Nyyssölä Kari

Nuoret ja työmarkkinoiden joustavuus

Young People and Flexibility of the Labour Market. Flexible employment of youth as a manpower and training policy problem

English summary

In this study the attitudes of unemployed young people to training and work are studied from the point of view of flexibility of the labour market. The frame of reference for the research was the flexible labour policy model and the examination of this model from the point of view of employment policies affecting young people. The flexible labour policy model consists of five sectors: flexibility in training, unofficial employment, mobility, atypical employment relationships and flexibility of the labour market. The basic research question was the following: What are the individual and prerequisites of policy of society for employment based on flexibility? Three research problem areas were identified: 1) the expectations of young people in relation to training, 2) the attitudes of young people toward work and 3) the relationship between young people and flexibility in the labour market. The subjects in this study consisted of 544 unemployed young people aged 17-29 living in south-western Finland who filled in a structured questionnaire in connection with a visit to their local employment exchange office.

The empirical section of the study was divided into three theme areas on the basis of the research problem areas listed above. The first theme area examined the belief in training and the training needs of young people. The material revealed a strong belief in the power of training among young people. Three out of four reported that they needed more training to get by in the labour market. The need for further training was understandably greatest among those with only a comprehensive school or high school education. The analysis also revealed that willingness to be trained had not diminished among young people due to unemployment. On the contrary, unemployment seems to have increased interest in training. This was especially true among the older age groups.

Experienced need for further training was also investigated in more detail among groups with different educational backgrounds. Those with only a comprehensive school education clearly preferred practically oriented training such as apprenticeship and vocational courses. Training which took place within the framework of an educational institution (e.g. a school, institute, university) was experienced as alien. Apprenticeships were especially attractive to teenagers. Separate vocational courses were more popular among those who had been involved in working life for a longer period of time.

Those who had received an intermediate-level vocational education were a very amorphous group. Due to this fact it was considered better to treat them as two separate groups: higher intermediate and lower intermediate. When examined as a whole those who had finished an intermediate level vocational course were just as interested in practically oriented courses as in more institutionalized education. Those with a higher intermediate- level vocational educational were somewhat more interested in going on to take a higher degree than those with a lower intermediate-level vocational education.

High school graduates were found to have an unshakable belief in training. About three-fourths were interested in taking a degree from institute or university. Those who had most recently graduated had especially high goals. Those high school graduates who had been involved in working life for a longer time were already a bitmore interested in apprenticeship or vocational courses.

Experienced training needs of academic young people were directed mainly at further education in their own field as well as toward improving the practical skills they would need to be beter qualified in working life (e.g. computer literacy and language ability). They were also very interested in post-graduate studies. Those with an academic background seemed to trust in the qualifying power of their own degree on the labour market, since they were not interested in taking a second, vocational degree.

The second area covered in this study was the attitudes of young people toward work. At the same time, the way young people related to unofficial employment was examined. One quite surprising finding was that young people have an instrumental attitude toward work. Almost half of the respondents felt that work was merely a means of making a living. Most often this attitude was found among those with a comprehensive or intermediate level education and among those from lower social backgrounds. Correspondingly the significance of the content of their work was stressed by high school graduates, academic youth and those from higher social groups.

An instrumental attitude toward work did not necessarily mean that the young people were alienated from the Protestant work ethic. The significance of work to young people as an internal norm and as an obligation connected with the protestant work ethic was studied as the summation factor "integration to salary work". In the analysis the young people's integration to salary work was found to be quite strong, nor had unemployment exerted any significant effect on it. Some differenceswere found, however, in relation to education and working history: the salary work integration of those with an academic background was weaker than that of other groups. It would also appear that long periods of intermittent unemployment and lack of education weakened the integration to salary work.

In order to reveal their attitude toward unofficial work, the young people were asked how interested they would be in accepting a job which would pay FIM 3,500 per month in some sector of the unofficial labour market. This hypothetical employment offer represented four tasks in the unofficial sector: children's day care, care of the disabled, assisting neighbours (renovation and remodelling) and club activities. The majority of the respondents reacted favourably to unofficial work defined in this way. The most interesting alternative was assisting neighbours. Club activities, on the other hand, was least popular. There were differences between the groups. Caring (children's day care and taking care of the disabled) were most interesting to women and high school graduates. Assisting neighbours, which was understood as activity of a technical nature, was most attractive to men and non-academics. Club activities was apparently experienced as demanding "intellectual resources", since those who expressed interest in this alternative were most often high school graduates and respondents with an academic background.

The final theme area was young people's attitude toward flexibility in the labour market. The following were included under this theme: mobility, self-employment, part-time work and labour market flexibility.

Mobility was divided into three fields: change of profession, relocation within the country and moving abroad. The mobility of young people varied greatly according to the field and the background factors considered. Changing profession was the most interesting of the three fields. This expressed itself clearly in those groups which had already developed a strong professional identity. Such groups were those with a vocational education and those who had been in working life for a longer period of time. Another significant observation was that young people were just as willing to move within the country as to move abroad. Moving abroad was preferred by high school graduates and those with an academic background. However, willingness to leave the country might just as readily be interpreted as an escapist protest as a deliberate plan.

Many young people were interested in starting their own business, but only a little over one tenth were seriously interested. A significant finding was that those with an academic education had a much more reserved attitude toward self-employment than other groups. This may be explained by the theoretical bias of academic education as well as by the vague professional qualifications it provides.

The majority of the respondents (69%) preferred full-time to part-time work (5%). This was not, as such, a surprising result. On the other hand, it was surprising that more than a quarter of the young people stated that length of working hours had no significance to them. This finding can be interpreted in two ways. First of all, socialization into salary work is changing in such a manner that full-time work, which used to be a hallmark of a normal employment relationship, is no longer thought to be as significant as before. Part-time work is familiar to young people, as part-time jobs are held mainly by young people and women these days. According to the other explanatory model, unemployment is seen as a factor limiting choice, so that part- time work is acceptable in the absence of full-time work.

Attitudes toward flexibility of the labour market was examined by asking the young people to take a stand on clear models representing developments in flexibility of the labour market. Four forms of labour market flexibility were identified: flexibility in length of working hours, flexibility in salaries, multiple professions and limited duration contracts. In general, it can be said that young people had quite positive attitudes toward flexibility of the labour market. The most positive attitudes were found toward multiple professions and flexibility in length of working hours. Attitudes to flexibility in salaries were more reserved. The young people had the most negative attitudes toward the growth of limited duration contracts.

The final section of the empirical part of this study represents an attempt to describe different ways of relating to flexibility of the labour market. Five types were identified on the basis of cluster analysis. The "static" type related to mobility very negatively. They accounted for 27% of the sample. The "somewhat flexible" type were very few, only 5% of the respondents. They were characterized by a reserved attitude toward the various areas of flexibility. The "flexible" type was the largest group in the sample (47%). They had either a very positive or rather positive attitude toward the various forms of flexibility. The "salary worker" type accounted for 10% of the respondents. They were characterized by a positive attitude toward flexibility in salary and length of working hours as well as a negate attitude toward unofficial work. The "busy bee" type also accounted for 10% of the respondents. They all had a very positive attitude to unofficial employment.

On the basis of the theme areas examined above four basic dimensions of the flexible employment policy model could be distinguished: flexibility of training (preference for apprenticeships and vocational courses), unofficial employment (forms of unofficial employment), mobility (relocation and moving abroad) as well as contractual flexibility (flexibility in length of working hours and salary). At the end of the thesis these dimensions were evaluated within the context of policy of society. In this context an attempt was made to define the individual and prerequisites of policy of society of the labour market flexibility model. The individual prerequisites include the attitudes of unemployed young people toward the dimensions described above. The prerequisites of policy of society, on the other hand, were defined to include the training and employment policies concerning young people enacted in the 1990's as well as measures connected with unemployment benefits.

As far as flexibility in training is concerned, it was apparent that especially young people with a modest educational background are more interested in training closely connected with working life. However, the supply of such training is at present either too limited or aims only at maintaining the labour force reserve. The solution to this problem would be the adoption of a training culture which undertakes to provide better compatibility between working life and training and which would not be seen as merely a short-sighted remedy for the immediate unemployment problem.

Unofficial employment is, for the first time, becoming a realistic alternative and can already be found in the form of small volunteer projects. In practice, however, unofficial employment is strongly connected with a remodeling of the unemployment benefit system. The main question is, to what extent will unemployment benefits become compensatory, in other words to what extent will they begin to yield benefit in the form of training, trainee positions or unofficial work? Unclarity in the direction this development is taking is also reflected in the attitudes of young people. Although the majority of the respondents had a positive attitude toward unofficial work (especially the "busy bees"), a clear opposition could be found to whom the "compensationalization" of unemployment benefits meant a loss of benefits.

There was a very heterogenous attitude among the young people regarding mobility. There were many both willing and unwilling to move. The latter group was represented by the "static" type. At present, the officials are attempting to enhance willingness to be mobile by tightening the conditions for receiving unemployment benefits. This is connected with the remodeling, and possible dismantling, of the system. Under the present unemployment policy young people are at no great advantage regarding mobility.

A very visible expression of flexibility in employment contract conditions was the so-called "Youth Salary Act" of last spring, which allowed employers to hire unemployed young people at a wage rate below that of the contractual norm. The dispute witnessed between the employers' and employees' unions was part of a wider struggle over the right to decide on working conditions. All in all the majority of the respondents had a positive attitude to flexibility in working conditions. Especially many in the "salary worker" group had such positive feelings, while most of those opposing such flexibility were in those groups which stood to lose the most benefits.

All in all the prerequisites for a flexible labour policy model are understood very narrow-mindedly: from the point of view of young people it has meant a tightening of salary and unemployment benefit conditions. In a broader perspective it is a question of a modification of the foundations of the entire labour market system and welfare state, in which the young people are being used as guinea pigs: after tightening the benefits granted to young people it is easier to proceed to other social groups. As economic resources are depleted the generation gap widens. Young people are required to give up their own benefits in order to pay the earnings-related unemployment, social security and retirement benefits of the older generations. However, young people are not a homogenous group. Part of them have been involved in working life for a considerable time and this has brought with it several benefits. Competition for benefits does not take place only between the generations, but also within them.

Finally, three labour policy scenarios were projected into the future in an attempt to determine what kind of young people would survive on the Finnish labour market of the future. The scenarios were the following: the regulation scenario, in which the labor market will be controlled in the future in practically the same manner as at present; the flexibility scenario, in which there will be little labour market control; and the alternate scenario, in which the concepts of salary work and unemployment have lost their meaning and been replaced by activity happening within the framework and on the conditions of the near community. The scenario which was judged as most likely, although with certain reservations, was the flexibility scenario. Those of the "flexible" and "salary worker" type would do best on the labour market outlined by this scenario. On the other hand those of the "static", "somewhat flexible" and "busy bee" type would experience problems adjusting.