Academic journal article Management Revue

Low-Skill Work in Flux**

Academic journal article Management Revue

Low-Skill Work in Flux**

Article excerpt

This paper addresses the question of how far traditional assumptions about low-skill jobs are still appropriate today. Are we really dealing with activities without any particular skill requirements? How do firms proceed in filling such posts? What role is being played in this respect by 'atypical' employment relationships? The analysis is based on an evaluation of available studies on recruitment problems and low-skill jobs and case studies of recruitment into low-skill jobs in several service industries. There are several indications that job requirements are changing and becoming more differentiated, which would suggest that low-skill work is in a state of flux. Firms adopt a range of different recruitment strategies in order to fill such posts, among which flexible employment relationships and so-called mini-jobs play a role.

Key words: HR Management, Low-skill Work, Recruitment, Labour Market Policy

1. Introduction

The starting point for this paper is the highly controversial debate on low-wage employment that has been going on for years. Participants in the debate, from both the academic and political spheres, have frequently pointed to low-wage work, particularly in the service sector, as the most likely potential source of new jobs. It is usually implied that workers with low levels of formal qualifications, who make up more than half of the unemployed population in Western Germany, could benefit particularly from an increase in the supply of low-wage jobs. That many such jobs, even full-time ones, do not provide a living wage, and for this reason tend to be characterised as 'precarious', would seem to be beyond all question.

Excessively high wages and/or non-wage labour costs are frequently adduced as the principal obstacle to the development of low-wage jobs. In addition, it is suggested that recruitment into such jobs, whose pay levels are typically located around the bottom end of the income scale, is made more difficult or even prevented by the fact that unemployed workers have little incentive to accept them because of high transfer payments. The wider range of reasons that might militate against the establishment and filling of low-wage jobs is frequently ignored. The Institut der Deutschen Wirtschaft (2004: 5), for example, states that, "The skills mismatch (...) that otherwise plays a role ceases to be an explanation in the case of low-wage occupations - they are indeed characterised by the very moderate demands made of job-holders. If necessary, any gaps in knowledge can be filled by crash courses". The current reforms being made to labour market policy follow this line of reasoning, to the extent that a reduction in unemployment is to be achieved by, among other things, tightening the reasonableness criteria and cutting the level of transfer payments (the so-called Hartz IV programme). At the same time, a number of new instruments have been introduced with a view to widening the range of flexible employment forms, which tend to be characterised as 'precarious' and are associated with low pay and, in some cases, with reduced social protection (mini-jobs, personnel service agencies (PSA) and the "Ich-AG" as a subsidised form of self-employment).

It is quite striking that there is a relative scarcity of empirical studies of corporate employment policy in this segment of the labour market. This paper aims to fill this gap and to analyse the extent to which the argument outlined above reflects reality at firm level:

* To what extent do firms actually encounter problems in recruiting workers for low-skill jobs?

* What requirements must applicants for low-skill jobs fulfil? How do firms go about recruiting and selecting applicants? What role do precarious employment relationships play in this regard?

* Does the equation 'low-skill job = low requirements = opportunity for poorly qualified workers' still apply?

To this end, the results of company surveys will be evaluated in order to identify what they can tell us about the extent and possible causes of recruitment problems in lowskill jobs (section 2). …

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