12 January 2016

Britain’s skilled part time workers are not going to waste


The skilled labour of the nation is going to waste we are told today. There are those with the ability to do important and responsible jobs who are not employed to do so simply because they wish to work part time or in job shares. Thus, obviously, we must have more senior part time and jobshare employment available so as to make proper use of our collective resources.

So we are told at least in the pages of the Financial Times, Telegraph and Daily Mail. These part time workers are “trapped in poor jobs” and something must be done!

This is not a proposition that passes the economic smell test. As Gary Becker pointed out such irrational taste discrimination is costly to those who do it. This applies to race and gender discrimination just as much as to this in favour of full time workers. We do rather assume that the capitalists are greedy and thus that they won’t fail to make as much money as they can by refusing to employ people on non-rational grounds. So we would instead assume that there is some rational reason why this state of affairs persists.

We can also test this contention another way, as Dame Stephanie Shirley did with FI Group. Back when there was indeed discrimination against female programmers, especially those with children. Technology newly allowed them to work from home, Dame “Steve” employed them to do so and made a fortune. To believe that employers are irrationally preferring full time labour over part time one must also insist that there is that profit opportunity for those who will preferentially employ those being discriminated against. And if you don’t see the profit opportunity in doing that then you’re also not believing that the discrimination is irrational.

For, as above, we do think the capitalists are greedy for profit and so where are those people preferentially employing those highly skilled part timers? If they do exist then we’ve not a problem because the discrimination is being taken care of: if they don’t then there isn’t discrimination that can be exploited.

The actual truth of the spate of articles is more mundane. There’s a recruitment consultancy that specialises in placing part time people into senior roles. They have a “research” arm which tells us all occasionally that it’s very important that part time people be placed into senior roles. The last time they did this was June 10 2015, this press release went out on 11 Jan 2016, we must expect another in the second or third week of June 2016.

Whatever the efficiency of part time employment this sort of PR, or perhaps astroturfing is a better description, is highly productive: a week’s typing is very much cheaper than three half page ads in the national press. So much so that we might set our calendars by that next irruption, coming this summer.

Tim Worstall is Senior Fellow at the Adam Smith Institute.