand for workforce training, the incidence of deadweight and substitution indicated that such an objective had not been substantially met and provided the Coalition Government with the excuse to end the scheme.

New Labour had adopted a social-democratic variant of a neo-liberalist approach to interventions in the labour market. The weakness of this approach was that it left the vast bulk of skills policy and practice outside the industrial relations system. This approach together with the absence of robust social partnership institutions to oversee VET from the 1980s to the present day has enabled successive governments to adopt a top- down approach. It has resulted in the churning of supply-side policy initiatives, chasing national qualification targets, which have had little effect on stimulating employer demand or engaging with the long tail of SME “productivity laggards”.

A key factor in enhancing productivity is the utilisation of skills, but that was virtually ignored by the Labour Government and subsequent governments.  A recent government Foresight report “The Future of Skills and Lifelong Learning” has found however that the UK is the second lowest nation in the EU in utilising skills. Moving towards the levels of skills utilisation seen in Germany and France could boost productivity by as much as £5.5 bn.

The daunting challenge facing unions is how to build their capacity to engage with employers on measures to increase productivity through high involvement work practices and to reap the ensuing benefits through collective bargaining over skills. The lessons learnt from New Labour’s Productivity Initiative was that peak-level social partnership within a voluntary system is unable to deliver such objectives. This has been further limited by a significant decline in union learning capacity, as a result of government austerity measures and the economic downturn since 2010.

So, what is required are robust social partnership institutions with devolved regulatory powers. Their objective should be to raise productivity through assisting employers to adopt high performance and high involvement work practices. This would include promoting high utilisation of skills and ensuring a more equal distribution of training opportunities throughout the workforce. This fundamental change will not come about through yet another central government “quick-fix” initiative from above. It needs to come from below and be owned by both employers and unions.

Developing such a progressive culture could best begin in unionised workplaces. This, however, requires a step change for unions:  moving from conflict to cooperation as their main new source of influence. It does require, however, a rebalancing of power between unions and employers. Ensuring that union reps are full partners requires two measures. Firstly, collective bargaining over training and work organisation must become an integral part of union recognition.  Secondly, there needs to be capacity -building initiatives (at possibly sector or Local Enterprise Partnership level) to provide unions as well as employers with the tools to drive this productivity partnership agenda forward. The long-term objective would be more high- performance and high -involvement workplaces, with employees as well as employers sharing the benefits from the increased productivity.

But does the present government’s industrial strategy address this fundamental challenge? It certainly sets out new initiatives such as a National Retraining Scheme and government /industry partnerships to increase productivity in key sectors. In his November Budget, the Chancellor even confirmed that the government would enter into a formal skills partnership with the TUC and CBI, to develop the scheme. The aim of the partnership is to help set the strategic priorities for the scheme and oversee its implementation, working with new Skills Advisory Panels to ensure that local economies’ needs are reflected. But it must not be just a top-down approach.

The litmus test will be how effective the partnership is in persuading the long tail of productivity laggards to increase the utilisation of the skills of their workforce. This requires recognition of the potential of trade unions at sectoral and company level to form productivity partnerships with employers.  This is the key to develop high-performance and high-involvement workplaces, where employees are rewarded for their increased productivity. The short-comings of the 2001 Productivity Initiative must be avoided. History must not be allowed to repeat itself.

Diane Reay’s “Miseducation”: a personal reflection (by Jo Ingold)

miseducation picMiseducation Inequality, education and the working classes by Diane Reay brings together threads from a wealth of Reay’s research on working-class experiences of education, as well as her own personal journey from working-classness to Professor at an elite institution. Reading Miseducation was enlightening for me on many levels, as well as being a bit of a sense-making process, both professionally and personally. I’ll admit right from the start that I’ve largely avoided talking about class in my academic work, largely because it has been too personal. So, (much like Miseducation itself) what follows is a reflection of Reay’s Miseducation that combines the academic and the personal.

Reay takes as her starting point Jackson and Marsden’s seminal 1966 book Education and the Working Class. A key difference between when Jackson and Marsden wrote their famous work and now is that back in the 1960s 60% of the population identified as working-class. Now this is only 40%. But Reay finds that a shocking level of class inequality still persists in the English education system. In particular, she highlights the significant increase in testing and the narrowing of the curriculum in schools (aspects of which I am only too aware now as a parent). Secondly, she points to the policy shift towards academies and free schools, which have increased selectivity, largely leaving working-class kids behind. A 2013 OECD report that Reay cites early in the book (p.50) concluded that schools in England are the most socially segregated in the developed world, especially for poor and migrant families.

In secondary school I was one of the working-class kids Reay talks about, who was ‘relegated’ to the bottom set (p.77). My local primary school (incidentally where my father had also gone to school) was what we would probably now call a ‘sink school’. My mother fought successfully to get me into a ‘better’ school in the ‘posher’ part of town. But when I got to high school I was put in the bottom set with not a single kid from my primary school, but with kids from our (poorer) part of town. This isn’t just about me having an overinflated sense of my own capabilities. Years after I left high school, my final year primary teacher told me that she’d tried to get me into a higher set, but didn’t win the argument with the school. At the time, my parents complained to the headteacher that I was finding the school work in the bottom set unchallenging. They were told that nothing could be done until after the end of the first year exams when, if I proved myself, I would be moved up. At the end of the year I was indeed moved up. But by then friendship groups had been established and I had effectively lost a year of secondary schooling.

Another rather strange and revealing example of how class impacts on working-class kids became apparent to me only a few years ago when I got hold of my medical notes. In these, I discovered (from Pre-Data Protection Act) that a clinician who I saw aged 15 had put in my notes that I had ‘aspirations that were likely beyond my academic abilities’. This was a clinician, not even a teacher! The importance of including this is to say that these are the kinds of assumptions and judgements made about working-class kids that Reay talks about, who start off life with the odds firmly stacked against them by many in positions of power.

Another key driver of inequalities for working class kids that Reay highlights are the class divisions in university education. In particular, she points to the exacerbation of a two-tier system of ‘elite’ and ‘inferior’ institutions largely as a result of recent funding changes. She argues that ‘Elitist processes masquerading as meritocracy are just as evident in the English education system as they were 50 years ago in the 1960s; but the primary engines of this pseudo meritocracy are no longer the grammar schools but the elite universities’ (p.178). Another, more pernicious, factor that Reay identifies is that failure is now seen as the fault of the working-class individual, rather than anything more systemic (p.180).

In relation to universities, Reay also powerfully talks about the cultural and social capital that you lack as an individual when you’re working-class and trying to gain entry to a university. No one in my family was familiar with the university environment. But I was lucky: I was helped by a few professionals for whom my mum cleaned. I was also awarded an assisted government place to attend an independent 6th Form. Without these, I don’t think I would have felt confident enough to apply to a Russell group university. Back in high school my mother paid for extra maths tutoring for me outside of school. But when (on the tutor’s advice) I told my head of maths that I’d like to do the higher paper to try to get an A grade (rather than the maximum C I could get by doing the lower paper) she told me that I could, but qualified it with: ‘you can always resit next year’. This stands out for me as a good example of the lowered expectations and constrained ambition that I felt during my compulsory education.

One of the most powerful aspects of the book for me was where Reay talks about how the working-classes find themselves having left one class (working) and yet not feeling like a true member of another (the ‘bolting on of middle classness’) (p.104). Reay suggests that social mobility for the working classes represents ‘a fragile balance between realising potential and maintaining a sense of authenticity’, resulting in individuals being uncomfortably ‘caught between two worlds’ (p.108). Lynsey Hanley also talks powerfully about this from her own experience in Respectable. This process of social mobility can be wounding, resulting in a ‘disconnect’ for individuals and a feeling of being ‘adrift’ from social and family ties. The political discourse of social mobility as an unquestionable good, Reay argues, doesn’t really get to grips with this aspect.

My own personal experience of social mobility is of a huge gulf between myself and my wider family and community that came about because I went to university and that will likely never be resolved. ‘Why would you want to go to University?’ they asked. The fact that I went to University and moved away underscored another aspect of this fracture highlighted by Reay: what social mobility says about those who are left behind. Reay rightly asks what the point is in striving for equality with more-privileged others if the process creates inequalities between you and the people you love’? (pp 114-5). In the epilogue she cites the powerful words of Bourdieu: ‘to be able to live in a world that is not mine I must try to understand both things: what it means to have an academic mind…and at the same time what was lost in acquiring it’ (pp 197-8).

Finally, a further critical aspect for me that Reay talks about is how as academics we can become ensnared in ‘dominant representations’ of the working classes and that it is important not to ‘romanticise’ the experience of working-classness (p.198). Instead, she highlights the diversity of ‘working-classness’. This helped me to make sense of my own class background. My experience of growing up working class was largely about being fearful and ashamed. Constant stress about having enough money to live on, of having utilities cut off and having to lie about this to friends to save face. My mum was shocked when I asked to have free school meals as she didn’t want me to look ‘outwardly poor’ to others. My parents didn’t claim Family Credit for largely the same reason (although this left us even poorer). My parents were not part of the politically enlightened, ‘radical’ working class that was Reay’s background, but were more the ‘aspirant’ working-class talked about in Jackson and Marsden’s classic work. However, their aspirations were really for me, rather than for themselves. For them, education was the gateway to a much better life for me than the one they experienced. My dad was a time-served joiner, but could only find work on building sites throughout his life. He wasn’t a member of a union (except when there was a closed shop) and, in common with his family and peers, he voted Conservative. My mum largely worked in shops and as a cleaner and waitress. Both struggled from one low-paying insecure job to another (my mum regularly had at least two jobs), with poor health as a result.

The ‘classedness’ of my education was largely a part of my life that, for good or ill, I didn’t really notice at the time: what Reay refers to as ‘the living out of class on both conscious and unconscious levels’ (p.155). Reay says she’s still upset that, for the majority of people that both she and Jackson and Marsden interviewed, their working-class backgrounds were something they wanted to forget (p.8). This resonated deeply with me. But it is critical not to forget. In Miseducation Reay strikes exactly the right chord, successfully managing to achieve her aim of ‘cutting across the grain’ of what she has become professionally (p.198) to be reflexive about her own experiences. Reay’s Miseducation is a timely exposė of how current government policies, the education ‘system’ but, critically, social values and attitudes to ‘inequality, welfare and difference’ (p.174) are still failing, and as a result limiting the potential of so many.

Dr Jo Ingold is a Lecturer in Human Resource Management and Public Policy and is a member of CERIC.

Miseducation by Diane Reay is published by Policy Press’ 21st Century Standpoints series, in association with the British Sociological Association

Industrial action in the University: the last resort of employment relations

Members of the biggest union in the Higher Education sector, UCU, are about to enter the biggest strike in the history of Higher Education in the UK. The Union called for a 14 days strike in order to fight drasyourpensionaxed1tic changes to the employees’ pensions. The employers’ association UKK wants to cut pensions by 40% and make them entirely stock market based. The UCU is resisting these cuts, fighting for better pensions. Pensions are earned and deferred wages, so cuts in pension are essentially wage cuts. Academics in the sector have already seen their pay decrease in real terms by 16% over the last five years. The union also sees the employers attempt as a wider attack on the education system becoming increasingly marketised and predicated on overwork by staff and drastic indebtedness amongst students.

Industrial actions are a last resort, when negotiations between employers and employees fail. They are not in the interest of staff who lose out their wages for each and every day they take industrial action. Nevertheless, employees are ready to take up this sacrifice in order to protect their interests and more broadly their beliefs of how employment should be organized, particularly in universities who have purported commitments to equality and inclusion and fair conditions.

In the current case, many employers are being extremely aggressive, threatening to dock between 25% to 100% of staff salaries indefinitely, if individual staff does not make up with the loss of labour due to the strike. In particular, they want employees to reschedule lectures that have been missed due to industrial action, some vice chancellors are even threatening to sue staff if students claim fees back.

As a research centre committed to examining contemporary employment relations, CERIC has received a number of comments from international scholars and trade unionists that show that an industrial action is never alone about a single issue but always also a civic act with broader social impact. Amongst others, these have included support from: The University of Aarhus, Denmark; KU Leuven, Belgium; University of Padova, Italy; and Universidad Autonoma Metropolitana, Mexico.

Solidarity notes

Before ending this seminar I would like to say that I support your strike and I hope that this can also give greater power to a strike that some colleagues are organizing in Italy. Obviously nothing similar to your radical position, but just a one day strike that in any case has provoked panic in many colleagues. And this is very paradoxical in particular for people that study labour, sociology, employment relations, power and so on. In fact a strike is a very well-known situation even if we are usually studying it rather than doing it.

I think your strike is for the future, because pensions for many of us are the future. A pension is a crucial part of the wage, we call it deferred wage, but it is our wage. It is not a gift from anyone. I think it is a shame that people speculate about pensioners, because older people are in a particular situation: they are becoming weaker, sometimes they have health problems and maybe are not sure about the value of their pension. So in a sociological language we can say that pensioners are becoming precarious, but differently from the young, a pensioner has no longer the power to move in the labour market or to emigrate abroad.

Someone could describe academic lecturers as insiders, and someone could also say that we are privileged in the labour market. We may consider this to be true. But I think that our precarity will not solve the problems of others’. Quite the contrary: the worsening of our working conditions can only deteriorate the condition of precarious colleagues.

So I hope you can win your struggle and hoping that also in Italy this one-day strike can be successful. Remembering that the strike is important not only for the moment at which it happens, but it also has repercussions in the social relations that we are able to build after it. Inside and outside our workplace.

Associate Professor Devi Sachetto, University of Padova

I was a part of the British university system between 2008 and 2014. During this period I saw how working conditions – the conditions for good teaching and research – rapidly deteriorated. Not only due to government defunding, but also due to university managements attempting to transform institutions of learning and critique into corporations, rewarding themselves handsomely in the process.

So I consider it both just and important to resist the attack on pensions. Your students and non-academic colleagues at the university must know that your fight is a part of a broader fight. The pension cuts are a part of the construction of the defunded university, in which a precarious workforce is asked to serve heavily indebted “customers”, in order that the state can save money for noble causes such as bank bail outs and tax cuts for the wealthy.

In many ways, the British university system serves as a model for university development in Denmark. For this reason, your struggle is our struggle. Never forget that. When you are fighting to stop the downward spiral of British universities, you are helping your colleagues internationally too. And know that you can win: concerted resistance based on solidarity between lecturers and students has managed to stop some of the worst reforms of the Danish University system, including the introduction of student fees. In solidarity and friendship.

Dr Bue Rübner Hansen, University of Aarhus

Having done my PhD in the UK, I follow the debates about higher education there with great interest. I have been distressed to hear about the experiences of my friends and colleagues at UK universities who are facing declining pay and increasing precarity. The marketization and casualization of the university labour force is a trend we are seeing in North America as well, and it is one that we must resist. The proposed changes to the pensions scheme are unacceptable. I strongly support the strike action by UCU and from Ottawa, I teach and write in solidarity with my comrades in the UK.

Dr Megan Rivers-Moore, Carleton University, Canada

I send my full solidarity to the UCU strike, we have the same problem here in Mexico with the AFORE stock market-related privatised pensions introduced here in 2008, which our union opposes.

Dr Patrick Cuninghame, Universidad Autonoma Metropolitana (UAM), Mexico City & member of the Sindicato Independiente de los Trabajadores de la UAM (SITUAM)

The Rutgers Executive Council of AAUP-AFT Chapters voted unanimously to stand in solidarity with University and College Union members in the United Kingdom on February 20, 2018

Whereas, Members of the largest union of university teaching staff in the UK, the
University and College Union (UCU), are fighting to stop an outrageous attack on retirement benefits;

Whereas, University administrators propose to end the current guaranteed pension plan, replacing it with individual investment accounts, on the pretext of a fictional deficit “crisis;”

Whereas, Workers in the United States, including New Jersey educators, are very familiar with the use of manufactured “crises” to undermine retirement plans, which attack workers’ long-term security by stealing their own deferred wages; Be it resolved that the AAUP-AFT chapters at Rutgers University call on Universities UK to give up their shameful attack on defined-benefit pensions and negotiate with UCU in good faith;

And be it resolved that we stand in solidarity with the members of the UCU, saluting their commitment to security, equity, and dignity in the workplace and in retirement.

Rutgers Executive Council of AAUP-AFT Chapters, USA

Working conditions and social rights of people are under growing attack all over the world nowadays. This strongly contradicts not only with a rationale of social democracy and social justice but also with the basic principle of decent working life within workplaces and society overall. In solidarity.

Professor Valeria Pulignano, CESO – KU Leuven 

I would like to express my full support for the strike launched by the University and College Union in the UK Higher Education in response to the pension cuts related to the changes in the Universities Superannuation Scheme. I consider the lack of proper and good-will based negotiation around this issue with employers associated in the Universities UK unacceptable.

Decent pensions are essential for the quality of working live and retirement. In the context of ongoing, Europe-wide reforms of higher education institutions, the predictable situation of workers after retirement is crucial for their well-being.

Therefore, I would like to share my support and solidarity with striking University employees in the UK and Leeds Business School in particular.

I also support the call for immediate return to negotiations between unions and UUK.

I will share my support and information about the strike in my networks.

In solidarity !

With best wises

Adam Mrozowicki, Associate Professor, Institute of Sociology, University of Wrocław

 

Dear academic friends in Britain,

I was astounded to hear a few days ago about what is happening in British higher education. The employers association had proposed making pension payouts less generous by an average of ten thousand pounds a year and making them dependent on the stock market. You had voted overwhelmingly to respond with a 14-day national strike, the largest academic strike in UK history. Various universities had responded not only by docking pay for strike days, but also by threatening to reduce pay on non-strike days and taking legal action against strikers if students claim their fees back. Wow.

You need to win this strike, and the employers need to back down. You have already suffered more than enough. The squeeze on pay worsens your standard of living slowly but perceptibly. While attacks on pensions are not new in UK higher education, the current offensive by the employers really is astounding. It fills me personally with pride to see how you’re fighting back.

It is understandable that universities shift financial risk. But this attempt to shift financial risks onto academics has poisoned the workplace atmosphere in which research and teaching take place. Provoking this strike has already undermined the excellence of those institutions that the Vice Chancellors are supposed to be leading.

How do I know attacks on pay and pension are damaging to British universities? Occasionally, PhD students in the US ask me about the job market in Britain, because I worked there for ten years. Ten years ago I would have said that it’s a mixed bag. Pay is lower than the US, but for junior academics job security is higher, making it possible to pursue interesting and risky research agendas. Over the years, the situation has become less rosy. And now this conflict. International academics thinking of moving to Britain should know that it is a place where pay, pensions, and job security are under attack, and colleagues are angry and fearful.  This is not an atmosphere in which the work of academics is apparently valued.

Britain’s universities are still among the best in the world, and Vice-Chancellors should be working to keep it that way. Instead, they have provoked a massive nation-wide strike. The employers need to bargain with the union, find a solution, and end the strike.

In solidarity,

Prof Ian Greer, Cornell University, USA

 

Hi Mark

You have my full support. The actions being taken in the UK by university employers are yet another example of the appalling  corporate management style and values taking over universities. What happens to you will also ultimately affect us.
In solidarity,
Professor Marian Baird, The University of Sydney Business School
Dear Colleagues at CERIC,
I want to express my solidarity with the strike of the University and
College Union in the United Kingdom. I am deeply concerned about the
changes to the pension scheme proposed by Universities UK. We are
observing steps in the direction of increasing precarity of academic
work in many countries – steps which could worsen not only the working
and living conditions of academics, but also the quality of teaching and
research as well as the quality of international research cooperation. I
can only hope that the Universities UK and the universities and
colleges withdraw the proposed changes to the academic pension
system and recognize the importance of good working conditions for the
quality of teaching and research.
Martin Krzywdzinski, Head of the Research Group “Globalization, Work and
Production” at the WZB Berlin Social Science Center

University teachers in UK on strike over pensions

SULF, The Swedish Association of University Teachers and Researchers, supports our colleagues in the UK in their fight over university pensions. UCU (University and College Union) are taking strike action to defend university teachers right to a fair pension. University employers want to end guaranteed pensions and reduce retirement income for all.

– I want to express my solidarity with our colleagues in the UK. University teachers in general have always accepted pay levels that are lower than other groups with similar levels of education. A decent pension is a small compensation for that. The attractiveness of the academic profession has to increase, not decrease, if we want to build a sustainable high quality higher education and research. Poor working conditions is a serious threat to the attractiveness of the profession all over Europe, and therefore we stand beside our colleagues in this strike.

Professor Mats Ericson, president of SULF

 

To our collegues in Great Britain,

for ver.di department of science and higher education I send you our full support in your struggle against the changes and prospective cuts regarding your pension plans.

We know fully well the gap that lies between the countless political speeches about the importance of higher education and the utter disregard universities show for the employees, who are their backbone. Right now, the student employees here in Berlin are as well forced to take industrial action against their universities, which have not given them a pay raise in 17 years. The way they are treating us echoes your own experiences. But we will not let up and it strenghtens us to know, that you wont either.

Science is international. So is solidarity and our common struggle for fair working conditions. Keep up the fight!

Best,

Matthias Neis, Ver.di Resort Higher Education and Research

 

I want to express my support for the UCU action over proposed pension reforms and solidarity with colleagues who have taken a stand against yet another attack on the academic profession and Higher Education more broadly. Having spent most of my academic career working in a British institution (and dutifully paying into the UCS pension scheme) I maintain a keen eye on developments in UK HE. Working in the Swedish HE sector has given me a new perspective from which to consider the changes I witnessed over the course of my career in the UK: the increases in student numbers; the introduction and hiking up of tuition fees; class sizes increasing and the pressure put on academics to deal with the consequences; the increased demand for research publications, driven by the REF rather than scholarly contribution; VC’s salaries skyrocketing while average academic salaries stagnated. The British university system has maintained its reputation despite all of this because of the quality of academics working within it. The view of the UK higher education from abroad is of a system characterised by students being over-burdened with debt and VCs awarding themselves astronomical salaries. Something is very wrong. Taking a stand over this attack on academic pensions – part of the long-term bargain made with the employer – could not have come at a more important time.

In solidarity from Sweden.

Professor Robert MacKenzie, Karlstad University, Sweden

 

To University and College Union – UCU

Dear Colleagues

We learned that Universities UK wants to cut your pensions by 40% and make them entirely stock market based.

This is not acceptable and we fully support that those colleagues under threat respond to these plans with industrial action.

We want to express our solidarity with your strike and hope you will be successful.

Best wishes

 Dr. Wolfram Brehmer

Dr. Heiner Dribbusch

Birgit Kraemer M.A.

Prof. Dr. Thorsten Schulten

Dr. habil. Karin Schulze Buschoff 

Institute of Economic and Social Research, WSI

Hans-Böckler-Stiftung

Düsseldorf

Germany

 

We, members of RENAPEDTS, the National Network of Research and Extension Groups in Labour Law and Social Security (Brazil), give full support to the strike action promoted by University Lecturers’ Union, feeling greatly concerned about how education professionals are treated, at the global level, and in universities in particular.

Adib Salim – Univesidade Federal do Espírito Santo

Aldacy Rachid Coutinho – Universidade Federal do Paraná

Cláudio Janotti da Rocha – Universidade do Distrito Federal

Clovis Renato Costa Farias – Universidade Federal do Ceará

Daniele Gabrich Gueiros – Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro

Elsa C. Bevian – Universidade Regional de Blumenau

Everaldo Gaspar Lopes de Andrade – Universidade Federal de Pernambuco

Gustavo Seferian Machado – Universidade Federal de Lavras

Hugo Cavalcanti Melo Filho – Universidade Federal de Pernambuco

Jorge Luiz Souto Maior – Universidade de São Paulo

Juliana Teixeira Esteves – Universidade Federal de Pernambuco

Leonardo Vieira Vandelli – Centro Universitário Autônomo do Brasil

Lorena Vasconelos Porto – Universidade do Distrito Federal

Magda Barros Biavaschi – Universidade de Campinas

Maria Cecíllia Máximo Teodoro – Pontifícia Universidade Católica de Minas Gerais

Maria Rosa Barbato – Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais

Murilo Oliveira – Universidade Federal da Bahia

Pedro Augusto Gravatá Nicoli – Faculdade de Direito de Minas Gerais

Rodrigo de Lacerda Carelli – Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro

 

We, Professors of Labor Law of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, give our support for strike action organized by University Lecturers’ Union, understand that there is a global attack on university professors and on all workers in general, which we are very concerned about. Only the struggle can prevent the destruction of the social achievements of the twentieth century.

Ana Luisa de Souza Correira de Melo Palmisciano, Carolina Pereira Lins Mesquita, Daniele Gabrich Gueiros, Fábio de Souza Silva, Ivan Simões Garcia, Patricia Garcia dos Santos, Rodrigo de Lacerda Carelli, Sayonara Grillo Coutinho Leonardo da Silva

 

In Solidarity with the UCU, Academic Strike in the UK

I would like to express my solidarity with our colleagues on strike at the University of Leeds – and other universities across the country – in defense of their pension system. I fully support your demand for a fair pension system. Save your pensions, which would be put on the stock market, is a legitimate struggle to face the attack against university staff but also against public sector workers.

This struggle has to be expanded as this kind of attack against workers is also in the works in several European countries.

Professor Christian Azaïs, Conservatoire national des arts et métiers – Paris

I express my full support for the strike undertaken by UCU members in the United Kingdom. Appropriate salaries and pensions are fundamental to keep a high quality of research and teaching. Our work, carried out with a strong but often invisible commitment, far beyond the expected workload, requires serenity and protection in relation to pensions. I hope that the competent bodies can stop these attacks on the fundamental rights of those workers who invest their lives in improving the life quality of all citizens.

Professor Barbara Peccei Szaniecki, Escola Superior de Desenho Industrial, Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro

 

I send my solidarity and support the strike action by UCU at UK Universities. To protect pensions is fundamental, and a collective mobilization can produce a better social protection system, more oriented to a Universal Basic Income. I also think that the UCU teachers on strike will stand in solidarity with students about the increase of tuition fees.

Professor Giuseppe Cocco, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro

I express my solidarity with academics on strike to protect their pensions. To end guaranteed pension benefits is clearly part of a more general process of commodification in higher education. Moreover, this will have a strong impact on the youngest generation of researchers.

Then I fully support the UCU members and my CERIC colleagues in particular.

In solidarity,

Dr. Barbara Poggio, Vice-Rector for Equality and Diversity Policies at the University of Trento

 

In Solidarity with the UCU, Academic Strike in the UK

We wish to express our solidarity with our colleagues on strike at the University of Leeds – and other universities across the country – in defense of their pension system. We fully support your strike. It is an unprecedented attack not only against university staff but also against public sector workers.

As you may have heard, here in France the Macron government is now trying to destroy the terms and conditions of rail workers in order to hand over the rail system to the private sector.

A major attack against the pension system for all workers in France is also in the works.

In both countries – and all over Europe –  we are faced with the application of the EU diktats imposing privatisation and marketisation of the public sector in the name of free and undistorted competition enshrined in the Maastricht Treaty and all the EU institutions.

Dear Colleagues, please do not hesitate to send us a report on your strike. We will translate and circulate it.

Your struggle is ours.
Professor Donna KESSELMAN, Université Paris-Est Créteil

Dr. Corinne NATIVEL, Université Paris-Est Créteil

Professor Patrick Cingolani, directeur du LCSP (Laboratoire de Changement Social et Politique), Université Paris Diderot

Solidarity statement to my striking colleagues at Leeds University Business School

Dear colleagues,

Herewith, I want to declare my solidarity to your strike against the planned pension reform and the financialisation of your pensions. I noticed with great pleasure the wide support of your students and your united fight against the commodification of academic institutions. There is intensive press coverage in German newspapers and the tenor is very positive and supportive regardless of the newspapers’ political orientation.

Together with my colleagues from the Sociology Department at the University of Jena, I ask your University Management to return to the negotiating table.

With my warmest solidarity greetings,

Prof. Dr. Silke van Dyk, Friedrich-Schiller University Jena

 

We fully support the strike action organised by University Lecturers’ Union to protect the right to a fair pension. We hope that the UK strike is resulting in some changes and action.

Solidarity from your colleagues in Iceland!

Professor Thorgerdur Einarsdóttir

Dr. Thamar M. Heijstra

Dr. Gyda Margrét Pétursdóttir

Finnborg Salome Steinþórsdóttir

Thomas Brorsen Smidt

Faculty of Political Science, University of Iceland

 

Education, and mainly higher education, has been under attack for many years around the world, also in Italy. We hope to arrange the same in Italy but it’s difficult to build a sense of community and horizontal solidarity. Your strike is the right thing to do and the only thing I have to say is: Continue and Stay Strong.

Dr. Davide Arcidiacono, Catholic University of Milan

 

Dear colleagues at the University of Leeds, I stand in support of your struggle for fair, stable pensions. Cutting pensions by 40% and making them entirely stock market based may appear to some as a minor issue, unrelated to purely academic issues, but it’s not given the growing precariousness in higher-education employment all over the industrialized world. This precariousness affects scholars’ ability to do long-term, fundamental, fruitful research and it deters promising young scholars from entering an unstable profession. So the defense of fair, stable pensions is really an important part of a broader set of issues that truly impact research in more ways than immediately meet the eye.

Guillaume Marche, Professor of American studies, University of Paris-Est Créteil, France

 

I would like to express my total support to my colleagues at the University of Leeds and all other UK universities, struggling to defend their and our pensions. A pension is meant to (at least partially) secure one own’s future. It’s absolutely absurd to ask anyone to make pensions dependent on the stock market.

Thank you, because your struggle is part of a wider battle that we cannot loose, the one for a university which is public and of quality.

Dr. Roberta Ferrario, CNR (Italian National Research Council)

 

I express my warm solidarity to this – and to any other – struggle through which citizens and workers oppose direct and indirect policies of commodification of education.

Professor Vando Borghi, University of Bologna

 

Dear Annalisa,

we at the Ca’ Foscari University of Venice want to express our full support for this strike. The reduction of pension rights is only the last step of a wider process of precarisation of the university which is taking place in UK and in Europe in general and is damaging teachers, researchers and students. We are with you in this struggle!

Sabrina Marchetti, Giulia Garofalo Geymonat, Antonio Montefusco, Daniela Cherubini, Anna Di Bartolomeo, Enrico Gargiulo, Gilda Zazzera, Francesca Coin, Duccio Basosi

 

Dear Colleagues at Leeds, all over the U.K.

We, trade unions at Université Paris-Est Créteil- UPEC (Paris University, Créteil Campus) representing the personnel of all categories – CGT, SNASUB-FSU, SNESup-FSU, SNPREES-FO, SupAutonome- FO and also the students – l’UNEF, we send our full and whole-hearted support to the strike of UK Lecturers and instructors called by the UCU (university lecturers’ union) in defense of your retirement system and rights.

The reduction, marketization, individualisation and floating on the stock market of retirement are blows against the public service, yet another stop towards privatisation.

Similar plans are being proposed by the French government, aimed particularly at public workers like ourselves, just as in your case.

The rampant precariousness in academic careers is an attack on our working conditions, on the quality of degrees of higher education and a fact that discourages young potential academics from entering the career.

In the name of “University Autonomy” since the 2007 LRU law, governments one after another have advanced the agenda of privatisation and undermined the national public statuses of the University and its personnel, while this status is indispensable for ensuring academic and research independence against outside pressures from the private sector.

The privatization of Universities is a policy being promoted by governments all around Europe under the aegis of the European Union.

Your struggle is our struggle.

To the UCU: in response to our Leeds Colleagues’ request, please resume negotiations!

In Solidarity,

At UPEC:  CGT, SNASUB-FSU, SNESup-FSU, SNPREES-FO, SupAutonome- FO and l’UNEF
 

 

 

The ‘Made Smarter’ review: a road to utopia or dystopia in negotiating the future of skills, apprenticeships and work?

By Maisie Roberts, CERIC Postgraduate Researcher

pandora's box

Junge, A. 2005. Pandora’s Box #1: Found Toolbox with Neon

The future of work: dystopia or utopia?

The recent industry-led independent Made Smarter review chaired by Professor Jurgen Maier, CEO of Siemens, provides a future vision of the UK’s industrial landscape in terms of advancing the remit of digital technology. Training and upskilling are central components of achieving a utopian future vision. However, the future of work seems to hinge on Maier’s warning (2017: 11):

“Get it wrong, and we risk further de-industrialising our economy, and becoming ever more reliant on imports. Get it right, and we will have found the key to rebalancing and strengthening our economy, creating many new, exciting, and well-paid jobs, and leading a renaissance for the UK as a true nation of creators and makers.”

From this perspective, the future of work remains a highly contested point of discussion, centred on two extremes, which either seem to epitomise a utopian land of promise or a scaremongering nightmarish dystopia. Indeed, when we think of the future of work we conjure up rather dystopian images of the superiority of artificial intelligence-driven robots who have the power and skill to take over the whole spectrum of work, leaving us without any hope of meaningful work. Precarious employment contracts, disposable workforces, intensified working hours and minimal employment rights are already a sad reality. Beyond this the underworld of Silicon Valley casts an unsettling shadow over society where our digital footprints are tracked, extradited and sold to feed a dystopian-like machine. Has Pandora’s box been opened with no return? And what’s the alternative?

 Trouble in utopia?  Skills and the fourth industrial revolution

 Currently, technology, innovation and digitalisation are key incentives for national economies and skills and training are viewed as essential in achieving aptitude in this area. Economies are revising their technologies and capabilities in line with this so-called ‘fourth industrial revolution’.

The first revolution used water and steam to power production whilst the second relied on electric power for mass production. The third drew on information technology to create automated production lines. The fourth builds on the foundations of the third, but merges physical, digital and biological realms to create new technologies. Amongst other emerging phenomena this includes the rise of big data and the Internet of Things, where cyber-physical systems communicate and exchange data with each other and with humans in real-time.

The process of creating a commodity has therefore changed from one where manual work would physically create a product from raw materials to one where technological and information-led networks shape new “modes of development” in an increasingly globalised context (Castells, 1996). This presents the question whether the nature of skill is changing under this new guise of capitalism underpinned by the “information age”.

This might mean that new skills are needed to navigate between raw materials and new technology, data and software, changing existing job structures as well as creating new jobs altogether. Here, skill is therefore essential to facilitate technological advancement. Indeed the World Economic Forum (2016) calls for complex problem-solving, creativity, critical thinking and teamwork amongst other skills, which are viewed as essential in navigating us into a utopian future of the fourth industrial revolution.

Conversely, there could be a move to the growing but rather dystopian phenomena of a so-called ‘lights out’ methodology. Under this approach, human labour becomes obsolete as factories become solely operated via automation with the ‘lights out’ to save on production costs, increase profit margins and respond to increased customer demand. Frey and Osbourne’s (2013) infamous paper, which estimates that 47% of all US employment is susceptible to computerisation certainly plays to this analogy.

Uncertainty ahead: The case of Germany and England

The fourth industrial revolution still remains very much a future vision, and one, which is not yet fully realised. How skills strategy integrates into the future vision of work remains uncertain as demonstrated by Germany and England.

Germany

The ‘dual’ German apprenticeship system adopts a corporatist and coordinated approach, in which both firms and vocational schools provide highly structured training (Bosch, 2010). Apprenticeships are protected from market forces in an almost utopian enclave where unions, chambers, employers and the state work collectively and pro-actively together to regulate the future path of the system.

Although Germany seems to epitomise a perfect apprenticeship system, it, too, is facing significant challenges. Previously up to 75% of young people would typically undertake an apprenticeship (Grugulis, 2007) but since 2013 university starts has overtaken apprenticeship starts and this number is rising (BMBF, 2016). Higher education is becoming a more popular option, much like the UK, with the promise of a free university education and higher graduate wages a key incentive for this choice.

Equally, the entire context and character of Germany’s labour market has changed too with the implementation of the Hartz reforms over 10 years ago, which brought in temporary, agency or so-called ‘mini’ jobs as well as cuts in unemployment welfare assistance. The traditional purpose of an apprenticeship was to provide comprehensive training to catapult an individual into a secure and permanent occupation for life. Yet the evolving fragmentation of Germany’s labour market could undermine the stability, time and effort required to develop well- defined routes to employment.

Germany’s pro-active strategy of “re-imagining work” through its “Work 4.0” concept highlighted in its initial green paper (2015), followed up by its white paper (2017) aims to tackle some of these issues. The reports highlight the need for occupational profiles to be adapted to meet changing skill demands, increasing continuing vocational training, more support for SMEs to develop training and a monitoring system to forecast future demand of skilled labour. The decreasing labour supply of young people is mentioned and as such the report calls for the opening up of skilled labour to more migrants, low-skilled workers, women, older people and disabled people. However, the reports do not seem to directly address the growing prevalence of higher education, which many have argued is leading to growing inequality and a reduction of firms participating (Thelen and Busemeyer, 2012). The future of apprenticeships therefore remains somewhat ambiguous in the Work 4.0 agenda.

England

England’s system is voluntarist and employer-led, with employers solely designing, regulating and managing the system. England lacks the collective ethos and stability of the German system. The English system is also prone to continuous political upheaval, particularly since the Thatcher years where participation in apprenticeships drastically declined (Gospel, 1995).

An apprenticeship levy was introduced in April this year with the aim to increase apprenticeship participation to 3 million apprenticeships by 2020. The levy targets employers with a pay bill over £3million, affecting 2% of firms. However, recent reports highlight that since the levy apprenticeship starts have decreased by 59% (BBC, 2017). Equally, only half of the eligible levy firms have actually registered to reclaim levy funds (CIPD, 2017). This suggests that many firms are disregarding the levy as a tax instead of a social responsibility to invest in apprenticeships. Hence, although the levy has good intentions, perhaps the inherently market-led nature of England’s economy deters employers from investing in the costs and time needed to create high quality apprenticeships.

The recent industrial strategy aims to reform the UK’s technical education system to make it more internationally competitive, invest £406m in STEM skills and create a new National Retraining Scheme to allow people reskill in the labour market. Much like the recent Made Smarter review, training and skills exemplify the road to utopia in the policy discourse. However, UK’s intermediate skills ranking is projected to stand at only 28th of 33 OECD countries by 2020 (UKCES, 2015) and its productivity figures were recently downgraded from the predicted 2% growth for this year down to 1.5%, soon to be followed by 1.3% in 2019 (OBR, 2017), the same rate as during financial crisis.

The Made Smarter review focuses in on these challenges. Firstly, it argues that lack of effective national leadership and cross-sector collaboration has failed to achieve a coherent strategy of industrial digitalisation. Secondly, poor productivity, limited business support, cybersecurity threats and significant skills shortages due to the fragmented apprenticeship system leads to poor levels of adoption of the digitalisation agenda, particularly among SMEs. Finally, the UK’s infrastructure does not support the scaling-up of technology to support companies, meaning that innovation is under-leveraged. As such, the need for training is paramount in the report, which calls for the upskilling of a million industrial workers. Yet the current employer-led approach to apprenticeships in England, where the nature of the market dictates its future, contrasts to this utopian image.

Summing up

 Utopia, true to its definition as both a no-place and a good place, is a useful framing device, which helps us consider what we might want for ourselves in our future society. The Made Smarter review offers us two very different future outcomes, one with new, exciting and well-paid jobs, creating a society of creators and makers, or, an alternative route towards a de-industrialised, stagnant and import-reliant society. Juergen Maier clearly acknowledges that the UK faces a number of challenges in creating his future vision of industry and employment, including poor productivity and infrastructure. Lack of coordination, leadership and collaboration amongst businesses, academia and other institutions are also listed as central concerns.  Interestingly, Germany’s “re-imagining work” white paper actively engaged in a public dialogue and called upon workers, businesses, unions and other institutions to help contribute to the future vision of work in partnership together. This helped to ease the mystery behind the notion of digitalisation and its implications on work, whilst providing a voice for all in navigating towards a collective vision of the future world of work.

From this perspective, we need to ask what skills and work we really value in society today. Apprenticeships, training and skills development can clearly provide increased national productivity, innovation and meaningful job creation if implemented correctly (Finegold and Soskice, 1989). Yet apprenticeships are too often considered as a magical tool to swiftly solve all of society’s problems, such as youth unemployment, deepening skills gaps and productivity slumps to name a few (Keep and Mayhew, 2010), without much consideration of what is actually needed to secure these essentially utopian benefits. If we truly admire the inherent value of skills and apprenticeships as a means to meaningful and productive employment for society, more weight, investment, regulation and prestige needs to be placed on them.

References

BBC. 2017. Apprenticeship numbers fall by 59% after levy imposed. [Accessed 1 November 2017]. Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-42092171

BMBF (Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung). 2016. Report on Vocational Education and Training 2016. [Online]. [No Place]: Federal Ministry of Education and Research. [Accessed 1 November 2017]. Available from: https://www.bmbf.de/pub/Berufsbildungsbericht_2016_eng.pdf

Castells, M. 1996. The Rise of the Network Society, 2nd ed. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.

CIPD. 2017. Half of Eligible businesses register to reclaim apprenticeship levy funds. [Online] [Accessed 1 November 2017]. Available from:  http://www2.cipd.co.uk/pm/peoplemanagement/b/weblog/archive/2017/10/09/half-of-eligible-businesses-register-to-reclaim-apprenticeship-levy-funds.aspx

Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. 2017. Made Smarter. Review 2017. [Online] [Accessed 1 November 2017]. London: Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. Available from: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/655570/20171027_MadeSmarter_FINAL_DIGITAL.pdf

Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. 2017. Industrial Strategy: building a Britain fit for the future. [Online] [Accessed 1 November 2017]. London: Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. Available from: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/664563/industrial-strategy-white-paper-web-ready-version.pdf

Federal Institute for Labour and Social Affairs. 2017. Re-Imagining Work, White paper, Work 4.0. [Online] [Accessed 1 November 2017]. Berlin: Federal Institute for Labour and Social Affairs. Available from: http://www.bmas.de/SharedDocs/Downloads/EN/PDF-Publikationen/a883-white-paper.pdf?__blob=publicationFile&v=3

Federal Institute for Labour and Social Affairs. 2015. Re-Imagining Work, Green paper, Work 4.0. [Online] [Accessed 1 November 2017]. Berlin: Federal Institute for Labour and Social Affairs. Available from: http://www.bmas.de/SharedDocs/Downloads/DE/PDF-Publikationen/arbeiten-4-0-green-paper.pdf;jsessionid=FFFC52E6F5D81905E8B5D4EE90F3E69C?__blob=publicationFile&v=2

Finegold, D. and Soskice, D. 1988. The Failure of Training in Britain: Analysis and Prescription, Oxford Review of Economic Policy, 4(3), pp. 21-53.

Frey, C, B. and Osbourne, M. 2013. The Future of Employment: How Susceptible are Jobs to Computerisation? Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 114, pp. 254-280

Gospel, H. 1995. The Decline of Apprenticeship Training in Britain, Industrial Relations Journal, 26(1), pp. 32-44.

Grugulis, I. 2007. Skills, Training and Human Resource Development: A Critical Text. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Junge, A. 2005. Pandora’s Box #1: Found Toolbox with Neon [Online] [Accessed 1 November 2017]. Available from:  http://www.jungeart.com/assemb/photo_display.php?start=4

Keep, E, and Mayhew, K. 2010. Moving beyond skills as a social and economic panacea, Work, Employment and Society, 24(3), pp. 565-577.

OBR (Office for Budget Responsibility). 2017. Economic Fiscal Outlook. [Accessed 1 November 2017]. Available from: http://cdn.budgetresponsibility.org.uk/Nov2017EFOwebversion-2.pdf

Thelen, K. and Busemeyer, M. 2012. Institutional Change in German Vocational Training: From Collectivism toward Segmentalism. In: Busemeyer, M. and Trampusch, C, eds. The Political Economy of Collective Skill Formation. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Pp. 68-100.

UKCES. 2015. UK Skills Levels and International Competitiveness 2014. [Online] [Accessed 1 November 2017]. Available from:  https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/470017/skill_levels_2014.pdf

World Economic Forum, 2016. The 10 skills you need to thrive in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. [Online] [Accessed 1 November 2017]. Available from: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/01/the-10-skills-you-need-to-thrive-in-the-fourth-industrial-revolution/

 

 

 

Report launch: how do we engage more employers in employability and skills programmes?

Jo IngoldDr Jo Ingold, Lecturer in Human Resource Management and Public Policy, CERIC, Leeds University Business School.

3 December 2017, at an event in Westminster for policymakers, practitioners and academics, we’ll be launching our final report from a four-year ESRC-funded research project about employer engagement in employability and skills programmes.

Employers are critical to the success of employment activation and employability programmes, yet there’s been surprisingly little research about employers’ perspectives on them. In the first phase of our research, we surveyed over 1,500 employers in the UK and Denmark. In the second phase, we undertook more than 100 in-depth interviews with employers and providers delivering employability and skills programmes in both countries, to provide a ‘two-sided’ perspective on employer engagement.

Employers’ perspectives on employability programmes

Employers were generally positive about employing unemployed candidates, but less so about employability programmes, particularly in the UK. A critical difference between the countries was that, while every Danish employer we interviewed had taken part in at least one programme (and often more), among UK employers participation was more sporadic. UK employers were most familiar with apprenticeships above other provision. A key reason for not engaging in programmes was that employers thought they were inappropriate to their needs. They were put off by the large number of programmes and providers, lacked knowledge about them and about how to access programmes, and were unsure about their value. The most popular reasons for engaging were to access an alternative recruitment channel, to develop talent and to ‘give people a chance’.

Critically, employers felt that the benefit conditionality system and employability programmes themselves could ‘tarnish’ candidates. Employers were particularly dissatisfied about receiving large numbers of job applications as a result of conditionality and entitlement conditions. The lack of a tailored service from providers could also result in employers being sent candidates who were of ‘poor quality’, unsuitable, or ill-prepared.

Employers were generally positive about employing disabled people, although only a small number of UK employers had done so, and not necessarily through employability programmes. In Denmark the Flexjobs scheme for disabled people (offering subsidized jobs under special conditions, in-work support and reduced working hours) was popular with employers. Importantly, in both countries very few employers had made changes to their recruitment and selection processes to encourage candidates from disadvantaged groups, despite recognising the shortcomings of the standard application and interview method.

Our survey data found two distinct groups of employers in terms of engagement in employability and skills programmes. Firstly, those who were ‘instrumentally engaged’ on an ad hoc basis in specific initiatives but not that ‘committed’ to them. Secondly, those who were ‘relationally engaged’ and were more committed and involved in a broader range of programmes on a repeated and sustained basis. This distinction was supported by the interview data. The survey and interview data showed that relational engagement was higher in Denmark than the UK. Crucially, UK employers did not feel that employability programmes were designed with their needs in mind and, compared with Danish employers, had very low trust in public policies.

Providers’ perspectives

The data from providers in both countries showed striking similarities with the employer data, in terms of barriers to engagement and reasons for engaging, as well as in their perspectives about what relational (or in-depth) employer engagement meant. However, the fact that UK employers had less ‘institutional’ trust in government policy and programmes critically left more ‘gaps’ to be filled by providers. They tended to achieve this through the development of ‘inter-personal’ relationships with employers, based on trust. So these relationships were largely between individuals from provider organisations and from businesses, rather than based on relations between organisations. But, although these relationships were critical to employer engagement, they were also fragile and trust could be easily lost. This wasn’t helped by changes to programmes, regulations and contracts in localities.

UK providers also expressed concern about employers’ fluctuating demands for labour, which were difficult to meet. Additionally, there was a gap between employer demands and the individuals that providers’ held on their caseloads, who were possible candidates for vacancies. Providers felt that this gap could not be filled by programmes in their current form. One way of providing a good ‘offer’ to employers was by being able to provide a ‘spectrum’ of services (ranging from pre-employment training to in-work support and training). But providers could only really do this successfully if they’d won a range of employment and skills contracts (from different government departments), or merged with or acquired organisations that had. Alternatively, providing a range of services to employers required working with other organisations, sometimes competitors (what is often referred to as ‘co-opetition’).

This research reveals the extremely fragmented landscape of employment and skills provision in the UK, as well as the remoteness of employers from them (notably the situation was slightly different in Scotland, where these policies are devolved responsibilities). The current formulation of employment and skills policy assumes that employers will engage and will provide opportunities for unemployed individuals. But this research (and the previous research we conducted about the UK Work Programme) suggest that employers are not beating the door down to take part in these programmes, despite them being a potential avenue for increasing workforce diversity. If the government wants to seriously address labour market disadvantage and in particular to halve the disability employment gap, an urgent re-think is needed about the current direction of policy.

Policy recommendations

  • In their current form, programmes are not working effectively for employers. Employers still lack knowledge about programmes, don’t recognise their potential benefits and consider them inappropriate to their needs.
  • A smaller number of programmes, with more continuity and stability but less complexity and fragmentation would make it easier for employers to engage.
  • Changes need to be urgently made to avoid employers receiving large numbers of job applications from benefit claimants in order to fulfil conditionality requirements, as this is damaging to employers’ views of initiatives. A critical aspect of this is better targeting of applications to employers.
  • Devolution is an important opportunity to improve employer engagement in the design and implementation of initiatives and to devise programmes that are responsive to local needs.
  • Merging different government departmental funding streams for employability and skills provision would be helpful, especially as the government looks to replacement European Social Fund provision.
  • More employers need to be equipped with information about ways to make their recruitment and selection processes more inclusive and effective.
  • To maximise resources and to provide a better service to employers, we need more mechanisms for sharing evidence-based good practice across different providers, programmes, cohorts and areas, which currently the competitive contracting frameworks mitigate against.

This research was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and followed on from ‘Seedcorn’ research funded by CERIC and Leeds University Business School. More information about the research can be found here.

 

CERIC to host workshop on Universal Basic Income and the Future of Work

JPEG Yellow-BlueKate Hardy, Vera Trappmann and Charles Umney

In the face of widening disparities of wealth, changes in work and employment in which low pay dominates and the ability of work to lift people out of poverty declines, debates about the future of social protection have come to the fore. In contexts from the Global South to the ‘developed’ North wage labour appears decreasingly able to distribute social wealth or protect individuals and households from poverty.

In this context, scholars, activists and policy makers have begun to examine alternatives to existing systems of welfare, including negative income tax, cash transfers and universal basic income and guaranteed minimum income. Basic income has become the most visible and perhaps most contested of these proposals. The notion of a universal basic income – a non-conditional base income for all citizens – has attracted increasing popular purchase within social movements, institutions and governments. Numerous academic pilot experiments from Canada to Namibia and India have been undertaken, while governments are rolling out experiments in Finland, Barcelona and Utrecht. Proponents of basic income have been drawn from across the political spectrum, finding support from Milton Friedman and Bill Gates to Frances Fox Piven and Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell.

On 26th January, CERIC will host a workshop bringing together theorists, practitioners and social movements to this day long workshop will explore these questions, focusing on basic income, wage labour, work and employment, by asking:

• How does basic income relate to changes in the labour market, including the growth of the digital and gig economy?
• How does it impact on work and employment?
• How might it effect women’s rights and gender equality?
• What can we learn from basic income experiments in progress?

This will be is a CERIC event to discuss key contemporary issues in work and employment.

The event is sponsored by the Centre for Employment Relations Innovation and Change (CERIC) and Leeds University Business School (LUBS).