On workforce participation and cycling to work
May 15, 2014 Leave a comment
Now I freely admit that the title of this post might seen a bit strange at first, but bear with me as I am definitely going somewhere with this
As a lot of my readers know I recently changed jobs and as part of this process was ‘unemployed’ for a short period of time. One of the things about my new role is that it is substantially closer to home than my previous one was (under half the distance). What this has allowed me to do is to begin to integrate some exercise back into my work day by riding to and from work. Now I have driven the route that I take from home to work more times than I can count (some friends of ours live very near where I now work) and not once in all those drives did I ever take any notice of the fact that there are a number of long inclines along the way. In the car I simply just didn’t notice them. However the first time I rode to work I definitely did notice them.
So what does this all have to do with workforce participation and unemployment. Well as I was riding along this morning I realised that my recent and fairly short lived, ‘between jobs’ time was in comparison to the experience of unemployment that a lot of people, particularly young people have, very much like the difference between driving a car and riding a bicycle to work.
My experience was very much like that of driving a good quality car, I had a strong engine (my qualifications, skills, experience), I was protected from the elements and comfortable (I own a house and have money in the bank and I got a pay out from my previous employment) and had plenty of room in the car for others (family, friend, referees, my network). Riding a bike however is quite different, the engine is you and there is not additional horse power you can call upon to get up the hill, there is no protection from the elements (if it rains you are going to get wet), parts of you are always sore, and you really can’t fit anyone else on the bike with you, you are essentially all on your own.
This is unfortunately the experience of unemployment or looking for work that faces a lot of people, in particular those from generationally unemployed, very low socio-economic or low qualification households and even when they get a job, in a lot of cases the situation doesn’t change that much, they are still pedalling away on their bikes while you and I cruise past in our cars.
So as I rode along this morning I struggled to think of some answers or suggestions to this problem (I don’t listen to music when I exercise I use the time to thing about things like this, weird isn’t it) while also thinking about what we are currently doing with our job services and employment agencies. We can provide people with things like petrol or public transport funds to get to interviews, assist them with clothes to look the part and skills to meet the needs of the employer, but if working or becoming educated is not something that is reinforced at home, either actively or passively then even the most motivated person is still just pedalling away, sure they are going forward, but now where near as fast or a comfortably as I am in my car.
The problem is of course that , if it is raining, I am running late, or I just simply don’t feel like, I don’t have to ride, I have a choice. I just grab my keys, jump in my car, and enjoy a relatively stress free drive to work. However for others this is not the case, if it is raining they are going to get wet and there are only so many times people are going to get wet, particularly when there is not someone at home waiting for them with towel, before they decided to put the bike in the garage and give up on riding altogether.