It’s no secret that employees are hungry for career development. In survey after survey, it almost always ranks near the tops of their lists of sought-after employer offerings. But as just-released research from the Center for Poverty Research at the University of California, Davis suggests, career development can often be elusive, especially if you’re trying to make ends meet in a low-wage job.
Earlier today, the Center posted a policy brief on an ongoing study that finds low-wage workers are very much caught in a Catch-22. Written by UC Davis Professor of Sociology Victoria Smith and Graduate Student Brian Halpin, the brief reports that “low-wage workers know they have to enhance their skills to escape low-wage jobs, but long hours and multiple jobs make skill-building and education nearly impossible.”
Smith elaborates …
The very conditions of low-wage work necessitate that workers hold multiple jobs, and that they have to put in long hours if they can. People find themselves very caught up, just treading water. The fact that they often are supporting other people heightens their need to take extra hours when they can get them.
[The study] found that low-wage work limits opportunities to learn new skills needed for better jobs. To sustain their livelihoods, these workers keep the jobs they have while searching for additional opportunities through relatives, friends and work networks. They patch together multiple full- and part-time jobs to maximize their paid hours.”
Workers told Smith and Halpin that their employers often expect them to be on call and available—even for overtime—without advance notice.
As a result, the researchers found, these workers were left with little time to take advantage of education and training opportunities, which typically require scheduled attendance.
(Smith and Halpin arrived at their findings through in-depth interviews with 25 low-wage workers, all of whom are first-generation immigrants in the Napa/Sonoma area. Interviewees worked in several sectors, including food service, landscaping, domestic work, office cleaning and construction, with some of those interviewed working in multiple sectors.)
No doubt these findings will provide policymakers on the local, state and federal levels more data to chew on as they continue to rigorously debate various minimum-wage initiatives. But there’s little question they also provide employers, especially those employing low-wage workers, reason to pause and reflect on their own workplace policies and practices and whether they’re improving these conditions or standing in the way of progress.
Also worth reflection, of course, is the notion of self-direction and self-responsibility—even in the face of significant hindrances.
As Career Systems International Founder and Chairwoman Beverly Kaye said when I asked her for her thoughts on the study’s findings, many employers would go out of their way to respond were a low-wage worker to express an interest in advancing their careers. “If one of those workers in Napa were to ask if there was a way he or she could go about learning wine making,” she said, “I would think an employer would find a way to help.”
Simply put, Kaye raises a point that probably shouldn’t be overlooked: People need to be “self-empowered” about their own careers.
I guess so long as they have any time at all to do so.Twitter It!