Observations on the labour market

Given the preponderance of chatter about zero-hours contracts and other labour market issues in the media, I thought I’d catch up with some statistics free, anecdote and bias heavy commentary.

Recently in my ahem “professional capacity”, I’ve been doing a lot of recruiting.

I’ve read hundreds of cvs, covering all levels from school leavers to established directors. I’ve then met and interviewed around 40 different candidates. I realise that doesn’t make me an expert on anything, but there are definite patterns of corporate and individual behaviour that stand out, and I just want to take a few minutes to document them. Like I say, it’s a selectively biased sample (people out of work or looking for something better), but if exit-interviews are worthwhile, then this fulfils the same purpose.

First up – the jargon.

The labour market is just a collection of folk. The candidates were folk. The interviewers were folk. The ultimate reason that this blog is called “Folk Sermons” is absolutely because I figure half the problems we have stem from forgetting that we’re all just folk. 96% chimp, a relatively young species just working out how to get along. Economic and political and governmental systems are just frameworks, shaped by folk, and inhabited at every level by folk.

So let me tell you some observations about the folk I read about and met.

What have they been doing?

NHS – I reckon I came across 15-20 CVs from professional types (HR, Finance) who we’ve been working within what used to be the NHS. All of them were drifting from one 12/18 mth contract after another, between one CCG/PCT to another. Now, firstly, based on their CVs, not one of them would have got an interview to work with me. Lots of people can get the qualifications and letters after their name, but only a few are genuinely really good at their jobs. The HR ones were the best – how many re-organisations they’d achieved, how many contracts they’d re-negotiated etc. (Not one of them mentioned how they’d developed and trained people, or improved services or anything worthwhile).

Now, this ain’t the way to run anything successfully. A good organisation needs specialists like accountants and HR managers; a great organisation takes the best, develops them, and uses their skills to drive the organisation forward. This takes time. Short term contracts will only secure the functional aspects of these roles, hiring and firing, cost reporting etc; but the truly strategic improvements take much longer. In short, it depressed me how poor these organisations must be if they’re taking all these folk on to just get through the next year, and then doing the same again, or swapping them with the neighbouring PCT. I have some sympathies with the people in charge here – govt and top-down restructuring have created this short-termist, functional behaviour. Short term contracts mean fewer payoffs when the next re-organisation comes along. But I just wanted to point out how dumb it all is.

Care homes – I was genuinely surprised by the number of people who had been working in care homes that were desperate to get ANY other job. Feedback was, the hours were erratic, poorly paid, with no prospect of improving, and the job was rewarding but becoming more difficult / stressful. These people aren’t there to put bottles in boxes, or enter data onto systems, they are there to look after folk – the most vulnerable, confused, bored, folk in our communities, and the people who’re being paid to do it can’t survive themselves on the pay. Just totally dumb. And have you seen the fees these places charge!!?!?

Other industrial sectors.

The formerly successful local manufacturer (supplier to major UK retailer), who now just import stuff China, Vietnam etc and half the staff are looking for a way out.

Bookmakers – at least 8 applicants working at local bookmakers, all of whom hate their clientele.

Publicans – a lot of applications from ex-publicans. Makes sense I guess – running a successful pub seems like very hard work, with fewer punters and brewery control making it hard to make an enjoyable lifestyle out of it.

Ex-pats – a surprising no. of people who followed the rush to run their own small business in Spain or wherever, and end up returning and trying to get some income coming in from anywhere.

Other retail – loads of talented, capable, massively qualified people who can’t get the hours they need to establish a family, pay the bills etc, on minimum wage, zero-hour contracts. And yet about half end up being interim managers, regional trouble-shooters etc.

Debt management firms – which seem to follow a cycle of rapid growth, lost contracts, rapid shrinkage, and start again.

I’m avoiding touching on the sheer desperation of those who will work for free, apply for roles even though they live hundreds of miles away etc – I’m assuming they have to prove they are applying for things. It’s just a stupendous waste of my time, their time, and their job centre advisors time.

Comments

There’s a lot of work around that needs doing. There’s a lot of capable, dedicated folk happy to do that work. But many of those folk are being let down. Public and private sector organisations alike are generally really poor at providing work that sustains, supports and enables people to have a happy life. You can send me all the GDP graphs you like, and talk about output gaps, labour market flexibility etc, but those are just huge collections of numbers. I know that for every job we advertise, we’ll get 200 applicants – either unhappy, underpaid, or underworked. I know that short-termist corporate stupidity means that hugely capable, smart folk that understand what the organisation should do are left forgotten, underpaid and unvalued, in deference to a powerpoint slide demonstrating something to a venture capitalist, a minister, a banker.

If you ever watch “Undercover Boss”, you’ll know that they (short-termist corporate managers) know it too. How they’re touched by the human stories of their staff, which were unknown to them before. And they go back to the boardroom and the nodding heads, and thoughtful squints, and tell everyone they need to make it better. But giving Bert an extra week off, or giving Margaret and her disabled daughter skydiving lessons ain’t the answer.

The answer is folk need to stand up to their responsibilities individually and collectively. It would help if there were some visionary, long-term thinking in politics, business, the civil service etc. But that might take a while / never happen. But those folk are just folk like you and me, and if enough folk start to acknowledge the deficiencies of all organisations, and do what they can, when they can, to correct the problems and demand answers we might have a start.