Low Skills & Disability
Low Skills and No Skills
The lack of appropriate work-related skills in the local workforce is arguably the single most important factor that sustains the under-performance of local economies. It's important to recall that the most deprived areas did not become deprived because skills in the local labour market disappeared - it was actually because traditional jobs disappeared.
Nevertheless, antiquated skills and the declining levels of education & learning that accompany these job losses act to perpetuate the problem. For more details, see my article about the effects of unemployment & worklessness.
If you are unfamiliar with the types of problems associated with low/no skills, then here is a brief guide starting with the most elementary:
- Lack of Soft Skills - By 'soft skills' I'm referring to the most elementary skills of all, skills that are so basic that most people would regard them as immediately obvious or instinctive. It includes things like dressing appropriately for an interview, being punctual for that interview, reliably turning up for work each day, communication in a polite and respectful manner, maintaining control of emotions, and so on. Sadly, many of these skills are severely lacking in the most deprived communities.
- Lack of Basic Skills - These skills refer to the basic numeracy and literacy skills needed for basic employability, as well as basic vocational skills like computer and information technology literacy.
- Academic and Professional Skills - Due to the lack of the more elementary skills in deprived areas, government funded projects to assist people into jobs tend to focus less on these more advanced skills. In fact, the few people who possess them tend to be quite capable of assisting themselves into work, either within the local area or in another area with better prospects.
Projects to help people with soft-skills and basic-skills have shown some measure of success in terms of improving employability, and there is evidence that it helps people to gain employment, and to stay in employment for longer periods once a job is gained. Success rates are far from overwhelming, but assistance with these skills is a vital stepping stone to gaining better employment in future, and breaking the intergenerational cycle of deprivation.
Disability & Help with Mental Health Problems
Another major hurdle to improvements in the supply of labour comes in the form of disability and mental health problems. Whilst there have been bogus health claims filed by significant numbers of the 'hidden unemployed' in order to evade the need to search for work, there is a growing proportion of the workforce that genuinely suffers from this sort of disability as worklessness persists.
The main types of mental health problems are:
- Reduced Aspirations to Work - which can directly limit the person's life chances with regard to financial independence and a normal standard of living.
- Poor Motivation Levels - whether because of a lack of productive role models or unsupportive social influences, lack of motivation to succeed is a problem.
- Reduced Self-Confidence - without active involvement in a productive endeavour, important experiences are missed, with resulting confidence issues.
- Increased Anxiety, Stress & Depression - an state of reliance upon the welfare system, and the generosity of others, develops a sense of helplessness leading to anxiety and insecurity. Many workless people suffer from stress and depression.
Again government funded projects have had some limited success in helping to ease these problems, with confidence building projects and personal support, but the extent of the problems are often so severe that any intervention is bound to be of limited impact.
Low Income Jobs and Temporary Employment
Once ingrained in a community, the deteriorating skills base of the workers in that community along with the mental health difficulties that follow means that the only realistic employment options for a large proportion of the workforce are entry-level low income jobs.
This sort of employment is not often associated with a long career, even in more economically active communities, and it tends to lead to temporary employment either because a better opportunity comes along or, more typically, because the employee gets disillusioned with it and quits (or his/her standard of work slips resulting in dismissal). This can lead to work history gaps that sometimes present yet another barrier to employment.
Long-term success from working to remove the employment barriers in these communities is severely restricted due to the welfare trap which makes low-paid jobs financially unattractive (because the loss of welfare benefits when taking such a position leaves little to no reward from working). It's this lack of reward that causes so many workers to become disillusioned, and without a change to the welfare system to remove this trap then real improvements to income and employment in deprived communities will, in all probability, continue to be elusive.
There are other barriers to employment that I have not discussed, in particular those that affect particular groups like lone parents and affordable childcare facilities, but the main general problems are as discussed above.
In the UK, an issue that might have been talked about is the relatively poor level of labour mobility i.e. where an employee (or potential employee) is willing and able to relocate to another area with better career prospects. In the US this is known to be much less of a problem, but for some reason many Europeans are less mobile.