Increase in part-time work suggests long climb out of recession for workers

The sharp spike in part-time working during the recession indicates it could take workforces “several years” to fully recover, experts have warned.

Official figures released last week revealed that the number of people working part-time in the three months to December shot up by 25,000 to 7.69 million, while those in part-time jobs because they could not secure full-time employment rose to 1.04 million – up 34.9% on the previous year.

Under-employment – where a worker is employed but below their desired capacity in terms of hours, pay and skills – also rose to 2.8 million in the three months to September, from 2.3 million in September 2008.

The surge in part-time work has been attributed to attempts by employers to retain key talent by reducing hours rather than cutting jobs, and to more employers offering part-time rather than full-time jobs.

Nigel Meager, director of the Institute of Employment Studies, told Personnel Today the boom in part-time work was a “blip” which had also occurred in past recessions, but it could take “several years” before the labour market improved enough to enable those working part-time to return to full-time employment.

He said: “We could be in this situation for several years yet with significant numbers of people struggling to get into the labour market and taking [part-time jobs] that for them are not the optimal choice.

“In this recession because unemployment hasn’t fallen as much as expected, when things do pick up it will be quite a long time before there’s really significant job growth so this could perhaps last a bit longer than usual.”

John Philpott, chief economist at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, added: “I doubt if [the level of part-time work] will go back to where it was for a couple of years yet because the labour market is still in a pretty weak state.

“There is a tendency to think we’ve had the recession now so let’s look forward to things getting better, but actually there will be a period of hardship that could be longer and I’m not sure that’s hit home yet. There’s a need for a reality check.”

Meanwhile Ian Brinkley, associate director at the Work Foundation, warned that part-time workers who wanted to work full-time could become increasingly frustrated waiting for opportunities to materialise, and this would lead to staff engagement and motivation problems for HR.

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