Employers 'don't want more skills'

October 3, 2003

Employer-friendly initiatives fail to win over business sector, The THES reports

Policy-makers have been expanding the education system to meet the needs of an anticipated knowledge-driven economy that is in fact a mirage, a labour market expert has warned.

Speaking at the tenth forum of Scotland's centre for research in lifelong learning, Ewart Keep, deputy director of Skope, the skills, knowledge and organisational performance research centre at Warwick University, said the emphasis on qualifications had come from the state, not employers. And qualifications in themselves would not necessarily make a great deal of difference to an individual's earnings.

People looked to the US as an example of a knowledge-driven economy, but while it had some "knowledge-intensive clusters", forecasts showed about half the American workforce remaining in jobs that needed little other than short-term on-the-job training, Professor Keep told the Stirling University forum.

The UK's workforce had traditionally been a pyramid with a small elite of high-skilled workers and a wide base of low-skilled workers. Some policy-makers predicted a "high-waisted" model with many graduates and higher level craft and technician workers.

But Professor Keep said he foresaw much greater polarisation, as in the US, with "large chunks" of the UK's labour market satisfying the service sector demands of people who were cash-rich but time-poor.

Policy-makers also envisaged "high-performance work organisations" in which hierarchy and control would be out, with employees working more autonomously, solving problems and taking the initiative.

"The evidence is a bit of a problem. What the research tells us is that far from wanting a self-reliant workforce, most employers want people who get on with their jobs and don't challenge things," Professor Keep said.

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