‘Part-time’ working again, and inequality
Two strong further prompts that rethinking how we use ‘part-time’ is an urgent and important task. I visited Emma Stewart, co-founder of WomenLikeUs, and she told me about their work in developing a better match between supply and demand in higher quality part-time jobs. Only a tiny proportion of job vacancies – around 3% – are available on a part-time basis and at a salary level over £20K. This contrasts with the 55% that are available full-time at this level. So for every ‘good’ part-time position, there are 18 full-time positions. This fits very poorly with the large numbers of people – mostly women – who are well qualified and capable of working at this level.
A minority of employers make all their positions available on a flexible basis. But most have a covert, or even explicit, position against hiring part-timers for professional roles. This may be because of real organisational issues, but in many cases it is born out an outdated perception that part-timers cannot be seriously committed to carrying out anything other than lower level roles. The ONS confirms this marginalisation by not collecting data on vacancies outside JobCentre Plus.
I have implicitly equated flexible with part-time. But this of course is not the case. We need a much more fine-grained grasp of both broad categories. As I’ve argued before, the current binary divide into part- and full-time is increasingly outdated and damaging.
The labour market context makes this all the more important. The latest figures show that the number of underemployed people is growing fast, both men and women. But it’s wrong to jump from there to the conclusion that all of those who say they would like to work longer hours mean that they want a full-time job. They may want to go up to four 4-hour days rather than three, or to do 6-hour rather than 4-hour days, or to work more weeks in the year. It’s all about the pervasive underutilisation of skills and competences, the central PP thesis.
The second event was the launch by NIACE of a report which focusses inequalities in adult learning. Many of these inequalities are well known and persistent. ABs take part more than DEs, young people more than old. But the report shows very clearly how part-timers come off badly. They are half as likely to receive financial support for training from their employer. 20% get time off to learn, compared with 32% for full-timers. And only 1 in 10 have the opportunity to discuss learning in their appraisals/annual reviews. Mind you, only 15% of full-timers get the opportunity – which says something about the lack of ambition in most organisations’ appraisal processes.
By now you don’t need me to remind you that most of these part-timers are women. Since we know that women are more open to the idea that they can benefit from training these results point to a mass of missed opportunities – which, as WomenLikeUs emphatically demonstrates, means that employers are missing out on potential as well as actual competence available to them