Tuesday, October 15, 2013

PIAAC & pecking orders - where have all the jobs gone?

Last week, the OECD released preliminary results of its Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC). The organisation describes the intent in this way:

The Survey of Adult Skills, implemented in 24 countries, and the Education and Skills Online Assessment for individuals are part of the package of tools available to support countries develop, implement and evaluate policies that foster both the development of skills and the optimal use of existing skills.

The survey focuses especially on skills in an ICT (technology rich) environment.

My attention was drawn to the survey by a short report suggesting that since 1998 the number of jobs in 24 OECD countries requiring high level skills had grown at the expense of jobs requiring lower educational levels. Interestingly, the number of jobs requiring medium level skills declined in a similar way to lower level jobs. In fact, in half the countries for which data was available, more medium education jobs were lost than low education jobs. In only four countries did the number of medium level jobs actually increase. 

Some care needs to be exercised in interpreting these results. Of itself, credential creep means that "higher education" jobs grow at the expense of "medium education" jobs. However, on the surface, the results are indicative of the hollowing out of the jobs marketplace that has been a feature of structural change in developed nations.

As always, these types of surveys provide ample scope for pecking order comparisons. This official EU response, The Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC): Implications for education and training policies in Europe, is an example. It's actually worth a browse.  


In a later comment, kvd kindly pointed me to this fascinating piece from Forbes Magazine, The Cities Creating the Most Middle Class Jobs. It's really worth a read. This is the opening.

Perhaps nothing is as critical to America’s future as the trajectory of the middle class and improving the prospects for upward mobility. With middle-class incomes stagnant or falling, we need to find a way to generate jobs for Americans who, though eager to work and willing to be trained, lack the credentials required to enter many of the most lucrative professions.

Mid-skilled jobs in areas such as manufacturing, construction and office administration — a category that pays between $14 and $21 an hour — can provide a decent standard of living, particularly if one has a spouse who also works, and even more so if a family lives in a relatively low-cost area. But mid-skilled employment is in secular decline, falling from 25% of the workforce in 1985 to barely 15% today. This is one reason why middle- and working-class incomes remain stagnant, well below pre-recession levels.

I must say that I was struck by the idea that $14-$21 per represented the hourly rate for a mid-skill job.


Evan said...

Technology is used to make life easier, put another way technology is usually de-skilling. (It takes a while for new things to be developed that can be done with the new technology. It has taken decades for most computers to be used as little more than sophisticated typewriters.)

Jim Belshaw said...

I need to think about that point, Evan, although I suspect that I agree with you in part since technology often replaces existing human skills. New skills may be required to develop and implement the technology, but that's a different set of jobs. New applications also come with a lag.

I think that my thinking's a bit muddled tonight! Will contemplate!

Anonymous said...

This article provides an American view of your own "the number of jobs requiring medium level skills declined in a similar way to lower level jobs" comment:



Jim Belshaw said...

That's very interesting, kvd. I will bring the link up in the post. I must say that I was struck by this definition of mid skilled jobs: "a category that pays between $14 and $21 an hour"! Good lord.