Is skills development the answer to economic and social upgradation in the Global South? Some reflections on evidence from India

Anita Hammer reflects on the skills debate, and identifies the obstacles to the development of competitive skills ecosystems in the context of the political economy of India.

Skills are considered the answer to economic development and reduction in inequality in industrialised as well as industrialising societies. Not surprisingly, skill development has attracted considerable attention from policy makers in India, e.g. the formation of the National Skill Development Council to coordinate skill development and various public-private partnership initiatives on skill formation. The policy changes in India, evident in the National Skill Development Policy 2009, are in line with strategies elsewhere: skill formation and upgrading has assumed a critical role with increased global competition, either as a means to retain competitive advantage by industrialised economies or to upgrade by emerging economies.

 

India has witnessed an impressive increase in GDP growth over the last two decades. At the same time, it is undergoing a demographic shift i.e. an increase in the share of working-age population in total population. With a working age labour force of 431 million (those aged between 15 and 59 years) in the total labour force of 470 million (NSSO 2009-10), the challenge is employment creation and skills upgrading of the existing as well as growing workforce. The National Skill Development Policy 2009 set a target of 500 million to be skilled by 2022, with the Twelfth Plan (2012-17) target of skilling at least 50 million people by 2016-17. Indeed the fear is that if the skills challenge is not met within the next decade, India may not be able to sustain growth and it may leave large numbers among the increasingly youthful labour force unemployed with all its attendant negative implications for equality and social cohesion (Mehrotra et al. 2013). The key question is: can India remain competitive through its existing patterns of skill formation?

 

The role of skills is particularly emphasised in new industrial regions that are developing in order to attract industry, especially multinational firms. Specifically inserted into global production networks, such regions are often associated with skill development and/or overflow. In policy literature, this has been examined through the concept of skill ecosystems (Finegold 1999) that rests on a certain balance of power between firms, the state, and skilling institutions. My research conducted in the manufacturing firms of one such region in North India during 2014-15 reveals there are considerable institutional barriers to the emergence of a skills ecosystem. Trade unions are excluded from skilling decisions and institutions, and labour is not an actor in a context where post-independence compromise meant that the state represents the interests of labour. For unions, their exclusion takes skills out of their bargaining portfolio further weakening their position.

 

One-sided supply side skilling strategies persist in firms that reinforce the institutional fragmentation within the Indian skilling system as well as the considerable unequal power relations in the labour market. On the one hand, the system of skilling institutions is fragmented between public and private institutions, between centrally certified providers and others that go considerably beyond this and are oriented at the German system. On the other, when it comes to the demand for labour, recruitment decisions always have to be considered against strategies of in-house production vs. outsourcing. Inevitably, long supply chains in the textile and automotive industry draw on the informal economy which, to a large extent, is based on informal skilling practices. Informal workers are /remain weak in the absence of a clear employment contracts, and with limited union coverage and social security.  Because of their weak labour market position, even skilled informal workers cannot bargain for much. These factors combine to entrench disincentives by firms to train or to involve labour in skilling decisions. Only 17% of firms provide training in India. The political economy encourages outsourcing, and thereby further undermines any requirement to engage in skilling.

 

In conclusion, while the government has put forward an integrated and holistic policy, underpinned by the insight of the skills ecosystems literature, the new policy faces severe challenges in a context of fragmented institutional skilling structure and unequal capital and labour relations both nationally and in the region. With over 93% of workers as informal, power relations are skewed in favour of employers. The imbalances between capital and labour do not provide any collective constraints or offer firms any incentives to develop work organisations that require skilling in a coordinated institutional environment. Firms draw their competitive advantage from recruiting from and outsourcing to the informal economy. This is unsustainable in a globalizing world where other destinations may provide the cost advantage to capital that India currently does. No matter how comprehensive a policy, it is unlikely to succeed unless unequal power relations in the labour market are addressed.

 

 anitaAnita Hammer is a member of CROWE and CERC at Leicester Business School, De Montfort University, UK. Her research focuses on the Global South and examines the development trajectories of new industrial regions, changing patterns of work and employment and the role of the informal economy http://www.dmu.ac.uk/work-and-development-in-the-global-south

 

Care(ers) in crisis?

CROWE doctoral researcher Louise Oldridge on the experiences of women combining employment and informal caring roles.

It has been well documented that the UK has an ageing population, and that people are not only living longer but are doing so with health problems.  In addition, we are also seeing an increasing number of care homes closing, as reported by the Care Quality Commission this month.  Nick Triggle, Health Correspondent for the BBC, recently reported on the costs of care detailing that the government is putting less funds into adult social care as the plan for care system reform (and caps on the cost of care) is now not expected until 2020.

Help in meeting care costs are means-tested in England and those who do have capital (assets of £23,250 or more) have to subsidise their care and can end up paying far more than a council would pay on their behalf (readers can find local care costs using the calculator in Triggle’s BBC article).  This has resulted in an ever increasing reliance on care provided on an informal basis, by friends and family, currently saving the state an estimated £132 billion (Carers UK, 2016) and there are significant implications for those who provide such care.  Those implications reported include adverse effects on health and wellbeing, quality of life, maintenance of social networks, income and capacity to remain in employment (Carers UK, 2016; Carers UK, 2015).

Data shows that the highest provision of such informal/unpaid care is provided by women between the ages of 50 – 64.  According to the last census in 2011, one in nine people combine caring and formal employment.  Previous research has demonstrated that those who are carers may find themselves having to reduce the number of hours they work, their levels of responsibility or even leave their jobs entirely (Carers UK, 2016; Waters, 2008; Yeandle et al, 2007).  It is therefore important to understand the implications of caring on the careers of women in this age bracket, especially as careers literature sees them as being at their professional peak and the government is keen to encourage older workers to remain active in the labour market.

My research focuses on women between the ages of 45 – 65 who live in Leicester/Leicestershire (home to De Montfort University) where (according to the calculator in Triggle’s BBC article) care costs can run at 46% higher than those negotiated by councils for residential care and 41% higher for nursing care.  Also, where the council are paying for care, individuals may still have to make a financial contribution themselves with an average of £145 per week for residential care and £142 for nursing care in Leicester.  Women in my study are currently, or have recently been, combining employment and informal caring and my research seeks to understand more about their care and career experiences.  By reaching out to both the city and county council, charities and carers support groups, local community centres, employers and through my network, just as a starting point, I have spent much of the summer interviewing women in this position.  The interview starts by plotting their career trajectories, with a focus on how their career has been shaped by the point at which they became a carer (if they are able to identify this) and is supplemented by questions around their careers and care.

Interviews are ongoing but some interesting themes are emerging:

  • There is much variation around expectations to provide care, but it is often linked to a reported belief in the failure of the adult social care system and the reliance on informal care, as noted above.
  • However, women also place expectations upon themselves to care, alongside family, upbringing, cultural and sometimes religious influences.
  • Some women think about their caring as a type of work, in addition to their formal employment, often in the form of both physical and emotional labour. This is important as it means it should be considered when reviewing their career and its development.
  • Frequently, women are talking about the additional skills that they have gained from caring but also the skills and experience from their employment history which helps them with caring, even where not directly care-related, such as project management.
  • Participants do not always get the opportunity to have career development discussions but do still seek development in many cases.
  • In light of their caring, career development becomes subjective rather than necessarily seeking upward progression and they often desire to combine employment and caring effectively.
  • Where they are still working sometimes women feel a sense of guilt because they think they should be caring.

This research has potential implications for adult social care research policy, practice, theories around women’s career development and concepts of work and as the research continues more findings will emerge.

Interviews are ongoing so if you, or someone you know, would be eligible to take part in the research then please do get in touch either by phone (0116 257 7430) or email (louise.oldridge@dmu.ac.uk).

Louise Oldridge is a Doctoral Researcher in CROWE, and Part-time Lecturer atlouise De Montfort University.  Before joining academia she gained 9 years’ experience working in industry in a range of positions in human resources in the private sector with a focus on employment relations.  Louise’s research interests focus on women’s careers, concepts of work and informal care. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Informal Economy/ Informal Work: Challenges for Industrial Relations

 Industrial relations has predominantly focussed on the formal workplace and formal institutions of representation and neglected the informal economy/work. Informal work, instead of being a transitory phenomenon, has been a predominant form of work in the Global South and is increasingly prevalent in the Global North (Chang 2013; Kalleberg 2009). As work continues to reach beyond the formal workplace and into the informal economy – into the community, household and the realm of social reproduction – institutional forms of industrial relations face a challenge. While Organising and Social Movement literatures address this challenge, conceptual and methodological issues remain underexplored in industrial relations.

 

Initially conceptualised as the ‘informal sector’ (Hart 1973), since the 1990s the term ‘informal economy’ has focussed attention on a broad and heterogeneous type of employment and enterprises that are unregulated and unprotected (Portesand Castells 1989; Hussmans 2005; Agarwala 2009). The expanded definition of the informal economy sees it as segmented into a range of informal firms and employment relationships i.e. self-employed with assets and employees, survival self-employed (own account operators and unpaid family labour), wage labour, casual wage labour, domestic labour and industrial outworkers/homeworkers. As Breman (2013) puts it ‘there is not one but a variety of regimes of informal labour, not all vicious to the same extent. These also differ in coping behaviour and resilience, some segments being more successful than others’. In sum, informality has multiple levels of exploitation as well as of forms and avenues of resistance.

 

Accompanying this recognition of the permanence of the informal economy is also one that recognises its significance to capitalist development. The relationship between the formal and informal economy is seen as a continuum of economic relations of production, distribution and employment where firms and workers move along the continuum or can operate simultaneously in both (Chen 2007; Lerche 2010; Harriss-White 2010).There is a recognition of diverse socio-economic relations that can result from the interaction of the formal and informal economy.  Agarwala(2008) captures this in her relational understanding of the informal economy where informal workers are intertwined with the formal economy, society and the state through structures, networks and political institutions. Informality is now fused within formerly formal parts of the economy, through outsourcing and supply chains.

 

My research in a new industrialising region in North India shows how manufacturing firms, domestic as well as multinational, tap into and structure the informal economy. Over a span of ten years they have reduced their permanent workforce while employing three times the number of informal workers. These are segmented into contract, casual, company casual and apprentice workers and often fulfil the jobs of a full-time production worker inside the firm. In addition, firms draw upon informal workers through outsourcing and long supply chains both in the textile and the automotive sector. As in earlier industrial sociology, neighbourhood comes into the firm and the firm reaches into the neighbourhood. This blurs the boundaries between the spheres of production and reproduction when analysing control and contest. Trade unions are unable to respond to the needs of informal workers or formulate a strategy to counter the state-capital restructuring of work.

 

For industrial relations, the challenge is how to conceptualise these interlinkages between the formal-informal work/economy and how to organise disparate, dispersed and often mobile informal workplaces and workers. This requires a rethink of definitions and conceptualisation of labour, framing options, organisational forms and strategies, and types of struggles for labour in spheres of production as well as reproduction. ‘New’ questions, with long history, have arisen. Is labour a mere production input or ‘social’ labour? Is work only in the sphere of production or is it all the work that helps in capitalist accumulation? Do we need to conceptualise labour as an actor, or only as collective actor? Can, or indeed should, the informal be ‘formalised’? Why is informal economy/work so difficult to regulate? What role do inter-firm relations play in informality? Do we need to go beyond institutional forms of industrial relations? What are the methodological challenges in researching the informal economy/work?

 

One of the many ways forward is Bernstein’s (2007) ‘classes of labour’. The approach provides an analytical framework that is flexible enough to capture the diversity of employment in formal-informal economy. Another possibility is the integrated framework of social reproduction (Luxton 2006; Ferguson and McNally 2015) that captures social relations of capitalism more comprehensively. Such approaches are sensitive to varied economic survival strategies of different groups of informal workers and the diverse means of resistance.

 

A more differentiated understanding of work and labour, and links between oppression and exploitation and production and consumption may help in framing strategies to address the challenges informal economy/work poses to industrial relations and to the labour movement.

Anita Hammer is a member of CROWE at Leicester Business School, De Montfort University, UK. Her research focuses on the Global South and examines the development trajectories of new industrial regions, changing patterns of work and employment and the role of the informal economy http://www.dmu.ac.uk/work-and-development-in-the-global-south

anita