Making it in the new world of work when you are on the back foot

This month in Sydney, I gave a presentation on the future of work to a group of employment service providers who work with very disadvantaged clients. Their core task is to help people who are in some way on the back foot in the competitive job market of the present time. With so many predictions of massive job losses, there are unique challenges for people in this situation and the organisations who are tasked to help them.

So what could I say about the developments in the world of work in relation to such people?. My ppt is available for viewing here.

In brief, on current predictions, the worst outlook on job losses due to automation, AI and robotics will not eventuate.  New jobs will emerge especially in the areas of health care/social assistance and education/training.  But the downside is that there is growing job polarisation – growth in higher paid, higher skilled jobs and lower skilled, lower paid jobs with fewer in the all important middle level with reasonable pay and job security.

Low end, casual jobs play a role at transitional points in employment trajectories such as for young people combining work and education. The problem emerges when the low end job will never offer any gateway to better paid and more secure employment. Entrapment in low end jobs can create poverty traps for some people whereby they are no better off than on state benefits. This can lead to a continuous churning between a low paid, casual job and social welfare with little possibility of emerging out of poverty.

There are no easy answers to some of the dilemmas facing certain groups in the emerging world of work and that in part is why there is such a vigorous discussion about Universal Basic Income now in train. But there are other things that could be done. There will be considerable growth in health care and social assistance but a lot of jobs in these ares are in fact low paid and casual in accordance with government funding constraints – austerity.

The second table in this post shows that around 20% of jobs in health care/social assistance and education/training are casual jobs (without paid leave entitlements) and there is a rate of around 10% of underemployment. These figures do not show also the high rate of fixed term contract jobs in these sectors. So even if you are getting paid leave entitlements, you may be in a job that finishes at year’s end as what happens to many teachers and academics.  Many jobs wind up when the social service agency funding runs out, a very common occurrence. I argue that governments need to be accountable for the employment conditions in the public sector which have had flown on effects to what is offered in the private sector. Job polarisation is in part a result of inadequate government funding for such large areas of employment. 

For the most part, people on the back foot in the labour market are in that position due to some sort of discrimination on the basis of age, disability, ethnicity, gender or other factor. It may also for some be a matter of inadequate education. But discrimination is a form of rationing.  Employers won’t bother with people who don’t fit ‘the mould’ when there are so many applicants who do.

Building strong employment opportunities, especially through the public sector, will greatly enhance the position of disadvantaged people. The Danish Prime Minister at the OECD Forum Bridging the Divides in June gave an overview, and impetus, as to how Denmark does it.


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