Good Work or Any Work? Is Good Work a viable concept in the current economic environment?
Authors: Vicky Pryce
22 November 2011
The argument in favour of getting any kind of job is often framed in terms of progression. That once on the jobs ladder, people develop and improve their capabilities and this is rewarded through higher pay and better employment conditions, so they move up the earnings distribution. But the problem is that in practice there is little progression – and possibly even less than there used to be. At the risk of simplifying, people in low paid jobs stay in low paid jobs. So someone out of work who takes the first job they can get, whatever the conditions, risks being stuck in a cycle of low pay and no pay.
Of course the argument does depend on what people do instead of taking this first available job. The evidence suggests that qualifications at NVQ Level 3 and above (i.e. A Level in England) are where the wage returns are significant – so if you are 16 or 17, you might be better staying on to take A Levels than seeking employment or an Apprenticeship. Equally, the wage returns to degrees are still large and – even with higher tuition fees – make a university education financially attractive.·
Further down the skills ladder, there is mixed evidence on whether helping the unemployed to retrain offers the taxpayer good value for money. College based training schemes for those out of work can be patchy depending on what is taught and the quality of provision.
More generally, in the long term will “good” work or “bad” work mean anything? International competition is reducing the number of low paid low skill jobs in the manufacturing sector. Technology and competition means we need skilled, flexible workers there. Yes there will continue to be a non-traded service sector that will employ people in relatively low status jobs. But here the overseas competition is in the form of migrants from the EU or elsewhere. If we are to grow the economy long term it will be by raising productivity. That doesn’t happen by forcing people into unproductive jobs. Quite the opposite may be the case: more people into part time/low training/permanently low skilled jobs means loss of competitiveness and eventually low growth and NO jobs.
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