1.Write a brief overview of the issue and describe the problems and challenges arising from the issue ?

2. What can the government do to address the issue?

 According to Pocock (2009), about fourteen percent of the full time adult workers in Australia can be considered as being lowly paid. There has been no sign of decline in the stated proportion despite the strong growth in the labor market during the last one decade. The concentration of lowly paid workers has been observed in specific occupations and industries with women, young and casual workers particularly earning very low pay.  A fraction of the lowly paid workers hail from low income households while others come from better households. Some of the workers go through the transition of low paying jobs but later get higher qualifications and better jobs while others keep on working in the low paying jobs throughout their lives with some withdrawing from the labor market altogether while others go through irregular periods of unemployment.

Research which was conducted to examine the rates of return from individuals after acquiring skills through training generally indicated a positive outcome from such individuals even though there was a difficulty in quantifying the outcomes. In addition, there is sufficient evidence that indicate a decrease in the number of lowly paid workers with high educational credentials. Data obtained from a survey on student outcomes indicated that over sixty seven percent of vocational education and training graduates in occupations with low pay reported neither increase in occupational level nor in earnings as a result of the training. Furthermore, students from low income households were very concentrated in the lower level vocational education and training qualifications and therefore were having low financial returns. It is therefore unclear how vocational education and training, when considered on its own, can be of help to people from low education backgrounds and in low paying occupations (Skinner & King 2008).

However, there is a known strong relationship between employment in low paying jobs and low levels of literacy. Workers with low literacy levels are twice as likely to get employed in low paying occupations as literate workers. Interventions in education around literacy therefore can play a major role in improving work outcomes. Even then, changing the situation in the labor market for the workers in low paying jobs requires more than vocational training; it will rely on a wide range of adjustments in many other factors. Making use of skills acquired in the training and rewarding the skills are maters of great concern. In some cases, employers have resisted to implement the training programs for fear of increasing the labor costs while employees resist the trainings if they are not going to be rewarded for acquiring new skills. Models of funding, job design, career paths, profitability and the various forms of employment are matters of great concern as well (Watson 2008).

According to Scheutze (2007), if good outcomes are to be realized from vocational education and training, there should be the establishment of a respectful relationship among the employer, the worker and the training organization where the barriers are put into consideration in order to come up with a comprehensive response to the identified problems. The major training issues that affect the participation of workers in low paying occupations in the vocational education and training include unavailability of time and money to facilitate travelling to the training, unclear benefits expected from the training, inflexible offerings, scholarships, provisions that are out-of-hours and unwillingness to spend on training of workers in low paying jobs; for example, it is better for organizations to invest in trainings that will result in careers, new pathways or higher pay rather than those that result only in wage substitution at best.

According to Devins et al. (2011) in order for the government to successfully solve the problems of workers in low paying occupations accessing training, there is need to address some pertinent issues. Firstly, the government should formulate policy responses for the vocational education and training programs that consider the structure of employment opportunities in the low paying occupations as well as the industry and the context of the workplace in order to utilize and reward the skill. Secondly, most of the workers in the low paying occupations and especially women are employed on casual terms. This affects their decisions as far as training and utilization of the skills is concerned since most of their jobs are temporary. The government should find out a way of extending the vocational education and training programs to the casual workers who may then end up securing more permanent employment opportunities.

Another challenge that the low paid workers face and that negatively impacts on their access to training is that most of their working arrangements are not flexible enough to enable them handle study, work and other commitments in their lives sufficiently. The flexible arrangements under consideration here include flexible times for starting and finishing work in a day, the possibility of working from home and the possibility of doing a part time job. Lack of such work places support should be addressed by the government if it is to increase access to training by the lowly paid workers. The government may liaise with the organizations to ensure they give the workers flexible working schedules to enable them access the training opportunities. In addition, a majority of women who are in the vocational education and training program are part-time workers. Even though it gives them time to study, their complete participation is hindered by lack of resources such as access to information technology hardware and sufficient funds (Devins et al 2011).

If the government does not intervene to address the payment structures, the efforts to offer education and training to the lowly paid Australian workers may end up fueling creeping credentialism instead of reducing wage inequality and working poverty. The government should intervene to reform the wage structures to ensure that skills are rewarded in the labor market. Otherwise, there is a possibility for continued low pay in many sectors especially the services sector. Moreover, securing improvements in wages and participation in the vocational education and training programs requires support from the employers and the government as well as resources which many workers in the low paying jobs and their households may not have. The government should therefore come up with approaches that put into consideration the contexts of the worker’s working lives, the institutional culture surrounding workers in the low paying jobs and their vocational education and training prospects as well as the perception of the workers on the risks involved (Pokock, 2009).

Finally, the factors of time and cost are known to create significant barriers to the participation of workers in low paying jobs and the workers with limited education in the vocational education and training programs. These two very obvious barriers together with the implications that arise from the various forms of employment and the risks taken by the financially insecure should be addressed using better pathways.

 

References  

Devins, D., Bickerstaffe, T., Nunn, A. and Mitchell, B. (2011). The Role of Skills from Worklessness to Sustainable Employment with Progression. UK Commission for Employment and Skills.

Pocock, B. (2009). Low-paid workers, changing patterns of work and life, and participation in vocational education and training: A discussion starter. Centre for Work and Life, University of South Australia

Scheutze, H. (2007). Individual learning accounts and other models of financing lifelong learning. International Journal of Lifelong Learning vol.26, no.1, pp.5–23.

Skinner, N. and King, P. (2008). Investigating the low paid workforce: Employment characteristics, training and work–life balance, Centre for Work and Life, Adelaide

Watson, I. (2008). Skills in use: Labor market and workplace trends in skills usage in Australia. New South Wales: Department of Education and Training & Australian Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, Sydney.

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