Insecurity is a myth

December 19, 1997

Is a job for life a thing of the past? Two reports paint very different pictures of employment today.

THE Perception of job market instability that has guided government thinking on lifelong learning, is wrong, said a Centre for Economic Policy Research researcher.

"Reports of the death of jobs for life appear to be exaggerated," Simon Burgess, research fellow and senior lecturer at the University of Bristol, told a CEPR meeting in London last week. He found that the average length of a job is about 18 years for men and 12 for women.

"Jobs last about as long now as they have for the past 20 years. People will find my data hard to believe. We are told time and time again about job insecurity. It has been informing policy on education. A lot of lifelong learning initiatives have been designed specifically to cope with the idea that there is terrible job insecurity - but there is not."

The proportion of workers in their jobs for less than a year was the same in 1992 as it was in 1975, Dr Burgess found. "There is a substantial fraction of workers in short jobs at any moment. A common argument is that this fraction has increased in the past 20 years or so and the proportion in long jobs has fallen accordingly. The data show that this is not the case."

The notion of job insecurity is the premise for many government initiatives. Earlier this year, when outlining plans for the proposed University for Industry, education secretary David Blunkett said: "The concept of jobs for life is gone. People change jobs several times during their working life. Lifelong learning is essential to build the portable skills necessary for such regular transitions."

The Confederation of British Industry, the Further Education Funding Council and the Association of Graduate Recruiters have all concurred with that analysis.

Dr Burgess said graduates are among the few who tend to have short tenures. "(Their) job instability is through choice. Education gives people the scope to change jobs."

Details of research next week

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