This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
Dr Pamela Clayton, University of Glasgow
Presented to the SEQUAL Development Partnership
The philosophy of employability 'Employability' is NOT informed by the marxist philosophy of 'to each according to his(/her) need, from each according to his(/her) ability' or by the social democratic philosophy that everyone has a right to gainful employment and that full employment is desirable. Rather, it comes from the liberal idea, based on the ethos of self-help, selfdetermination and responsibility, that, in general, there is a level playing field and it is the responsibility of the individual to make him/herself fit for gainful employment. There is a role for the state (as Adam Smith stated) in providing a safety net for the minority who need it and basic education and health for all. The latter are essential for economic development and employers need an educated healthy workforce. The state is expected to provide people fit to become workers but beyond that to intervene as little as possible.
The notion of the ‘employable’ worker The concept of ‘employability’ is employer-led, specifically by private sector employer organisations such as the CBI, but it has been taken up as a key 1
concept and policy area, first by the British government and subsequently by the European Commission. Since, in classical economic theory, the raison d’être of profit-making organisations (and increasingly by public-sector organisations under pressure from tax-cutting and expenditure-reducing governments) is to minimise costs. Since the majority of these are staff costs (including training budgets), they prefer new employees to be ‘job-ready’ - that is, provided via the state and university education sectors with: • • basic skills, including literacy and numeracy; transferable skills, including communication, customer handling, teamwork, problem-solving, learning to learn and, increasingly, ICT skills; • and a reasonable level of occupation-specific skills, involving specialised knowledge and abilities. Also desirable are personal attributes including motivation and disciplined attitudes towards work, learnt and demonstrated principally through prior employment. All employers then need to do is to give training in highly specialised skills and in changing technologies and new skill needs. Furthermore, in areas of skills shortage, ‘poaching’ workers from similar firms is a common way of finding qualified recruits. The most employable workers, then, are those who already have jobs and the required skills, particularly in areas of skills shortage, and who can show evidence of having taken responsibility for their own learning1. Since the truly ‘employable’ worker has, among many other talents, ‘learnt how to learn’ in a self-directed way, a minimum need be spent on workforce development. It is also important to remember that SMEs make up the great majority of businesses in any European country, and without some form of training subsidy or co-operative training arrangement it can be difficult for firms to carry out adequate and good-quality training. There are, however, small firms who do this, particular in high-technology industries2. So who pays - in time and money - for employability? Since public spending comes from direct and indirect taxation, workers and would-be workers
contribute greatly to their own ‘employability’, particularly if they take up courses on their own account and at their own expense.
Discrimination: the business case? The classical idea that businesses invariably aim to maximise profit is, in fact, compromised in a variety of ways. For example, some appear - to shareholders in particular but also to governments - to seek profit for directors at the expense of the company and its shareholders ; small business owners, on the other hand, may seek autonomy rather than profit maximisation. Greed and independence, then, may be greater values than profit. Nevertheless, profitability, competitiveness and productivity are still the bottom line in many cases and are, indeed, necessary for survival in the private sector. Given the official line on ‘employability’ - that is, that anyone is employable who has all the skills summarised in the previous section - one might not expect it to co-exist with discrimination. Age, sex, disability, ethnicity, sexual orientation, postcode, all should be irrelevant provided the person can do the job … especially in a context of near ‘full employment’ (traditionally about two per cent residual unemployment, consisting of people in transition between jobs and the ‘unemployable’, that is, people who either do not wish to work or have great difficulties which prevent them from working) where recruitment poses difficulties for firms in some sectors. So it is necessary to discover why negative discrimination nevertheless exists. There are, arguably, three (at least) factors behind discrimination; prejudice; stereotyped perceptions; and cost (real and perceived). These overlap but I have tried to give examples for each: 1. Prejudice: this includes the ideas that people’s value is based on their current employment status, class, sex [in certain sectors], age, religion [in certain areas], ethnicity, nationality, colour, sexual preference and physical and emotional ‘normality’. Such ideas give rise to, for example, sexism, xenophobia, racism, ageism and homophobia. Hence some (valued) jobs are fit only for men ; ‘white’ people are more intelligent than others ; ‘crazy’ people are best avoided ; young people (but not too young) are of more 3
value than old ones ; teenagers are feckless and probably criminal or addicts ; people living in certain districts (obvious from the home postcode) are shiftless and work-shy; unemployed people are probably not fit to be employed, irrespective of how they became unemployed … 2. Stereotyped perceptions of risk: for example, that workers will not accept gay co-workers ; that women’s periods make them unreliable for certain kinds of work ; that mental health problems pose risks for others ; that older workers can’t learn new things and aren’t worth training or hiring. In other words, some groups pose more risks than others. We should note that there is often some truth in stereotypes, but that these truths can be the result of self-fulfilling prophecies and misinterpretation. 3. Cost: a CBI Director told me that Health and Safety legislation was already costly - to employ people with disabilities would add to that cost. Maternity leave is an obvious example of added cost, and since health declines with age, older workers could be more expensive than younger ones in terms of sick leave (though this is not proven). If customers will not tolerate black shop assistants they will shop elsewhere, so keep the front line white. For large firms, there is also the fact that recruitment costs can be very high (as much as £20,000 per worker), so a mistake in recruitment can be expensive - better go for the safe option than test new waters. Hence, the liberal ideology of equal worth and value is rather like Athenian democracy - limited to a small section of the population. Outside a particular group (stereotypically, young -but not too young; male - though only in highstatus occupations; white; educated - except for the ‘over-qualified’; and middle class), it is not enough that individuals are ‘employable’ - they (or advocates on their behalf) have to prove it with much greater effort than is equitable.
Discrimination: the cost The above does not apply to all employers. Some make positive efforts towards a ‘diverse’ workforce and/or spend considerable resources on training and developing their employees. Others see that there is a good business 4
case for hiring formerly ‘unwanted’ groups. One such group is that of older people (who can be as young as 45 or even 35 in some industries); another is very young people, especially if they have no previous employment. According to the Employers’ Forum on Age, there is a good business case for challenging age stereotypes and assumptions, excluding prejudice from employment decisions, viewing people of different age groups and backgrounds as potential employees and recruiting and promoting solely on merit and potential. Age diversity brings commercial benefits by helping to create a ‘skilled and motivated workforce’ which meets the needs of an agediverse customer base; by becoming ‘an employer of choice in an increasingly competitive labour market’; and by building ‘its reputation as an ethical and intelligent employer … (which) has been shown to impact favourably on stockmarket performance’ (http://www.efa-agediversity.org.uk/what-is.htm). Thus ‘the business case for age diversity is founded on plain common sense. It can help companies adapt successfully to new markets, and keep them aligned with evolving legislation and social trends. Age diversity also counters the threat from a shrinking, ageing workforce, which combines with prejudice to create the kind of skills vacuums seen in this photograph’ (http://www.efaagediversity.org.uk). One example is B&Q, which staffed one entire store with older workers and found it was the most profitable in the country. They now have a policy of seeking to recruit older workers. Another is the Nationwide Building Society, which abolished the compulsory retirement age and is very satisfied with the results3.
Conclusion Despite claims that individuals must be ‘employable’, some individuals are ‘more equal than others’ and many employers are averse to the risk of hiring people from certain sections of the population, through prejudice, stereotyping or fear of risk, especially to profit, competitiveness and productivity. The subtext to ‘employable’ is ‘normal’ in addition to the other attributes of ‘employability’ such as the possession of a range of skills. In the light of 5
legislation, some already enacted and other forthcoming, intended to combat discrimination in employment, employers will be legally obliged to eliminate discriminatory practices. Whether they actually do so, and how effectively this can be monitored, are open questions. Endnotes
Anecdotal evidence from Open University students and from a survey,
Personal, Social and Vocational Outcomes of Learning in the West of Scotland, carried out by the author and published in a series of articles, suggests that at least some employers are impressed by adults who undertake learning on their own account and either hire or promote such a learner. See, for example, P. Clayton and M. Slowey, ‘Toward the ‘flexible’ workforce? Implications for gender and the education and training of adults’, Scottish Journal of Adult and Continuing Education 1996 and ‘Was it worth it? A comparison of the role of adult education and training in the labour market insertion and progress of men and women in the West of Scotland: results of qualitative research’, International Journal of Lifelong Learning 2000.
Much of this section is based on a research report by the author, Tremplin,
Skills Mismatches and the Role of VET: The United Kingdom National Report, available at http://www.gla.ac.uk/tremplin/BritishReport_en.pdf
For other examples, see http://www.efa.org.uk, the Employers’ Forum on
Age. Core members are Barclays Bank, BBC, BT, B&Q, Cabinet Office, Centrica, CIPD, Dept. for Work & Pensions, DfES, GlaxoSmithKline, HSBC Bank, Leeds Met. University, Manpower, Marks & Spencer, Nationwide Building Society, Royal Bank of Scotland Group, Royal Mail, Sainsburys and Shell. It is supported by Age Concern England.
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue reading from where you left off, or restart the preview.