Category Archives: Workplace Learning

Status quo: good for rockin’ all over the world, not so good for education

By Jo Burgess, Postgraduate Researchers, Centre for Employment Relations, Innovation and Change (CERIC), Work and Employment Relations, Management

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Who said life was fair? No-one.

Although politicians are keen in their efforts to acknowledge inequality, the problem is owned by society and society is a slippery and vague concept. As a society we should strive for equality: me, you and everyone we know, but we are largely onlookers to the reproduction of social advantage and disadvantage before us. In our society advantages and disadvantages are maintained by a variety of means: economic, cultural and social which ensures that social mobility is among the lowest in the developed world. The focal point of both the cause and solution to inequality is education. This has not gone unnoticed by politicians, it puts me in mind of one who thought education so good he called its name three times. Not much has changed, however, and we find ourselves in our technologically enabled, emotionally literate, post-this and that age, as twenty-first century people with an education system defined by its ability to perpetuate the limitations and freedoms of social class. In other words, those spoken by Justine Greening, ‘The reality is that in modern Britain where you start still too often decides where you finish’ (DfE: 2017). The view of education as an engine for social mobility has dominated discussion since the post-war period but has failed to result in meaningful reform, this is particularly evident in vocational education and training where the status quo is maintained in terms of gender and social class.

Our attitudes and values regarding education need a radical rethink. A starting point would be to examine the dominance of middle-class values which shape curriculum, assessment and teaching; perpetuating social advantage in ways that are both visible and obscure. As a result of continued focus on academic qualifications entry to University has grown and created new problems that of the over-qualified and under-utilised increasingly occupying jobs previously held by those less academically qualified. In a labour market with little or no increased capacity for higher level employment the redistribution of low skilled work to swathes of graduates will result in a reinforcement of social inequality, and a generation of debt burdened graduates in unsatisfying work. The higher education premium has become more stratified giving advantage to Russell Group graduates, and the intended meritocracy and ‘knowledge economy’ are as socially divisive and class conscious. If we are to achieve greater levels of social mobility and equality, we must start viewing academic and vocational learning as having equal value.

The Further Education sector in the UK occupies an unusual place in the education system, simultaneously peripheral and vital. Skills education policy over several decades can be characterised by the cycle of continual change, resultant instability and loss of identity and purpose. The ghettoisation of academic and vocational learning facilitates disadvantage by reinforcing class boundaries. Everyone thinks vocational education is a good idea, but as Alison Wolf (2002) observed ‘for other people’s children.’ Vocational education needs financial investment, of course, but also time, effort and intellectual investment. Learning skill and competency in the 21st Century should not be the same as the 1960s, we have different labour market requirements. Young people, and importantly their parents, need to consider not just their career but the indications of future employment.

Reform in education is long overdue, the government’s T-level qualifications due to be phased in from 2020 is less reform than recycling and presents significant challenges for the FE sector which has been hit hard by austerity. A radical change to our education system would involve long term strategies (much more than the cycle of one parliament) which address perception and value in a direct and pragmatic way. Less follow your dreams and more ‘where’s the job?’ in our career planning. Critically, barriers need to be removed so that social class does not define educational routes and I am thinking as much of the middle-class aversion to vocational education as the challenges presented to working class university entrants. Despite the consistent improvement of educational attainment for young women over decades, within vocational education and training gender stereotypes dominate occupational choice which has impact on future earnings, career trajectory and life chances but also maintains sectoral inequalities. Policy is unimaginative and maintains status quo.

My research explores the reasons for persistently high levels of gender segregation in vocational education and how the intersection of social class and gender impact upon the careers of young women. The purpose of this is to define barriers to change and consider improvements. In aiming to influence policies and practices which could contribute to gender balance in vocational education this may have incremental effects on the future gender make-up of the labour market. Young people deserve to have opportunities which enable security and purpose. Life isn’t fair, but education should be.

References:

Wolf, A. (2002) Does Education Matter? London: Penguin

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The limits of the “platform economy”: why haven’t platforms taken over live music?

by Charles Umney (University of Leeds), Dario Azzellini (Cornell University) and Ian Greer (Cornell University)

NB: This blog summarises our research project “Limits of the platform economy: digitalization and makretization in live music”, funded by the Hans Boeckler Foundation

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It is often assumed that the “platform economy” is in the ascendancy, and is taking over more and more economic sectors. Because of this, much research on the matter has focused on characterising and evaluating this change: what are the relative advantages and disadvantages of this kind of work compared to more “traditional” jobs? Should we be optimistic or pessimistic about it? Hence, most current research has looked at the experience of workers in industries which are already highly “platformised” (such as ride sharing, food delivery, or clickwork).

But given that the platform economy still involves only a small percentage of workers worldwide, it seems that some sectors must be more susceptible to platform takeover than others. Indeed, put this way, this sounds like a statement of the obvious. So it is surprising that so little research has examined which characteristics make a given labour market more or less hostile terrain for platform capitalists. Our study of live music in the UK and Germany suggests some answers to these questions.

Superficially, live music seems like the kind of sector that might be ripe for platformisation. High-profile early platforms intervened directly in the music industry, reshaping the relationship between musicians and their audiences (for example Napster or Myspace). Moreover, live music fits closely with the idea of the “experience economy” which features heavily in many platforms’ self-promotion. See, for instance, Sofar Sounds, which considers itself a dedicated live music platform and has collaborated with AirBnB and Uber to provide live music “experiences” in private individuals’ homes.

However, our research shows that live music is proving resistant to the platform model. We conducted a systematic review of live music intermediaries in our two countries, developing a comprehensive database of any enterprise which a) has a significant online presence, and b) aims to link up buyers and sellers in the live music labour market.

The sites we found included those helping musicians connect with other musicians; helping musicians connect with potential venues; or helping customers (such as individuals organising a private party or corporate event) to find musicians. We supplemented this with a number of interviews with key informants in both countries.

In the over 160 sites in our database, very few adopted a model consistent with the typical “platform”, and those that came closest to this tended to have a marginal presence, with little reason to believe they could become a major source of work for live musicians.

Why is this? First, we will summarise the kinds of enterprises we did find, and consider how and why they fell short of “platformisation”.

Types of (partial) digitalisation in live music

We divided our sample into clusters, identifying differing levels of digitalisation. In general, we found that, the more digitalised sites were, the more their function moved from that of a representative acting on the musician’s behalf (as with a “traditional” live music agent) towards providing a venue for amassing data and matching buyers and sellers.

The largest group, comprising almost half of our sample, were the websites of traditional music agents. Here, the online activity is merely one means of contacting an agency which likely does much of its business offline. Traditional agents typically represent a comparatively small number of acts, and are relatively selective about who is featured on their books. They may have a monopoly over specific acts, and being represented by an agent may constitute a significant career break for artists.

Traditional agents’ websites usually served as a means of advertising their bands and providing a means of contact. They do not tend to offer any kind of comparison-facilitating function (for instance, they rarely enable users to sort by price or “quality”, however defined). If a client wants to hire an act, they must then make off-site contact and the agent likely acts as the musician’s representative in negotiations. They may also actively prospect for work for their artists, and provide them with career development support.

Next, we identified a category which hybridises elements of the traditional agent model with characteristics of a digital platform. We called these the “digitalized agencies”. There were fewer of them, but they typically featured much larger numbers of acts. They normally catered to “function” work- i.e. where artists act as service providers, performing as hired entertainment or background music at private parties or corporate events.

These were different from the traditional agents in two main ways. First, they normally had much more open and accessible sign-up procedures (typically, acts had to fill in an online enquiry form including video or other media clips). Selectivity is generally lower. This explains the much larger lists of acts they tend to feature.

Second, the sites were more “customer-focused”, in that they marketed themselves primarily as a venue for customers to browse through and compare their acts: a price comparison site rather than an artist representative. Thus, they tended to provide more data: prices were often displayed up-front and could be used to order search results. And in some cases, acts could also be sorted according to rankings such as user-generated star ratings or other measures of “popularity”. These, however, tended to be rudimentary and sparsely-used, with few acts have more than a handful of user-submitted ratings.

Despite this greater digitalization, these sites still differed sharply from a genuine platform (even if some described themselves as one). The comparative data they amassed was highly limited. And most importantly, they retained significant human interlocution in organising transactions. Transactions were never fully automated: instead, the customer’s choice of an act was only a starting point, after which came further interpersonal negotiation, facilitated by a manager at the agency, to agree final arrangements with the band (which could be complex, given the unique circumstances of each gig which can affect the final price).

Finally, we identified a small group of sites which came closest to the platform model. Sites in this category usually marketed themselves towards musicians looking to build a profile as creative performers under their own name. Musicians and clients (such as clubs and concert halls, or even individuals looking to use their house as a music venue) could create profiles and post requests, to which others could attach their own profiles, leading to direct contact between account holders.

These sites were the most readily accessible, enabling instant signup with no managerial vetting. As such they tended to be by far the largest group in terms of numbers of acts featured.

They were also usually more sophisticated in the data they amassed for providing comparisons. They often sought to sync with other social media platforms, in some cases giving users “scores” by amalgamating activity across their other accounts- Twitter, Youtube, Soundcloud, and the like.

They also sometimes provided automated forms of labour discipline: for instance, one site featured automatic disconnection from the platform if a musician withdrew from an agreed engagement on three occasions.

However, we judged these “live music platforms” to have very limited reach. Often, the vast majority of act profiles appeared dormant, and evidently only functioned very sporadically as sources of work for their users. Many of the gigs advertised were poor quality ones, in which artists were expected to play for free or for very low pay. At this stage they appear patently unable to seriously support a professional musician’s career.

Indeed, through our interviews, we found that more established platforms were seeking to make changes to their business models, notably trying to partner with traditional agents as a means of accessing new market segments. This suggests severe limits to the mileage of the platform business model in live music.

Why haven’t platforms taken over in live music?

We believe there are three main reasons why the platform model has weak traction in live music.

First, because of the subjective and qualitative way in which value is assessed. Looking through the sites we identified, it was striking how little-used and rudimentary the comparative metrics for establishing “quality” were. Many act profiles only had a handful of star ratings, nearly all of which were five star, rendering them largely useless as a basis for comparison. Instead, users were more often encouraged to view a wide range of video or audio clips provided, which did enable comparisons but hardly the of automated, rapidfire kind enabled by platforms.

Secondly, because the field of live music is so fragmented. Different kinds of work (“function” versus “creative”, and then the varied different “scenes” and segments within these broad groupings) have different ways of working. Buyers in them look for fundamentally different things. Norms around pricing and standards are completely different. Thus, while musicians themselves may happily work in many different contexts, they would normally use different avenues to obtain different kinds of work, rather than a “one stop” platform serving all market segments.

Third, because the transaction itself contains so many contingencies that have to be renegotiated. For instance, travel, accommodation if necessary, repertoire, food provision, equipment: all of these may involve specific requirements on each gig, to the extent that qualitative personal oversight of transactions is seen as essential by all parties involved.

Does this matter for music work?

While platforms had not taken over, the kinds of digitalization we did observe has some important consequences for live musicians’ working conditions.

First, digitalization makes intermediaries less likely to function as a musician’s representative, and more likely to provide a customer-centric venue for comparison. This creates new risks for music workers. Agencies are less likely to invest time and resources into promoting their acts, and more likely to require that artists produce these things themselves (for instance by assembling Electronic Press Kits which are uploaded to a band’s profile). There are up-front costs for artists to gain market access, with often a relatively weak chance of significant new work opportunities as a result.

Another dilemma this poses for musicians is those occasions where they are required to state their starting fee upfront, to be sifted through by potential customers. This means musicians have to commit to a rough fee before hearing the details of a particular engagement (though there is limited scope for negotiation before finalising the gig).

A more representative intermediary such as a traditional agent, would instead take responsibility for negotiating potentially higher fees depending on the perceived means of the buyer. Musicians are thus “frozen” into specific prices which have to be set with the lower end of the market in mind.

Second, the model magnifies price competition by creating a new forum where potentially thousands of acts can be rapidly compared. The vast “reserve army” of musicians is marshalled into a new and expanded “shop window”, and at the click of a mouse they can be sorted from least to most expensive or vice versa. Unsurprisingly, we found cases of extreme low fees on certain sites, including one where a four-piece band was offering a starting price of £100 for work in London (the average per-member fee of £25 compares to a Musicians’ Union-recommended going rate of over £150).

Finally, however, it was striking to note that many of these sites combined the wider reach of digitalization, with a continuation of highly opaque and “offline” methods of profit-extraction. For instance, some sites may take a suggested budget from a customer enquiry, and search through acts on their roster to find one who will work for the lowest fee. They may not reveal the customer’s actual budget to the band, and in this way they can accumulate huge commissions that might be as much as, or more, than artists themselves receive. Expanded digital reach does not necessarily mean greater transparency.

Limits to the platform economy?

These websties, in the vast majority of cases, are not platforms. Indeed, a detailed look at live music shows how some of the inherent characteristics of the sector militate against platformisation.

This means we need to reconsider the assumption that platform-type organisational forms are on an inexorable upward trend. While this may be true in some industries, we suggest there are other sectors- where the nature of services is complex and contingent, where markets are fragmented, and where judgements of value are highly subjective- which are likely to prove inhospitable for this kind of organisational form.

Nonetheless, the organisations we examined were increasingly creatures of partial digitalization, a sort of “missing link” between an offline service market and a platform. In many cases, this presented consequences for workers that resemble those already identified with genuine platforms.

Why the young in Germany do not mobilize against precarity

by Vera Trappmann

Vera Trappmann

Employment in precarious conditions in Germany as in many other countries is above all young, feminine and migratory. More than half of German under-24-year-olds have only a short-term work contract; of the under-35-year-olds this is still 30 percent; half of all temporary workers are under age 35; 23 percent are employees in the low-wage sector; 26% of 18-24-year-olds live under the poverty line. As if that were not enough, one-fourth of those in educational transitional programs, 10% are neither in work nor in training, (so-called NEETs,) and 6% of young people leave school without any qualification. However, interestingly, the young precarious workers do not really mobilize against precarity, at least not massively. Even under conditions of sectoral relaxed labour markets, young precarious workers tend not to engage in conflict with their employers or participate in protest but rather remain passive, sympathetic supporters of trade unions and wait until their earning situation is no longer precarious before they mobilize (Thiel and Eversberg 2017).

In the following I will try to explain this puzzle by looking at subjective factors that lead to or hamper mobilization. The focus on subjective factors does not dismiss the role of context and norms (Menz and Nies 2016), it is just a dimension that has been neglected so far. I will use Hirschman’s (1970) scheme of exit, voice and loyalty as potential reactions towards precarity and explain in turn what leads to individual strategies of loyalty, voice or rather exit. We can distinguish push and pull factors on the individual biographical level for each phenomenon. The analysis draws on results of the PREWORK project[1] where we conducted 60 biographic interviews with precariously living young adults under age 35.

Voice, Exit and Loyalty as strategies towards precarity

Voice

Voice is understood here as the mobilization of workers. Other than classic literature on mobilization I will not look at organisational factors (Kelly 1998) but at individual biographical motifs.  First, and very uniquely, mobilization in our sample occurred only among those who have high cultural capital (higher academic degrees), and second who ascribe to their occupation a high priority. They had a strong occupational identity with intrinsic work motivation, such as in knowledge workers, researchers, artists or medical doctors. If the occupation has no high priority in life, there is no mobilization.

Furthermore, third, a precondition for activation seemed to be a consciousness of injustice, or the experience of injustice in the course of one’s biography, and particularly social injustice. The critique of concrete working conditions in a profession then led to engagement in the field of work and especially mobilization. Fourth, we found that a highly developed feeling of self-efficacy is vital for mobilization. By self-efficacy we follow Bandura’s (1997) understanding as being the conviction that one can achieve through one’s own behaviour certain results, while the dimension “environmental control” distinguishes whether events are influenced through individual actions (agency [i.e. indirectly]) or rather through external circumstances such as luck, destiny, or other powerful persons and the like. He distinguishes four types of self-efficacy— based on the self-perceived level of self-efficacy and possibility for controlling the environment — that lead either to social engagement and protest, to apathy and resignation, or to an over-conformity to the environment.

Fifth, in all mobilized respondents there occurred a conflictive separation from parents. It appeared almost as if the widespread modern approach to upbringing leads to an a-politization, and that the rejection of parents’ lifestyles promotes political engagement.

Pull-factors played also a huge role, it were a strong recruitational field of societally critical student groups, subcultures, personal role models and a range of available ideologies and appealing narratives that sound demanding but not impossible.

Veras Voice graphics

If we look at Noah as an example. He is 28, broke off his studies and took up a carpenter’s apprenticeship. His trade he considers almost an artistic activity, and it provides him with a strong occupational identity. For Noah, it is less the concrete working conditions in a firm that are important, and more the general working conditions in the capitalist system, that he rejects. Therefore, he joined a cooperative in which the incomes of the members are pooled and divided among all, so that all members are less dependent on individual orders and less on the ability and necessity to work constantly. For Noah the process of separation from his parents had a strong influence on his engagement in the politics of work. As his parents separated in a painful custody battle, Noah fled into in the punk scene and lived on the street. At age 18, he travelled for almost two years by bicycle through Europe and during this time] read leftist literature. His experience of the failure of the small-family model drove him to seek togetherness in alternative, collective structures. He lives in leftist-oriented communal housing project and engages himself in an anarchist union movement. His activity in the politics of work is for him a strong expression of his estrangement from the failed life-model of his parents.

Loyalty

The contrary case – no critique of conditions, but rather adaptation to them — presumes, one could say, is the absence of all these factors, though we can in fact elaborate a few own factors that foster loyalty. Above all this is an effect of the normalization of precarity: it is no longer perceived as something bad. Rather, it is considered something temporary; a difficult situation that can, when the youth phase has passed, or with a substantial educational investment, resolve itself. Here a strong belief in meritocracy is of consequence. If I invest enough, the system will reward me. Here is also the reason why, with equally high self-efficacy as in the “voice” type, no collective action ensues, but instead the logic of individual maximation prevails, with precarity remedied individually. At the same time, here the individual resources of actors are already significantly taken up by the management of the challenging, stressful youth phase. Too many things are waiting at the same time, above all the social pressure to “find yourself”. That is accompanied by the so-called neoliberal, unauthentic Self which, in the words of the economist Wrenn (2015), totally inflates the perception of one’s own ability to act, and in particular the control over the environment and tries to make the individual believe that all changes to the environment should be possible on the basis of individual agency and individual responsibility for everything. The unauthentic Self cannot recognize structures anymore. Adaptation or perhaps rather blockade; to undertake something in some direction; these motivations originate in great measure from precariousness. As Butler (2009) does, one can speak here of the physical and emotional vulnerability of all life, against which individuals try to immunize themselves. Many of our blocked subjects still suffer today from effects of childbirth, childhood neglect, the experience of violence, or chronic health problems. The experience of chronic illness or social mobbing may lead to loneliness and isolation. It is possible however that individuals in this type of situation may over the course of their biography decide on voice mechanisms if their precarity persists even beyond youth.

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Anna is an interesting case in Loyalty. Anna is 30, has two Master’s degrees, several internships behind her, international work and academic experience and up to now has had still no work contract lasting more than 6 months. As an adopted child in an upper middle-class family, she enjoyed generous support during her education and is financially secured against sudden need by her parents as well as by her long-standing boyfriend and now husband. Despite this, the long job-application phase after her studies she has spent in a state of depression. Anna is still searching for a suitable occupational profile for herself. Although she suffers from insecurity and her current work situation in a public administrative position and complains of the short-term contracts, she holds fast to the idea that through sufficient effort she will at some future time find a secure position.

Exit

The third variant, exit, means here above all the retreat into the private, or, if within employment, a switch of sector, a change from formal work to informal or even illegal work or resignation from employment. The escape motif ranges from taking a sabbatical, regular pauses, leaving on a trip or bike by bus, or all the way to founding a permanent commune in Spain.

Among biographical factors in taking the exit option we identify the lack of recognition. But also, young adults who are trying to find their initial place in the occupational world and fail, may then rather give up especially if the work is disagreeable and makes them sick, and then also choose the exit option. And when an alternative income is available, one can also rather afford to choose exit. The welfare state makes possible for some young women an early motherhood that, also after a separation from the partner, is financially secured if only on a low level, and thereby the mother role may replace the employment or occupational orientation.

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Cynthia is a good example for a highly qualified person who due to lack of recognition chooses exit. She is 35 at the time of the interview and like Anna she has both a German and international Master’s degree and had already collected a multitude of positions in her work history, in precarious jobs in different areas (at university, gastronomy, logistics). The option of doctoral studies, research and teaching she rejects because in her experience, university working conditions are unhealthy (overwork, stress, lack of security and recognition). As co-researcher in a research project in which she was employed for two years on renewable research-assistant contracts, she received — despite her responsible job — no sufficient pay, job security, social security or the possibility of co-determination in the organizational unit.

Though Cynthia saw in this work at least in part an opportunity for her own self-realization, this ultimately did not turn out so for her, so that she gradually withdrew from the labour market and [finally] emigrated to Spain to live in a commune.

Any scope for change?

We have shown here to what extent, irrespective of labour market, sector, or welfare state institutions, the mobilization of workers depends on biographical resources. If biographical factors play a huge role, then it is legitimate to ask if and how can biographical conditions be changed to make young workers more critical towards precarity? The answer is mainly through changes in the conditions of social context. The management of the effects of a traumatic childhood is best left to therapists, but the framework conditions for the politicization of work can however be adjusted by diverse societal actors, certainly unions, but also media, politics, NGOs and researchers.

In Germany, the protest of the precarious youth in comparison to other countries developed late. Possibly the protest will continue. Strikes by deliveroo drivers (i.e. riders, couriers), and collective wage increases for student part-timers could be an indication. It should however succeed to create communication spaces in which collective identities are formed that can exercise social criticism. In consideration of the scarce effect that can be had on biographical push-factors in the short term, only pull-factors remain as an arena for action, above all the attraction of ideology; here it should succeed to underscore the fact that social inequality is not an economic necessity or the result of different individual investments, but rather the result of political struggles in the arena of work. (Bourdieu 1998)

[1] www.prework.eu

References

Bandura, A. (1997) Self-efficacy in changing societies. Cambridge: Cambridge University.

Bourdieu, P. (1998) Gegenfeuer. Wortmeldungen im Dienste des Widerstands gegen die neoliberale Invasion. Frankfurt: Büchergilde Gutenberg.

Butler, J. (2009) Frames of War. When is Life Grievable? London, New York: Verso

Hirschman, A. (1970) Exit, voice, and loyalty: Responses to decline in firms, organizations, and states. Cambridge, Mass. [u.a.]: Harvard Univ. Press.

Kelly, J.E. (1998) Rethinking industrial relations mobilisation, collectivism and long waves. New York: Routledge.

Menz, W./ Nies, S. (2016) Gerechtigkeit und Rationalität – Motive interessenpolitischer Aktivierung. WSI Mitteilungen, (7), 530.

Thiel, M./Eversberg, D. (2017) Normalisierte Prekarität und kollektive Solidarität. Eine junge Beschäftigtengeneration entdeckt die Interessenvertretung wieder, in: Berliner Debatte Initial, (3), 58.

Wrenn, M. V. (2015). Agency and neoliberalism. Cambridge Journal of Economics, 39(5), 1231.

 

CERIC Doctoral Conference 2018

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Emma Partlow

By Emma Partlow, Postgraduate Researcher, Department of Social Policy, Sociology and Criminology (University of Birmingham)

I was honoured to have been invited to present my research at the Centre for Employment Relations Innovation and Change (CERIC) Doctoral Conference on the 20th June at Leeds University Business School. As a doctoral student from the University of Birmingham, it was a pleasure to network within a room full of people who articulated original and innovative research in such an engaging manner.

The conference encompassed a wide-range of disciplines, including: Social Policy, Languages and Cultural Studies, Psychology, Performance and Cultural Industries and of course, Business and Management in its many forms. It was exciting to see how a diverse range of talks could marry together under the banner of Inequalities in the Workplace. These talks encompassed everything from: sexual harassment in the workplace, strategic human resource management, apprenticeships, inequalities in skills developments during recessions, collective labour conflicts in China, case study on the Nigerian Electricity Distribution Sector, sex work, organisational stress management, pay gaps and inequality, labour insecurity, marginalisation of theatre lighting designers, power in modern management, and the employment experiences of people with Multiple Sclerosis. Not forgetting the key note talk from Professor Chris Forde who kicked off the day so eloquently with the ‘Inequalities of Work in the 21st Century – The Rise of the Gig Economy’.

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Participants of the Doctoral Conference

I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to present my research project looking at the impact of equalities legislation on disabled people in the workplace, which critically analyses the concept of ‘reasonable adjustments’ in the policy context of the Government’s White Paper Improving Lives. The audience were receptive to my theoretical framing, which sees me draw upon the concept of bio-power and subtle coercion in the form of Libertarian Paternalism.

Doctoral students eloquently presented their work and the day flew by with methodological discussions, engaging debate and suggestions within an entirely supportive and ‘safe’ space. It has to be said that this was one of the most supportive academic spaces I have had the pleasure to participate in. The development of spaces where doctoral students can engage in supportive discussion about their work is important and something we must actively continue to arrange.  I am sure I am not alone when I say that questions, comments and suggestions received in this manner are invaluable and can go a long way in supporting a thought-process or the development of ideas.

I would like to thank CERIC and Leeds University Business School for their generosity and hospitality. Not only did they host this doctoral conference and provided refreshments and lunch but prizes were provided for the prize winners and I am honoured to have been chosen as one of these prize winners. The prizes were put forward to help with the cost of attending conferences of choice; I think this is an excellent incentive to encourage people to share their work, regardless of the stage they are at within their doctoral journey.

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From left to right: joint 1st prize winner for best paper presentation Maisie Roberts (CERIC), Dr Jo Ingold, joint 1st prize winner  Marina Boulos (CERIC), joint winner for the best poster presentation Sophie Morrell (Bradford) and 2nd prize winner for best paper presentation Emma Partlow (Birmingham)

The success of this doctoral conference has inspired me to adopt the theme of ‘Inequalities and Work’ to host a conference at the University of Birmingham so please do watch this space! It would be my pleasure to welcome some familiar and friendly faces to Birmingham and to hear how your work has developed since this event.

How can local authorities deliver better skills and employment support?

Jo Ingold 2
Dr Jo Ingold, Leeds University Business School

On the hottest day ever recorded in the UK, a diverse range of local authority Chief Executives from across the UK gathered in Harrogate for a Roundtable event ‘Can local government help deliver the welfare agenda?’ which ran alongside the Local Government Association Conference. In a short space of time we covered a range of issues. In this blog, I summarise the main issues that were debated, focusing on skills, the challenges of provision of employment support services, and the nature of effective evaluation.

Unsurprisingly skills came up as a key problem, including skills mismatches within local areas, both in relation to moving the unemployed into work and also with regard to employee retention and progression. One example given was of money being made available for skills training in particular geographical areas without incorporating intelligence about the jobs which are likely to be available in local and regional labour markets in future. Such skills mismatch problems are symptomatic of a broader fragmented landscape of skills and employment at the Whitehall level. The agendas of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills appear radically different in this area. The DWP seems more focused on the quickest way into work (in line with ongoing welfare reforms), rather than long-term skills development. In the context of potential (and partial, rather than total) devolution this fragmentation of the provision of social security and skills and employment support is likely to become even more messy, with accompanying accountability issues. Local Enterprise Partnerships (and their equivalents in Wales and Scotland) have a key role to play here but to date it’s not clear how far they are fulfilling this.

Also apparent from the discussion at the Roundtable was that amongst the local authority areas represented – from the urban to the rural and coastal – most were involved in delivering a range of employment support initiatives for a diverse range of groups outside the labour market, particularly those with multiple barriers to work. In some areas such projects were in response to perceived gaps in central government-commissioned Work Programme provision and in other areas they ran alongside the Work Programme. However, very little mention was made of partnerships with Work Programme providers. This raises two critical points.

Firstly, it seems sensible (and more cost-effective) not to duplicate existing – and, importantly, effective – provision. This will become even more crucial in the context of potential devolution settlements. Both local authorities and providers contracted to DWP to delivery employment services (alongside LEPs and their equivalents in Wales and Scotland) need to think more creatively about how to work together more effectively in the next Work Programme contract (from 2017). This is crucial for the provision of more effective employment support for the unemployed and also to provide a more coherent service for employers.

Secondly, with much good work going on, a key question is how to capture what is happening and to rigorously and robustly evaluate it. A few of the projects mentioned around the table were being evaluated but in the context of ongoing and severe local authority budget cuts, there is a need to think more creatively about how local authorities, organisations delivering employment and skills support and universities can work together to evaluate what works for whom and in what contexts (circumstances, labour markets). The black box approach of the Work Programme (freeing employment services up from government prescription) is a promising idea in principle. However, four years on from the introduction of the Work Programme it is still unclear as to whether and how evidence about what works is being harnessed and, importantly, disseminated across all interested organisations. As Julia Salado-Rasmussen argues in her recent CERIC blog, establishing causal links between active labour market interventions and outcomes can be difficult. The potential of more localised (and personalised) provision provides an opportunity for fine-grained and meaningful evaluation that can be better translated into future policy. However, one of the shortcomings of the competitive Work Programme model (and the broader commissioning of employment services) is that programme data can often be protected as ‘commercial in confidence’. It is crucial that such evidence is shared and used for wider benefit in order to inform future interventions to assist the unemployed into work.

Dr Jo Ingold is a Lecturer in Human Resource Management and Public Policy at Leeds University Business School, UK and is currently researching employer engagement in welfare to work programmes: http://business.leeds.ac.uk/research-and-innovation/research-projects/how-do-inter-organisational-relations-affect-employer-engagement-uk-and-denmark/

Co-investment in Workplace Learning: a union-led initiative.

Bert Clough CERIC
Bert Clough
– Visiting Professor, CERIC

There was scant reference to adult skills in the Conservative Party’s manifesto which indicates its low priority in the new Government’s agenda. Warning signs were already emerging during the last year of the Coalition Government. In his letter to the Skills Funding Agency, the former BIS Secretary of State, Vince Cable, outlined that £770m of adult skills funding in 2015-16 will be set aside for apprenticeships. This however means that the bulk of the overall cut to the Adult Skills Budget will fall on non-apprenticeship provision. The Skills Funding Agency has estimated that this could amount to cuts of up to 24% for non-apprenticeship learning over just one year.

The University and College Union (UCU) has warned that these cuts would hit vulnerable learners hardest, with millions of people who missed out on qualifications at school or those who need to retrain missing out if the cuts go ahead in 2015/16. The Secretary of State has stated that colleges and learning providers will thus need to consider how to lever in additional funding directly from employers and individuals.

The UK Commission for Employment and Skills has stated that pressures on public and private finances mean that traditional models of investment in skills are unsustainable. Private investment in training has been steadily declining and in England, part-time learning has fallen significantly. With the public purse likely to be even more constrained in the future, employers and employees will need to invest more time and resources in their development and in new ways of working. Conditions are required to support greater employer and personal investment in skills (Growth Through People, UKCES, 2014).

These conditions will not just magically appear. There needs to be a framework to support and deliver co-investment. Trade unions have been increasingly involved in promoting and helping to deliver co-investment in work –based employee development and lifelong learning. It involves establishing structures to pool funding and “in-kind” contributions such as facilities and time off to study by employer, union, provider and employee. The pioneer project was the Ford EDAP scheme established as a result of a collective agreement in 1987 which opened up a significant demand for lifelong learning. It has been remarkably sustainable, mainly due to it being underpinned by robust collective bargaining and run by the company’s unions.

The last Labour government provided some kick-start funding to the TUC’s learning and skills arm – Unionlearn- for developing union-led co-investment models known as “collective learning funds”. They were piloted in 23 sites across the North West and the East Midlands 2008-10 and managed by the TUC Unionlearn regions. The evaluation by CERIC revealed very positive outcomes not just quantitatively in terms of the learning opportunities taken up and workplace learning centres established, but in increasing union visibility and credibility over learning and initiating partnership working between unions and management through joint union/management learning committees https://www.unionlearn.org.uk/publications/research-paper-13-co-investing-workforce-development

A key issue for the unions has been to avoid displacement to ensure that any expansion of learning activity through CLFs does not bring about a reduction in learning investment by the employer or the state. CLFs need to fund additional learning activity that would not have been previously funded.

A follow-up project Call to Learn was established in the South West region. The project was on a smaller scale and covered five workplaces. These comprised of three manufacturing companies, a DWP workplace and a maternity hospital. The pilots had to be evaluated relatively early in the pilots’ life and any findings were therefore suggestive and unable to fully quantify learning outcomes. Nevertheless, it provides useful information on how the pilots were set up and reveals some innovatory approaches https://www.unionlearn.org.uk/publications/call-learn-tuc-unionlearn-south-west-collective-action-lifelong-learning

Like the previous two regional projects there was a common framework to the pilots such as a learning needs analysis, learning agreement, equality and diversity process, joint learning committee and a collective learning fund constitution.

There was a strong commitment to promote equality and diversity which was a specific requirement of the project and each pilot had robust procedures in place to meet that object. This included matching equality surveys with learning  surveys and with the learning committee taking any necessary action to target under-represented groups in the workforce.

Challenges included lack of ULR and management time to run the funds and no paid study time for the learner.

Successfully negotiating paid time off to study is often problematic due to effects on productivity but one workplace had managed to get round this. The union had negotiated an innovative arrangement whereby the workers studied free ESOL courses outside work time at a learning centre in a location where most of them resided. The company then paid them overtime for two hours of study after or before their normal shift working.

An important factor in the robustness of the three manufacturing pilots was the support of two project officers funded through a GMB Union Learning Fund regional project. There was also significant regional PCS support in the DWP pilot.

With minimal employer support for the learning activity in the maternity hospital pilot the union learning reps (ULRs) were running activities on an ad hoc basis but in a very innovative way. Activities even included funding a community choir ( linking learning with well-being) with some of the courses making small profits and ensuring that the CLF would break even on funding activities overall.

In some of the workplaces, it was the union that decided on and directly brokered provision with the college or private provider. In other cases the union had persuaded management to change the provider to better meet the needs of the learners. In two workplaces it was the ULRs who were actually running IT clubs.

There were positive messages from both unions and management in all the pilots that the arrangements should continue after the Call to Learn project ended.

In view of the rapidly diminishing public funding for workforce development there is an urgent need for models of co-investment to be mainstreamed in VET policy with the government actively promoting them in both unionised and non-unionised workplaces.