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The Academic in the Changing Labour Market

Anne Rouhelo

Tarita Ruoholinna

Department of Education
University of Turku, Finland

Paper Presented at the European Conference on Educational Research, Lahti, Finland 22 - 25 September 1999

Introduction

In our presentation we examine the changing labour market through the eyes of the academic. The empirical results of our presentation are based mainly on two on-going research projects in the Department of Education of the University of Turku: The hidden labour market of the academic and Tacit skills and adult education which began in early 1998.

The purpose of The hidden labour market of the academic research project is to get an understanding of the so-called hidden labour market and to find out the knowledge and skills that the academic needs in order to get a job (especially the hidden labour market). Another purpose of the study is to get a picture of the qualifications that employers value in the academic employee. The third aim of this research is to study change in worklife – both change that has already taken place and change that is expected to take place in the future (by experts that take part in this study).

The delphi method, which is commonly used in future studies, is used for collecting data in this project. Essential to the successful use of the delphi method is the collection of information from experts. Usually information is collected in two or three rounds. As the collection of information proceeds from one round to another, better quality and in-depth information is received. In this study, information is collected in two rounds: 1) a questionnaire, and 2) a virtual discussion forum via the Internet.

For this study we selected informants (experts) from as many fields as possible. There are researchers, decision-makers, politicians, union members, people from the field of education (i.e. head master, personnel trainer, course designer) and people from the field of working life (i.e. consultant and member of recruit unit, employers). The public, private and third sectors are all represented in this study.

84 experts returned the questionnaire. Experts who answered are highly educated, because 84% have a university degree and nearly a quarter have a licentiate or doctor’s degree. Almost all of the experts act in their organisation in management tasks, superior tasks or expert tasks. The average age is 47 years. 42 of the experts take part in a virtual discussion forum (round 2), which continues until autumn 1999. The empirical results of our paper, which are from The hidden labour market of the academic research project, are based mostly on expert inquiries.

The service sector, which, as in other advanced industrial countries forms the largest part of the GNP and employment in Finland, has been chosen as the specific target of research in the Tacit skills and adult education research project. The views of the private sector are examined through the eyes of the middle management of the trade sector in the study. The views of the public sector are examined through the eyes of teachers. From their education level, teachers represent some kind of privileged group. The educational backgrounds of teachers are quite similar since teaching requires a formal academic education. They have done their matriculation examination and their master’s degree.

One of the main purposes of the Tacit skills and adult education research project is to discover the experiences and views of those working in the service sector of essential skills and different ways of adopting these skills. Special interest lies on the relationship between learning at school and learning at work. Another subject of interest is what, in service sector employment, is appreciated and what changes in work have taken place and what changes will happen. Research methods are interview and inquiry. The empirical results of our paper, which are from the Tacit skills and adult education research project, are based mostly on inquiries which were performed during 1998 and some thoughts gathered from interviews which were performed during February and March 1999.

The teaching profession is usually female-dominated which is also seen in this study where 81 percent of those who have taken part in inquiries are women. The average age of respondent teachers is 46 years. Most of them represent elderly workers, for nearly half of them are over 50 years.

In this presentation, The academic in the changing labour market, we treat the following themes: 1) changes in worklife and labour market, 2) recruitment criteria for the academic, and 3) knowledge and skills which the academic need at work. At each theme we draw back the curtain of the future a little and wonder what kind of changes the future will bring. We report on common trends in the university institution and changing worklife in Finland. Unpredictable changes in worklife mean that in education we cannot know what kind of knowledge and skills the academic will need when it is time to step into a career. Some academics have a degree that is without specific professional competence and this means that they do not have one specific occupation to enter into. Others have an academic degree with specific professional competence, for example teachers, which are, in our presentation, examined as an individual example. The above-mentioned themes are examined from the viewpoint of these two groups.

Finnish School System

In Finland the learning of a profession is strongly based on learning at school and connection to work practice remains fairly low. Working life and education are two isolated institutions which both go their own separate ways. Work and education have the same aims but are considered to be consecutive episodes of the life cycle. When working life and education are located separately it is difficult, or even impossible, to realise within the school that which employment requires from workers. Entrepreneurs and business leaders share the opinion that the school alone does not produce professionals. (Favennec-Héry 1996, 666; Kankaanpää 1997, 125-126; Naumanen & Silvennoinen 1996, 14.)

Even though the tradition of school-based learning has been very strong in Finland, some changes are now taking place where attempts have been made to develop school-work-integration. This integration is nowadays very important because, as Suikkanen (1995) says, consecutive episodes of the life cycles are replacing a new kind of life circle where episodes of employment, unemployment and education will occur alternately.

Changes in Worklife and Labour Market

The experts who have taken part in the hidden labour market of the academic project estimate the following changes to happen in working life in the future.

an increase in atypical employment and working hours

a development of technology

globalisation/internalisation

an emphasis on education

a change of the age structure of the workers

The academic has to cope in the world of atypical employment and stand the insecurity and uncertainty that atypical employment brings with it. The normal structure of the labour market began to crumble as early as the 1980's. In the 1990's, atypical employment rapidly became more common. (Kivekäs 1997, 44.) The number of typical employment has fallen from 80 % to over 60 % during the years 1988-1994 (Suikkanen & Linnakangas 1998, 14). The two most common forms of atypical employment in Finland are periodic and part-time work (Nätti 1997).

An increasing proportion of the work force is ageing at the same time that the workplace is rapidly changing. During 1995 – 2000 the growth of Finnish workers aged 50 – 59 was estimated to be about 170 000 persons, while at the same time the decrease in the age group 25 – 49 years was about 150 000 persons. (KM 1996:14, 3.) Those who entered the workforce many decades ago with a fairly low level of education now find themselves competing for jobs in work environments that are quite different from those they have previously experienced. In the past employers emphasised, for example, stability, willingness and an ability to work independently and to follow instructions precisely. But nowadays there are totally different priorities: coping with constant change, teamwork, life-long learning and information technology skills that were unknown a generation ago are the required key-words. (Avedon 1995.) These new priorities are, for one thing, connected to the development of technology, globalisation and internalisation.

Recruitment Criteria for the Academic

In general, when we talk about the recruitment of academics that have a degree without specific professional competence, the most important criteria are personality and specific work experience. Specific work experience is experience that has been acquired in the same field of work as the job one is applying for. For example, if one is seeking a job as a reporter one should have experience in journalism. Personality is quite an interesting recruitment criterion because very often it comes up in research results as a very significant factor. For the research respondent it is easy to emphasise the meaning of personality in her answers in general, but the word is a little complicated. Personality is not a "Jack of all trades". Rather a particular personality is suitable for a particular job.

Other important recruitment criteria are language skills, general or international work experience and a university degree. Besides these qualifications, the academic also needs to market their own knowledge and skills to the employer. Connections have an important role too.

Table 1

Recruitment criteria for the academic nowadays

Of great significance

personality

specific work experience

language skills

ability to market our own knowledge and skills to employer /the ability to promote oneself for job

general work experience

applicant connections and network

international work experience

university degree

Of some significance

vocational extension studies

references

major subject

age

more than one university degree

doctor’s degree

knowledge of different cultures

good grades

both professional and university degrees

polytechnic degree

licentiate degree

topic of master’s thesis

nationality

race

Of little significance

- employment training

- gender

Teachers have strong faith in the power of education in the labour market. Those who manage well in the labour market are those who have the highest education. Teachers are of the opinion that the ideal type of teacher is a person who has the right education. In addition to formal qualifications, the appreciated characteristics are initiative, social skills and ability to co-operate.

In the future, all of these recruitment criteria will be either as valuable, or even more valuable, than today. Experts predict that languages, internationality, expertise, communication abilities, the ability to use information technology and the ability to market our own expertise to employers in particular will become even more valuable abilities than they are today. For the future perspective, one of the important matters is utilisation of expertise as expansively as possible among people who work in the same organisation. Also the capacity to develop, the ability to deal with ambiguity and complexity and the willingness and ability to learn new things are emphasised. Because of these things employers mostly want to hire young people.

Teachers see the expansion of information technology as a future change. Furthermore, teachers are afraid of the consequences of a tightening budget: this may mean enlargement of class/group sizes etc. Some teachers are worried that it is going to be difficult to get young people to enter the profession. It is not seen as very attractive today because of the poor salary and the problems of the school. One teacher misses the good old times: a return to authority in school as well as in society. It should be possible to restore tranquillity to schools and to maintain tranquillity in society.

Until now there hasn’t been much talk about constant change in the work place. The teachers share the opinion that during recent years the amount of work has increased and, at the same time, working pace has increased. There has been a need for more flexibility and multi-sectoral and diversified know-how. The independence of work and co-operation with colleagues has also increased.

Knowledge and Skills Which the Academic Need at Work

At work, the academic needs many kinds of knowledge and skills. The most important skills amongst these are the ability to apply knowledge (the ability to use knowledge in variable practical situations) and communication skills. Specialised knowledge was valued a little more than generalised knowledge.

Table 2

Knowledge and skills which the academic need at work nowadays

Of great significance

ability to apply knowledge

communication skills

skills in acquiring knowledge

specialised knowledge

ability to critically asses a large amount of information

ability to learn

ability to adapt to changes

ability to be master of a lot of subjects as a whole

human relation skills

ability to work under unsteady circumstances

ability to utilise modern technology

team work skills

generalised knowledge

future orientation (a good grasp of "zeitgeist")

Of some significance

ability to use many languages

ethics

research skills and knowledge

enterprise skills

knowledge and tolerance of foreign cultures

ecological awareness

Of little significance

aesthetic

handicraft skills

understanding global responsibility

In the future, almost all of the skills mentioned above will become even more important than today. This raises a question: do the respondents think that future work tasks will become more demanding, or do they expect the applicants to be better educated and qualified in the coming years? From the future perspective, it appears that academic expertise is connected to lifelong learning and learning at work.

Teachers learn at school how to act in theory (theoretical knowledge and skills) and they learn the basis of the subject they are going to teach at schools. During their studies they gain self-confidence and they start to build their professional identity. They also find teaching practice very important because students get some kind of view of the reality of a teachers’ work. Teachers place great value on an academic education: the basic work that is done during teacher training makes it possible to learn at work.

According to teachers, knowledge of human nature in particular is extremely important in their profession because in their work, teachers confront many kinds of conflict situations and different people and their problems. It is important to know how to deal with, e.g. school staff, children’s parents, various school authorities and, of course, pupils.

Teachers must be able to work together with both the group and the individual. They must be able to lead and control a large heterogeneous group, but they must also be able to put themselves in the position of an individual and understand his or her feelings and difficulties. Teachers must be able to correctly interpret the feedback given by the class and, furthermore, they must find alternative working methods for different pupils.

Teachers must also understand how important it is to create and maintain a positive atmosphere and attitudes. Teachers should give positive feedback in even the least important situations. Furthermore, teachers should set a pupil proper requirements and respect him or her. Teachers have to be extremely sensitive to different situations. In summary, it could be said that these so-called social skills are the most important in a teacher’s work.

Conclusion

A long and high level of education is usually quite directly connected to status in the labour market, but nowadays the situation has changed. An academic degree does not automatically guarantee a job. The academic has difficulties to find work that correspond to their education and employment is often periodic or project based. Besides these changes, the contents of tasks has also changed: they require qualifications like social and communicative skills, flexibility and the ability to deal with unstructured problems.

References

Avedon, L. 1995. Older workers in transition. Ottawa: Canadian Guidance and Counselling Foundation.

Favennec-Héry, F. 1996. Work and training: A blurring of the edges. International Labour Review 135(6), 665 – 674.

Kivekäs, M. 1997. Nuori on oman elämänsä ohjaajana, keinona jatkuva kouluttautuminen. (Youth as a guide of his own life, as a method of lifelong learning). Teoksessa L. Viinamäki (toim.) Opiskellako vai ei? Näkökulmia opiskelusta 1990-luvulla. Lapin yliopisto: Yhteiskunta tieteellisiä julkaisuja. C. Työpapereita 23. Rovaniemi: Lapin yliopisto. 41- 61.

KM 1996:14. Ikääntyvät työelämässä. Ikääntyvien työllistymisedellytysten parantamista selvittäneen komitean mietintö. (Ageing people in working life. A committee memorandum clarifying the improvement of the employment prospects of ageing people). Työministeriö. Helsinki: Edita.

Naumanen, P. & Silvennoinen, H. 1996. Työn ja koulutuksen vuoropuheluun. (Towards the dialogue of work and education) Työelämän koulutustarpeet osa 1. Työpoliittinen tutkimus nro 140. Koulutussosiologian tutkimuskeskus. Työministeriö. Helsinki: Hakapaino Oy.

Nätti, J. 1997. A typical employment and gender in Finland. The Research Institute of the Finnish Economy. Helsinki: ETLA

Suikkanen, A. 1995. Palkkatyön murros ja elämänura. (Crumbling of the wage work and life career) Korkeakoulutieto 1.

Suikkanen, A. & Linnakangas, R. 1998. Uusi työmarkkinajärjestys? (The new order of the labour market). Suomen itsenäisyyden juhlarahasto. SITRA 182.

This document was added to the Education-line database 24 September 1999