Underemployment phenomenon emerges with rise of part-time workforce

October 24, 20167:55 am294 views
Underemployment phenomenon emerges with rise of part-time workforce
New graduates are finding themselves overqualified, under-utilised and poorly paid. Getty Images: Morten Falch Sortland

Jobs and growth. Such a simple mantra. And yet a promise so difficult to deliver. The trend, as we witnessed with the jobs numbers last week, is now undeniable. Each month this year, fewer Australians were recorded as being engaged in full-time work. In the meantime, the rush towards part-time work gathered pace.

This has given rise to the phenomenon of underemployment, as part-time workers on average only spend 17 hours a week at work, versus 39 hours for full-time workers.

For some, who for years have been calling for “workplace reform”, it is cause for celebration, evidence that we finally are moving towards a more “flexible” workforce.

But the long-term ramifications of this shift are likely to play out in a manner that could hinder economic growth, put severe strain on our national finances and lead to a breakdown in social cohesion.

Never as a nation have we been less prepared for these challenges; the rise in long-term unemployment and underemployment and the intergenerational wealth transfer as younger skilled workers and particularly new graduates find themselves overqualified, under-utilised and poorly paid.

Instead, our business leaders are focused almost entirely on the elimination of penalty rates for the lowest paid in society — ironically so they can boost their own personal bonus payments — while the Government tears itself apart battling an imaginary foe in the shape of rampant union power.

Workforce insecurity reflected in decrease of industrial disputes

The increasing trend towards part-time work and the rising insecurity that creates among the workforce is reflected in two key measures.

The first is that industrial disputes are at historically low levels; at about 100,000 lost days during 2015, well below the average 172,000 during the Australian Building and Construction Commission’s seven years of operation.

And the second is that despite scaremongering of a wages explosion just four years ago, wages growth is now the slowest on record, rising just 0.4 per cent in the first quarter of this year after decelerating through most of 2015.

Ever since the industrial revolution, technology has constantly reshaped the workforce as productivity improvements meant fewer people were required to produce ever greater volumes.

The rise of machinery replaced muscle-power.

Employment shifted from agriculture and farming to manufacturing and construction, and in recent decades towards service industries.

A UK study by Deloitte economists last year found that rather than destroy jobs, technology improvements in the past 140 years had created greater employment opportunities as other parts of the economy expanded.

New wave of technology to replace mind not muscle

There is no arguing with that. But in the future, rather than muscle, the new wave of technology is more likely to replace intelligence.

Where machinery once reduced the need for manual labour and computers stripped workers out of factory production lines, the technology of the future will put pressure on highly-skilled occupations in the services industries including professions such as law and accounting.

For decades, we have been urged to skill up, to become the clever country, the innovation nation.

Our youth responded with ever greater numbers graduating with tertiary qualifications.

Even without a looming drop in demand for some professions, that increased supply has put pressure on skilled salaries with 26 per cent of new graduates complaining of being under-utilised, while a survey by Graduate Careers Australia found that almost 20 per cent of companies did not recruit a single graduate in 2013.

Your workers are your customers

Until now, the prospect of a cheaper, highly skilled and more flexible workforce has thrilled many in the business community.

But it now is starting to dawn that those in the workforce also play another vital role in the economy.

While they may be a cost at work, they are a source of revenue as consumers. Your workers are your customers.

If workers earn less, they spend less. If they have less secure jobs, they are denied, or at the very least find themselves severely limited to, access to credit.

At some point, that will begin to impact consumption patterns which will flow through to corporate earnings.

And a large-scale shift towards less secure employment ultimately must flow through to the housing market.

Either financial institutions will be forced to ration credit, thereby putting pressure on housing prices, or they will take on greater risk through potential defaults which also will threaten housing market stability.

Underemployment a possible new barometer of nation’s health

Once concerned only with unemployment as a barometer of the nation’s health, economists have begun to view underemployment with alarm. With good reason.

A note last week by investment bank Morgan Stanley pointed out that underemployment hit a record in August at 9.3 per cent.

Although measured only quarterly since then, monthly figures have only served to reinforce the trend.

This trend has begun to entrench itself at a vulnerable point in our history.

The mining construction boom is in serious decline. And the boom that filled the breach — the eastern states construction boom — is likely to start unwinding next year, just as our car industry packs up and departs en masse.

In a separate note, Morgan Stanley’s Australian economists predicted that up to 200,000 jobs would be lost when the housing construction boom unwinds next year.

For years now, we have been fed the line that as our economy develops, the growth of service industries — already the country’s biggest employers — will ride to the rescue and that we will provide services to a booming Asian region.

But Australia’s only comparative export advantage in services are tourism, education and possibly health.

And it is unlikely they will be enough to fill the employment shortfalls.

Our biggest services industries, banking and retail, either have never expressed interest in Asia or, as the ANZ has just done, abandoned it.

We may not be here for a long time. But future generations will almost certainly be working part-time.


news source: abc.net.au


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