'Simple Jobs' for Disqualified Workers. Employability at the Bottom of the Labour Market
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Employability is a key issue in discourses and policies addressing the social consequences of labor market transformation. Knowledge and skills are commonly seen as core conditions of employability. Those labeled as unskilled, because they lack formal qualifications, are discursively constructed for what they are unable to be and do – they are disqualified as unemployable. At best they are fit for “simple jobs”, which do not require any specific occupational training or knowledge and can be handled by anyone. The chapter paper discusses employability in “simple jobs” from the perspective of employers. Drawing on the theoretical framework of the Economics of Convention (EC), we conceptualize employability and skills as emerging effects of valorization and as always contextual. Skills are not necessary or valuable in and of themselves but only inasmuch they are valued by a specific employer with respect to a specific coordination of production. Moreover, the value of workers is not merely an individual parameter, but it depends on their fit into an existing work organization. Matching workers and jobs can go both ways: selecting workers who fit the skills requirements of a job, as defined by the employer, or adapting technical and organizational forms to the skill level of the available workforce. The paper is based on empirical data from a qualitative study on the employability of unskilled workers in five industries with a high percentage of low-skilled jobs. It comprises three interview waves with workers (39 in the first wave), with employers (33 interviews in 27 firms) and with labour market intermediates (10 interviews in 3 private and 3 public employment agencies).