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What is low skilled work anyway?

By Fiona Harland FRCSA

Director, ERG Recruitment Group

I was at an event recently and the conversation turned to the “what do you do” as it does and as soon as I said I own a Recruitment Company it moved to “so what type of jobs”, and I said predominantly blue collar and the response was “oh so low skilled work” … and I was pissed off by the assumption.

This narrative came up again recently with our NZ budget looming and has been a topic of conversation regarding our borders being shut, and it made me realise how comfortable we have become assuming that everyday work by everyday people is low skilled. Since Adam was a cowboy, we have been referring to everyday work that does not seem to fit a criteria as unskilled, low paid, precarious work….and then we wonder why as employers we cannot find people to fill everyday critical roles that keep our countries moving.

And it's not just business, unions or government that keep this narrative going it's also in our education system…as a young one deciding on a career or potential job opportunity how in heck are they going to view the world with a wide open considered gaze when all you hear are…oh no don’t take a job like that you will get shafted and its low skilled…it's become a generational narrative.

Seriously let us stop for a minute and consider the value and self-esteem of every job seeker searching for or in paid employment.

As a young mum with baby 1 strapped to my back I cleaned other people houses. That requires skill, planning, energy, and motivation. Then when baby 1 became a toddler, I went into hospitality working evening shifts up to 3 days a week and the occasional weekend events for catering companies. That required time management, energy, perseverance, skill (silver service restaurant) When baby 2 was a toddler I missed out on a night fill role at a supermarket as they assumed that I would not be able to commit if the kids were sick…hmmm!

Then a recruitment firm told me I was somewhat intelligent but did not have the personality for the industry so why did I not just stay home and raise my kids! So, with my tail between my legs, I stayed home had baby 3 and wondered if I had any skills to work in paid employment. My self-esteem took a bit of a knock and at times I was embarrassed when I told people I was cleaning houses, minding other people's children, or ironing for the neighbours and working as a waitress.

Let us change the narrative of unskilled precarious work to allow jobseekers to take back their self-esteem, capability, and value…let us stop breeding fear into the jobseekers' psyche so they avoid potential work as they keep hearing…. you will be exploited, its low skilled work, the pay is poor.

Currently the biggest topic of conversation in the Recruitment Industry is the lack of candidates to fill the plethora of jobs that we all have. This generational narrative that society keeps alive is resulting in several business issues and they have become even more apparent since Covid-19.

Look I appreciate that we are also dealing with behavioural issues like drug use, and mental health combined with a lack of transport, lack of appropriate licences to do certain jobs in certain sectors. Let us call out our rogue employers and get that fixed while we are at it.

As employers regardless of whether it is the recruitment industry or not, we have a duty of care to treat every individual with respect and protect their employment, but we need to let them know that their job is as critical as the CEO. There is a time and place for every job that keeps a country moving.

Any job is an opportunity…and it may not be a job that you stay in forever but if you enjoy what you do then why should other people tell you that it is a shame you are doing unskilled work and you are at risk of being exploited.

Let us support our job seekers in their choice and help grow their employability characteristics...after all its attitude not aptitude that generally gets the job…but that is a topic for another day.

Fiona Harland believes that the Recruitment Industry is well positioned to be a voice and advocate for those that may not be heard. With 23 years Recruitment Industry experience under her belt Fiona has a particular interest in Youth Education and support of the disadvantaged or marginalised members of our communities.

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