Using our skills properly

How many times have you listened to or read dreary rhetoric about the need to up our skills level?  It is perfectly true that we don’t give nearly enough respect, or money, to the less prestigious kinds of skills, notably those that are developed in the further rather than higher education sector.  But the important questions are around how well competences are actually used.

This is, of course, the exact focus of the Paula Principle.  It’s also the topic of a telling new report from the CIPD.  Here is its sweeping overall judgement (my stress):

 The focus of skills policy over the last three decades has been almost exclusively on increasing the supply of skills, with the assumption that this would create a virtuous circle: businesses supplied with a bigger pool of higher levels of skills would shift their business models upwards to take advantage of these, fuelling further demand for more higher-level skills. This has fundamentally failed as an approach: on the one hand, the UK still has a stubbornly high proportion of jobs that require low, or no, qualifications, and on the other hand, the UK has one of the most qualified workforces in the world but not enough graduate-level jobs to absorb them. 

The report has much to say on how to address this, switching the focus to enabling and supporting better ways of utilising skills.  Predictably I just want to pick out the Paula-related items.

First, women are slightly more likely to report that they had the skills to cope with more demanding duties than men (38% compared with 36% respectively) and they were also more likely to report that they were over-qualified for their roles (30% compared with 24%).  The latter gap is noticeably larger, and this points to an issue to do with self-reporting of this kind.  Other things being equal, women are less likely to say that their skills are being under-utilised, as men tend – generalisation alert – to have a higher view of their own abilities.  So these figures tell us a) that notwithstanding men’s higher view of their own abilities, women still report a higher level of underutilisation, and b) the reported qualifications is larger because this is a more ‘objective’ item.

Now the very familiar part-timer angle.  Whilst 37% of the total report that they are overspilled, and 27% that they are overqualified, the respective figures for part-timers are 49% and 44%.  The obvious conclusion is that women part-timers are the most overqualified and overskilled group.  Yes, we knew it already, but here it is in black, white or whatever colour you choose to highlight.

Women go on learning more throughout their lives, personally and professionally.  The report shows that only 21% of women had had no training in the last 12 months compared with 26% of men.  So women are advantaged here.  This is partly because more of them work in the public sector which still offers better training opportunities (despite the overall background of a shocking decline in training investment).  But it’s also because women are readier to acknowledge, to themselves and others, that they actually need to learn new skills.

The question, as usual, is how well these skills are recognised and rewarded.  It’s only fair to record that there was no difference between men and women in how they say themselves as having career opportunities.  But match that against the fact that 30% of men had been promoted, against 25% of women.

In short, a very useful and timely report.  One thing it might lead to – not dealt with in the report itself – is a reconsideration of what counts as a ‘career’.  If we can build and promote a more diverse range of career models, we might find that we get to higher levels of skill utilisation.

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