The tangibility of part-time work

“Between 1990 and 2011, the value of intangible assets in the UK grew from £50.2 billion to £137.5 billion, while at the same time the value of tangible, physical assets has increased much more slowly from £72.1 billion to £89.8 billion. In 2015, intangible investment will be 50% higher than investment in tangibles.”   CIPD Human Capital Reporting: Investing for Sustainable Growth 2014, quoting a NESTA report by Goodrich et al Technology and the Arts.

I’m always a bit suspicious of these kinds of calculation, but the overall message is pretty clear: we should be looking at how the money we spend (publicly and privately) on things like education and training (prime examples of intangibles) is effectively put to use, and not only think of ‘investment’ as something made in physical assets.

St Pauls

This point was made several times at a lively meeting I went to yesterday in the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral – not somewhere I’ve visited before.  It was hosted by the St Paul’s Institute, which works to stimulate debate on contemporary issues.  The topic was What’s Gender Got to Do With It? Women in the Economy, and the panel included Stefan Stern, whose tweets have provided me with many useful leads, and Vicky Pryce.  They are writing a book on quotas as a means of promoting women’s participation in senior positions.

The case they make is primarily a business one rather than an equity one, i.e. that organisations that do better on diversity are more likely to succeed commercially.  Vicky took a very forthright economist’s approach to women’s labour market activity generally – pointing to the huge waste involved if women’s skills are not used to the full.  (She also illustrated her approach by reference to the costs of putting women, especially mothers, in prison –  including the  long-term effects on children – but that’s another story.)

Coming from someone else (e.g. a man, maybe) this hard-nosed economist approach might have put some people’s backs up, but it didn’t appear to.  One member of the audience added the point that we need some different labels or categorisation , especially in thinking about ‘infrastructure’:  we  shouldn’t count only hard physical things like airports and roads, but include ‘social infrastructure’ items – the capacity for care being the main one.

There was a lot of discussion of part-time work and the penalties it brings.   (I dropped in a question about whether we need to change the way we define ‘part-time’ , but I think this went into the ‘too hard’ basket.) Later that day I picked up the latest ONS stats on part-time work, and the reasons why people work part-time.  Here we may be reaching a milestone of a kind.

Male part-timers have gone up by about 14000 over the last year, to just over 1.5 million.  This increase is not big.  What is much more significant is the numbers who say they do not want to work full-time.  This has shot up, from 909,000 a year ago to 992,000.  The numbers of women who are working part-time and not looking for a full-time job have increased by even more.   Of course the fact that they are ‘not looking’ for a full-time job partly reflects the absence of such jobs – the discouragement effect.  But it may be that we are reaching a point when choosing to work part-time becomes normalised, for men as it is for women.   So when the 992K turns into a million we might look on that as a turning point.  But of course the question is whether employers will recognise part-time careers – and make that intangible investment pay off.

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