Thursday, 31 December 2009

Job carving

In today’s complex world multi-tasking (which doesn’t actually exist but …) is the name of the job game. This results in more and more people with limited intellectual ability being left without gainful employment. Teach the boss to type and he doesn’t need a secretary (at least not for sending letters etc), get everyone to dust their own desks and you don’t need a cleaner and so it goes on, apparently.

Now, however, Stockport Council has turned round its recruitment process in order to provide equality of opportunity for people with learning difficulties. Instead of identifying an individual for a job the recruiter is identifying a job for the individual – and this is where the carving comes in. Many complex jobs today have elements of repetitive work within them, if these can be carved out of the main role they could provide a separate role that would suit the talents of someone with learning difficulties.

It seem that it’s taken me a while to catch up with this story. It was reported on the IDeA website in January of this year, in the Equal Opportunities review Number 190 in July and only just in 2009 at all by me.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

There must be a better way

I am, as is frequently the case, sitting in a Reading Room at the British Library. I am also muttering, under my breath of course – this is a library and the silence is palpable. On this occasion I am muttering about Children's Services Parliamentary Monitor – such a useful publication if only …. Is that the saddest phrase in the world? Maybe, in another context. In this context it’s just an annoyance.

Why do I have to be sitting here reading about measures agreed by the various legislative bodies in the UK during JULY? It’s December now. A November issue would be reasonable or even October (OK, a bit out of date but might highlight something I'd missed elsewhere) but July?

I'd probably be less annoyed at the tardiness of news that is no longer new six months after the event if this wasn’t by far and away the best commentary on activities in Westminster, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Stormont with regard to Children's Services!

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Capitalist Unfree Labour: A Contradiction?

an article by Tom Brass (University of Cambridge) published in Critical Sociology


Disputed here is the view that a “fully functioning” accumulation process cannot operate efficiently – let alone profitably – without workers who are free. In non-Marxist political economy which eschews class struggle the idea that unfree labour might be acceptable to capitalists was dismissed on the grounds that such workers would necessarily be inefficient, unskilled, costly, and scarce. Because it was an obstacle both to market formation and expansion, and to the installation of advanced productive forces, they argued, unfree labour-power was incompatible with a dynamic process of accumulation within particular national contexts. In the present global capitalist system none of these objections continues to hold. Analysing a 21st century capitalism though the lens of class struggle confirms that today unfree workers are more profitable to employ but no less efficient than their counterparts who are free. Deskilling combined with a reserve army that is global in scope makes it possible for capitalists to use such production relations.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Re-Evaluating Road-Crossing: ...

The Chicken Was Pushed – a short guide to writing a research paper

Writing Research Papers via Stepcase Lifehack by Art Carden
No matter where you are in your intellectual journey, the ability to assemble and analyse large amounts of complex information is a skill that can pay large dividends both in monetary terms and in terms of your overall satisfaction with life.

The Abstract is usually 100-150 words long. The abstract tells the reader what you have done and why it is important. Your abstract tells the reader what you do, how you do it, and what it implies. Here, you’re saying the chicken was pushed, that you demonstrate this statistically or anecdotally, and that it implies we have to re-evaluate our understanding of chicken road-crossings.
I. Introduction
The introduction sets the stage for your analysis. You tell the audience what you are doing and why it is important. An introduction here would say that previous generations of scholars believed that the chicken crossed the road to get to the other side. Your paper shows that the chicken was pushed. In the introduction, you give a brief outline of the argument and the evidence used to support it. As much fun as it is to write long, twisting narratives filled with subtlety and nuance, it is important to remember that a research paper on a technical topic is not a mystery novel. Your readers are not reading for leisure. They are reading because they think your ideas are worth considering and factoring into their own research and decisions.
II. Literature Review
The literature review places your research in context. You aren’t the first person to ask why the chicken crossed the road. What questions do previous researchers ask? What questions remain unanswered? How does your idea fit? In this case, previous scholars have also argued that the turtle crossed the road “to get to the Shell station”. Is this relevant for your research? Why or why not? As tempting as it is, don't include too much in the literature review. The literature review is a place to highlight relevant contributions that address the question you are asking and to show how your contribution either fills gaps in our knowledge by answering questions we haven’t answered yet or creates gaps in our knowledge by showing that something we thought we knew is false. What does the reader take from the literature review? Is it a sense of the important questions that others have asked and how your research helps answer them? Or does the reader just come away with the knowledge that you've read a lot of stuff? Revise the latter until it becomes the former.
III. Theory
Your theory lays out the logical reasons for why we might believe your hypothesis to be true. It also explains why other hypotheses are unlikely to be true. Road-crossing is dangerous, and people have never explained what was on the other side that would have made it more attractive to the chicken. We can’t rule out the hypothesis that the chicken was pushed, and there are a lot of plausible conditions under which this might be the best explanation.
IV. Evidence
Here you report and explain the evidence you will use to verify that the chicken was pushed. Evidence can be statistical, anecdotal, narrative, or descriptive. Remember that not all good evidence is statistical, and not all statistical evidence is good. Perhaps you can show that chicken road-crossings are correlated with something, or maybe you find the chicken’s personal papers in which he, in a diary and a series of letters, accuses the cow of pushing him into the road.
V. Conclusion
The conclusion summarises your results and lays out very carefully exactly what needs to be done next. It is likely that your conclusion will be tentative. However, a well-written conclusion will elucidate the next steps that need to be taken before we can be absolutely certain as to whether the chicken crossed the road of his own volition or whether he was pushed.

Art Carden is Assistant Professor of Economics and Business at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee and an Adjunct Fellow with the Oakland, California-based Independent Institute.
His research papers have been published or are forthcoming in Public Choice, Contemporary Economic Policy, the International Journal of Social Economics, the Business and Society Review, the Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies, the Review of Austrian Economics, and other outlets, and they can be found on his SSRN Author Page.
His commentaries appear regularly at and in newspapers around the country, and he is a regular contributor to Division of Labour.
He and his wife, Shannon, had their first child in July, 2008.

Shocks, Stocks, and Socks: ...

Smoothing Consumption Over a Temporary Income Loss

an article by Martin Browning (University of Oxford, and Institute for Fiscal Studies) and Thomas F Crossley (University of Cambridge, and Institute for Fiscal Studies) published in Journal of the European Economic Association Volume 7 Number 6 (December 2009)

We investigate how households in temporarily straitened circumstances due to an unemployment spell cut back on expenditures and how they spend marginal dollars of unemployment insurance (UI) benefit. Our theoretical and empirical analyses emphasise the importance of allowing for the fact that households buy durable as well as non-durable goods. The theoretical analysis shows that in the short-run households can cut back significantly on total expenditures without a significant fall in welfare if they concentrate their budget reductions on durables. We then present an empirical analysis based on a Canadian survey of workers who experienced a job separation. Exploiting changes in the unemployment insurance system over our sample period we show that cuts in UI benefits lead to reductions in total expenditure with a stronger impact on clothing than on food expenditures. Our empirical strategy allows that these expenditures may be non-separable from employment status. The effects we find are particularly strong for households with no liquid assets before the spell started. These qualitative findings are in precise agreement with the theoretical predictions.

Full text PDF 24pp

Interactive visualization for opportunistic exploration of large document collections

an article by Simon Lehmann, Ulrich Schwanecke and Ralf Dörner (RheinMain University of Applied Sciences, Wiesbaden) published in Information Systems Volume 35 Issue 2 (April 2009)

Finding relevant information in a large and comprehensive collection of cross-referenced documents like Wikipedia usually requires a quite accurate idea where to look for the pieces of data being sought. A user might not yet have enough domain-specific knowledge to form a precise search query to get the desired result on the first try. Another problem arises from the usually highly cross-referenced structure of such document collections. When researching a subject, users usually follow some references to get additional information not covered by a single document. With each document, more opportunities to navigate are added and the structure and relations of the visited documents gets harder to understand.
This paper describes the interactive visualisation Wivi which enables users to intuitively navigate Wikipedia by visualising the structure of visited articles and emphasising relevant other topics. Combining this visualisation with a view of the current article results in a custom browser specially adapted for exploring large information networks. By visualising the potential paths that could be taken, users are invited to read up on subjects relevant to the current point of focus and thus opportunistically finding relevant information. Results from a user study indicate that this visual navigation can be easily used and understood. A majority of the participants of the study stated that this method of exploration supports them finding information in Wikipedia.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Genome Island: A Virtual Science Environment in Second Life

an article by by Mary Anne Clark published in Innovate Volume 5 Issue 6 (August/September 2009)


Mary Anne Clark describes the organisation and uses of Genome Island, a virtual laboratory complex constructed in Second Life. Genome Island was created for teaching genetics to university undergraduates but also provides a public space where anyone interested in genetics can spend a few minutes, or a few hours, interacting with genetic objects – from simple experiments with peas to the organisation of whole genomes. Each of the approximately four dozen activities available in the island's various areas includes background information, model objects with data sets, and suggestions for data analysis. The island also has a presentation theatre, an indoor conference setting, and separate meeting spaces suitable for small group conversations. Clark describes some of the activities available on the island, offers advice for their use, and discusses the results of a pilot project that identified some pedagogical and technical challenges arising in this virtual setting.

The Structure of the European Education Systems 2009/10

from Eurydice

Schematic Diagrams
This publication shows, in diagrammatic format, the structure of the education systems from pre-primary to higher education level in the 31 countries participating in the Eurydice Network.

Compulsory Education in Europe 2009/10
This table provides a comparative overview of the duration of compulsory education in the 31 Eurydice countries.

Both of these publications are available from the “Tools” page of the Eurydice Network website

Monday, 21 December 2009

Negotiating Feminist Politics in the Third Wave: ...

Labor Struggle and Solidarity in Live Nude Girls Unite!

an article by Jennifer L Borda (Department of Communication, University of New Hampshire) published in Communication Quarterly Volume 57 Issue 2 (April 2009)


This essay examines Live Nude Girls Unite!, a documentary about female exotic dancers’ successful efforts to unionize. The film rhetorically exposes an alternative perspective on the ideological evolution, and contradictions, that represent third-wave feminism by complicating the notion of gender oppression and the responsibilities of coalition politics. Through these women’s analyses of their political situation, the film rhetorically addresses complex issues, including the complicated distinctions between victimiser and victim in contemporary gender politics, women’s appropriation of sex work and capacity for labour activism, and the dominant culture’s attempts to regulate working women’s private and public lives.

The integration and realisation of the distributed edutainment biped humanoid robot

an article by An-Ping Wang and Pau-Lo Hsu published in International Journal of Computer Applications in Technology Volume 36 Number 2 (2009)

To achieve “education in entertainment”, this research has integrated mechanical design, manufacturing technologies, network-based synchronisation, and control technologies of an edutainment robot. With proper integrations, the distributed-control environment for a biped humanoid robot has been developed in five aspects: robot mechanism; joint servo actuator; main robot controller; ZigBee network; virtual-reality host interface. Furthermore, the authors propose three enhancements of the distributed-control protocol to improve robot agility. The results indicate that the barriers between modern technology and cost to develop a edutainment humanoid robot can be overcome with the proposed mechatronics modules.

Hazel’s comment:
I picked this for the title more than anything else.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

for our ESL readers

via Daily Writing Tips by Maeve Maddox

Sometimes readers write asking for basic English instruction that lies outside the scope of this site. This post is for them and for our readers who teach ESL.
Many good ESL sites exist online. The English Club seems to be one of the best.

The English Club is a site based in Cambridge, England. It was begun in 1997 by British-born Josef Essberger. Access to all parts of the site is free. Content is targeted to ESL teachers as well as to students. The site offers a huge amount of content that includes:
  • lessons
  • games
  • videos
  • lesson plans
  • forums
  • lists of idioms, sayings, slang, etc.
The English Club has four companion sites:
Some other ESL sites of interest

Reconnecting the Research–Policy–Practice Nexus in Higher Education: ...

“Evidence-Based Policy” in Practice in National and International Contexts

an article by William Locke (Centre for Higher Education Research and Information, The Open University) published in Higher Education Policy Volume 22 Number 2 (2009)


It is often claimed that research on higher education has had little or no impact on HE policy-making, which is regarded as being largely driven by political ideology and the media and reinforced by little more than management consultancy. Recent higher education policy, it has been argued, is “a research-free zone” or at best “policy based evidence”. Yet, “evidence-based policy” remains a key term in government rhetoric, and education ministries and higher education policy bodies continue to commission research of various kinds. This paper argues that dichotomous approaches to the research–policy–practice nexus may have adopted an unnecessarily restrictive conception of “research” and an idealised view of policy-making and implementation as a rational and linear process. It argues that new approaches to building relations between the three domains are needed if the various communities are to develop a forward-looking perspective on the needs for research on higher education in the next 10-20 years.

Ten trivial (i.e. non-work-related) items

via Arts & Letters Daily – ideas, criticism, debate
"I woke up one morning and everything in the apartment had been stolen and replaced with an exact replica." A joke? Or intimations of receding reality?... more

How Titan Got Its Atmosphere via Technology Review Feed
The methane in Titan's atmosphere has puzzled astronomers for decades. Now they think they know where it came from.

Where to Hunt for New Life-forms in the Solar System via Technology Review Feed
The best place in the solar system to find new life-forms is not Mars, Europa, or even Earth, argues one astrobiologist. Instead, we should focus our efforts on Titan.

via Arts & Letters Daily – ideas, criticism, debate
"We’re constantly told that we can’t do anything: we’re poor, dirty, hungry, corrupt, diseased. And we’re supposed to build a better Africa?"... more

via Arts & Letters Daily – ideas, criticism, debate
Leonardo da Vinci, maybe a little like you, was a hopeless procrastinator. Well, so what? He was just on his way to his next great idea... more

via Arts & Letters Daily – ideas, criticism, debate
The global warming bandwagon is stuck in a snowdrift, and there are signs the public is suffering from “green fatigue”. What's the problem?... more

via Arts & Letters Daily – ideas, criticism, debate
Outlawing payments to kidney donors is ostensibly a way to keep the system fair. All it does is give rich and poor an equally lousy chance of getting a kidney... more

via Arts & Letters Daily – ideas, criticism, debate
Do great cooks memorise countless recipes? No. They have a grasp of basic ingredients and the ratios of ingredients that make great food... more

Science of baby rhythm via Boing Boing by David Pescovitz
I was really impressed when my son was just a baby but could clap along to the rhythm of a song. Turns out, babies are actually born with the ability to perceive beats. Researchers from Budapest's Institute for Psychology and the University of Amsterdam used EEG to measure how baby brains respond to sounds even when asleep. Understanding beat perception in babies could lead to earlier identification of kids who may have communication problems.

via Arts & Letters Daily – ideas, criticism, debate
Not so long ago conservatives were equating liberalism with fascism; today, they have done a 180-degree turn: liberalism is now synonymous with socialism... more

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Persisting weakness in the EU labour market

via Eurostat Statistics in focus

Labour Market Latest Trends

Second quarter 2009
This publication belongs to a quarterly series presenting the main results of the EU Labour Force Survey for the EU-27 and for all Member States. Indicators presented in this publication are:
  • activity rates,
  • employment rates,
  • part-time employment as share of total employment,
  • average actual hours worked in all jobs per week,
  • share of employees with temporary contracts,
  • share of persons whose job started within the past 3 months,
  • unemployment rates,
  • inactives willing to work as a share of the total population.
Read Issue number 87/2009

Birmingham needs to grow its private sector

via Centre for Cities by Dermot Finch

Here's a stark fact. Between 1997 and 2008, total private sector employment across the wider Birmingham economy actually fell by 50k jobs – and over the same period, public sector employment increased by more than 80k jobs.
With public spending cuts on the horizon, cities like Birmingham will not be able to rely as much on the public sector to drive future growth. Adding private sector jobs – especially in the knowledge economy – will be crucial.
We've just published a report on Birmingham, highlighting the need for the city to grow its private sector economy. Birmingham has a lot of assets, but needs to make better use of them – e.g. its young and diverse population, and big pool (over 30k) of research students.
The report has triggered quite a bit of debate in the city. Here's some reaction from the Birmingham Post and blogger Kate Cooper – - plus my comment in the Post.

Web searching by the “general public”: ...

an individual differences perspective

an article by Nigel Ford, Barry Eaglestone, Andrew Madden and Martin Whittle published in Journal of Documentation Volume 65 Issue 4 (2009)


The purpose of this paper is to explore the impact of a number of human individual differences on the web searching of a sample of the general public.
In total, 91 members of the general public performed 195 controlled searches. Search activity and ratings of search difficulty and success were recorded and statistically analysed. The study was exploratory, and sought to establish whether there is a prima facie case for further systematic investigation of the selection and combination of variables studied here.
Results revealed a number of interactions between individual differences, the use of different search strategies, and levels of perceived search difficulty and success. The findings also suggest that the open and closed nature of searches may affect these interactions. A conceptual model of these relationships is presented.
Practical implications
Better understanding of factors affecting searching may help one to develop more effective search support, whether in the form of personalised search interfaces and mechanisms, adaptive systems, training or help systems. However, the findings reveal a complexity and variability suggesting that there is little immediate prospect of developing any simple model capable of driving such systems.
There are several areas of this research that make it unique: the study’s focus on a sample of the general public; its use of search logs linked to personal data; its development of a novel search strategy classifier; its temporal modelling of how searches are transformed over time; and its illumination of four different types of experienced searcher, linked to different search behaviours and outcomes.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Glowing bacteria that finds landmines

via Boing Boing by Cory Doctorow

Edinburgh University engineers have a plan to use genetically engineered bacteria that glow in the presence of explosives to detect landmines. The project is student-led, overseen by Alistair Elfick.
The bugs can be mixed into a colourless solution, which forms green patches when sprayed onto ground where mines are buried.
Edinburgh University said the microbes could be dropped by air onto danger areas.
Within a few hours, they would indicate where the explosives can be found.
The scientists produced the bacteria using a new technique called BioBricking, which manipulates packages of DNA.
Glowing bugs could find landmines (via Futurismic)

Hazel’s comment:
Beats blowing up humans, or even trained dogs, any day of the week! I just hope this stuff isn’t too expensive to produce.

The vulnerable worker in Britain and problems at work

an article by Anna Pollert (University of the West of England) and Andy Charlwood (University of York) published in Work, Employment & Society Volume 23 Number 2 (2009)


This article investigates the experience of low-paid workers without union representation. It reports on the findings of a recent survey of 501 low-paid, non-unionised workers who experienced problems at work. The results demonstrate that problems at work are widespread and, despite a strong propensity to take action to try to resolve them, most workers failed to achieve satisfactory resolutions. In the light of these results, we argue that the current UK government definition of vulnerability is too narrow because our results suggest that a large proportion of low-paid, unrepresented workers are at risk of being denied their employment rights. Therefore we question the ability of the UK's current system of predominantly non-unionised employment relations to deliver employment rights effectively and fairly.

Hazel’s comment:
1. Protect vulnerable workers.
2. Ensure that the small-business community is supported through provision of appropriate workers.
Unfortunately I’m not sure that these two mantras of government are compatible. My own experience of employment work is that the smaller the establishment the less likely it is that workers will have any representation and the less likely it is that workers who are denied their rights will be able to claim those rights.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Sporcle – cool games that make learning fun again

via by David Pierce on (don’t ask as I’ve had this for ages)

You've seen the “make your kids love learning!” toys before, right? Things like LeapFrog, and that computer game where you keep the spaceman alive by doing math problems… too fun. Once you hit about 9 years old, though, those games start to walk the fine line between fun and pathetic.
Thankfully, there's Sporcle – a site full of games that's the best way to learn cool things, and make it fun, for adults (or really anyone). Sporcle is a site of what it calls “mentally stimulating diversions”, and it's exactly that – games that are fun, exciting, and actually educational.

Read David’s full post and you’ll maybe think that the games are US-centric. Not so. It’s just that he is so finds listing the sovereigns of England a bit difficult (I assume since he can name all x American Presidents).

Addiction warning!!

Qualitative Evalution of the Adult Learning Option

This document presents the findings of a longitudinal qualitative evaluation of the adult learning option pilot to inform future integrated employment and skills initiatives.

Department for Work and Pensions Research Report 611

PDF 74pp published 16 December 2009

Hazel’s comment:
The summary looks fairly useful BUT and that BUT is deliberately made very large, you will have to approach HMSO to print any part of this publication – even the summary which appears to have taken the place of the very useful Briefs which used to be published under the old DfES régime.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Ten trivial (i.e non-work-related) items 9

Ant slaves' murderous rebellions
via Boing Boing by Cory Doctorow
From the journal Evolution, a fascinating tale of slave rebellion among ants kidnapped by other ant species and forced to work for the rival colony.

When these youngsters mature, they take on the odour of their abductors and become the servants of the enslaving queen. They take over the jobs of maintaining the colony and caring for its larvae even though they are from another species; they even take part in raids themselves. But like all slave-traders, P.americanus faces rebellions.
15 Incredible Library Special Collections via Phil Bradley's weblog
Thanks to Ryan Caldwell for alerting me to the marvellous blog post:15 Incredible Library Special Collections This is a list of absolute gems.. The George Kelley Paperback and Pulp Fiction collection, The Nurse Romance Novels, Fore-edge paintings, the Baldwin Library of Historical Children's literature, the Comic Art collection - and many more. This is one to keep for a Friday afternoon, since you're likely to spend hours going through these. Fantastic stuff!

via Arts & Letters Daily – ideas, criticism, debate
Placebo effects: capsules work better than tablets, big pills work better than small, and the more expensive the medicine, the more its effect... more

via Arts & Letters Daily – ideas, criticism, debate
We may well be genetically predisposed to appreciate listening to Sinatra or staring at a Seurat. But where did the genes come from?... more

Rare recording of James Joyce reading; Happy Bloomsday! via Boing Boing by Cory Doctorow
Happy Bloomsday! Here's a rare reading of James Joyce performing his own work; as John Naughton notes, "When I first heard it I was astonished to find that he had a broad Irish-country accent. I had always imagined him speaking as a 'Dub' -- i.e. with the accent of most of the street characters in Ulysses."

via Arts & Letters Daily – ideas, criticism, debate
Democracy needs to know the serious reading of books. Long books. Hard books. Books with which we have to struggle... more

via Arts & Letters Daily – ideas, criticism, debate
A brilliant talker, sparkling essayist, and champion of liberty, to be sure. So why do Isaiah Berlin's letters leave us with such a nasty taste?... more

Friday fun via Science, Engineering & Technology Blog by Anne
MathsChallenge provides a collection of mathematical puzzles of varying degrees of difficulty.

Afghanistan: Peace Through Accordions via Boing Boing by Xeni Jardin
I loved this video produced in Afghanistan by Globalpost contributor Gregory Warner. For Which It Stands: Afghanistan, an accordion journey (Globalpost, via Bigthink, thanks Sepideh Saremi!)

via Arts & Letters Daily – ideas, criticism, debate
Was Einstein wrong? Quantum effects not only go against deep intuitions about the world, they undermine special relativity... more

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Christian job search – is it different?

via Business: Job Search Techniques Articles from

If you're a Christian, should you look for a job differently? How should that impact your resumé? You might be surprised at the answer.

Hazel’s comment:
As a Christian myself my eye lighted on this but I was not surprised at the answer. Job search is job search is job search! Muslim, Sikh, Christian, Buddhist or of no faith at all makes no difference to your skills and abilities in the job. Requiring Friday (Muslim), Saturday (Jew) or Sunday (Christian) as a non-work day is a different issue and is best discussed in a face-to-face situation.

Full article here

Are child prostitutes child workers? A case study

an article by Dr Heather Kate Montgomery published in International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy Volume 29 Issue 3/4 (2009)
This was a special issue on “Child work in the twenty-first century: dilemmas and challenges”


Based on a case study of a small community in Thailand this article analyses the explanations that child prostitutes give for selling sex. It looks at whether child prostitution can be considered as a form of labour and if children themselves understand what they do as work or exploitation. It focuses on children’s relationships within their families and argues that international legislation calling for child prostitution to be abolished, while well meaning, is too simplistic and does not deal with the complex social relations underpinning prostitution and the lack of alternatives for many children.

This article is based on ethnographic fieldwork and participant observation among a small group of child prostitutes in Thailand.

Certain children have very different understandings of prostitution to those campaigning to end the practice. They do not see prostitution as a form of work or necessarily as a form of abuse. Instead they claim it as a way of fulfilling perceived social and moral obligations to their families.

Research limitations/implications
The importance of listening to children themselves, even on such sensitive and emotive issues, is paramount as it reveals a gap between ground level realities and proposals put forward in international legislation.

The growing literature on child prostitution rarely takes into account children’s own perspectives. This article engages directly with children and takes seriously their own justifications and rationalisations.

Hazel’s comment:
If prostitution is “work” in the sense that most people understand this term then surely it should be subject to the laws which govern work. But doesn’t that legalise an activity that many people find repugnant? On the other hand child labour, as experienced by young people in many developing countries, is also something which we Westerners find hard to understand. I feel as though I could end up contradicting myself on this issue. How about you?

Friday, 4 December 2009

Resources 101

via PSD Blog - The World Bank Group by Brian Hoyt

The World Bank’s East Asia blog links to a fantastic graphic of the world’s resources by country. There is a clear correlation between size and supply: the United States, Canada, Russia, China and Brazil dominate the list. In many categories, such as soy, uranium, rice, natural gas, cotton, and corn, over half of the world’s supply is controlled by three countries or fewer.

Another interesting observation is that Brazil has almost 20 percent of the world’s water resources (roughly on par with Saudi Arabia’s share of oil reserves). Perhaps another reason to study Portuguese?

Labour market in Europe

Two items in EUbusiness Week (Issue 468 (27 November)) caught my eye.

  1. Climate holds key to post-crisis jobs
    European labour markets have seen employment gains since 2000 virtually wiped out by the economic crisis of the past two years, says the EC's Employment in Europe 2009 report.
  2. EU recession over, but sharp contrasts in east

The dynamics of qualifications:

defining and renewing occupational and educational standards


It is unfortunate (for me at least since I am hopeless at producing a decent précis) that there is no succinct abstract for this very useful document (PDF 84pp). I have, therefore, reproduced the Executive Summary for you which I think absolves you from reading the whole thing unless you are very “into” qualification standards.

Executive summary

Qualification standards are a powerful coordination mechanism for improving the match between demand and provision of education, training and learning. Accordingly, the comparative study of the 32 VET qualification systems of the countries participating in Education and training 2010 reveals much reform activity concerning the definition and renewal of occupational and educational standards, with consequences for the role and profile of qualifications.

Qualification standards are the result of interactions between the worlds of work (embodied by social partners, professional associations, employments services, etc) and of education (training providers, teachers, awarding bodies, education ministries, etc.). This interaction can be described as a feedback-loop, with different users of qualifications communicating either directly in the process of defining standards, or indirectly through the collection of information on employer expectations and the publication of learning requirements. The form taken by the feedback-loop in each country differs, but common challenges and trends can be identified.

Qualification standards, defined as norms and specifications regulating the award of qualifications, take various forms depending on the countries or the education segment. Approximately two thirds of the countries examined in this study have developed, or are in the process of developing, occupational standards. These standards, with their systematic occupation descriptions, are expected to simplify keeping qualifications up to date and relevant to the needs of the labour market while providing information to learners on the job profile targeted by the qualification. The forms and characteristics of occupational standards depend on how they fulfil this bridging function between the worlds of work and education. In one group of countries, occupational standards take the form of or a more or less elaborate but comprehensive classification system providing categories for monitoring the labour market. In a second group, occupational standards are designed as benchmarks for measuring occupational performance, in either a work or an educational context. In a third group, occupational standards describe the occupation targeted by a qualification and are developed in an integrated process with educational standards.

Educational standards can be distinguished from occupational standards because they follow a pedagogical logic, of progressive accumulation of knowledge and skills, and not the logic of a systematic description of occupational tasks, functions and associated competences. The variety of educational standards across Europe is as important as it is for occupational standards. Differences can be noted in the objects of standardisation (duration of study programmes, contents of teaching, teaching methods, etc.) and the degree of detail, with countries granting varying autonomy to local authorities, training providers and teachers to design and undertake curricula and learning programmes.

Qualifications are situated at the interface between the worlds of work and of education: they are awarded as the result of a learning process to be used on the labour market. Accordingly, the award of a qualification can be based on regulation of the learning process or on labour market requirements. In most countries, qualification standards address both aspects. Occupational and educational standards are integrated and linked together to make the relationship between employment requirements and learning more evident. In the second largest group of countries, qualifications are based solely on educational standards, either because reforms introducing occupational standards have not yet been fully implemented, or because other coordination mechanisms are used to ensure a strong link between competence-based qualifications and the labour market. This is the case in Germany or the Scandinavian countries, where social partners involvement in defining qualifications and providing training offers powerful coordination between VET and the labour market. Finally, in a few countries following the British NVQ model, qualifications are based solely on occupational standards, a feature that makes them particularly open to validation of non-formal and informal learning.

Comparison of qualification standards across Europe further reveals a general shift towards the use of outcome-based standards, independent from the type (occupational or educational) qualifications are based on. Learning outcomes are generally seen as facilitating the link between employment and education; they are formulated in terms of competences, a concept shared by both systems. In addition, learning outcomes have an important role to play in international mobility (credit systems and qualification framework) as well as lifelong learning and validation of various learning experiences. The majority of countries have adopted outcome-oriented standards or is in the process of doing so, even though the regulation of learning inputs (duration, contents, learning arrangements, etc.) still plays an important role in most qualification systems. However, despite these common developments and some formal similarities in formulating of skills, knowledge and attitude standards, a detailed comparison of outcome-oriented standards shows persisting differences which can be traced back to different understandings of ‘competence’ and different goals ascribed to vocational education and training.
The use of work analysis methods and the involvement of stakeholders in defining standards are crucial elements of a well functioning feedback-loop to ensure the relevance of qualification standards to the needs of employers and other users.

No single method is dominant in the countries under scrutiny, but common principles were identified in various European projects developing qualification standards. Based on analysis of tasks and activities, these projects focus, for instance, on developing common competence standards which are then translated into national training programmes, according to the principle of subsidiarity. It is worth noting that European cooperation on developing standards still happens solely on a case-by-case basis, although some projects have created transferable tools and platforms for sharing experiences.

Stakeholders are increasingly involved in developing national qualification standards across Europe. Participation is institutionalised even in countries with weak traditions of social partnership and attention is paid to a balanced representation of both employers and employees. Whereas patterns of involvement may differ greatly depending on national contexts and traditions, some common challenges can be identified. The lack of capacity of employers to articulate their expectations and needs, especially in emerging professions, is a first challenge faced particularly by countries with weak social partners. Even where stakeholders have a long tradition of self-organisation and involvement, institutional arrangements must be carefully designed to provide the participation opportunities for structurally weak actors such as SMEs and for professions not fitting into traditional sector categories. Finally, a challenge for every country is finding a way to balance conflicting interests of stakeholders; these conflicts originate from the multiplicity of social and economic functions of qualifications as instruments for fostering social inclusion, improving productivity, regulating tariffs and salaries, selecting employees, encouraging mobility, etc.

In the context of the Lisbon strategy and the establishment of a European education area, qualification standards are one important policy instrument for steering and reforming VET systems. Besides common trends such as the broad shift towards outcome-based approaches and the involvement of stakeholders in defining and renewing qualification standards, analysis of national systems reveals a continuing variety of approaches and systems. Qualification standards should, therefore, be further examined with other dimensions of the VET system, to identify whether the dynamics of qualifications are really converging.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

The 12 psychological stumbling blocks of looking for a job

via career(s) information/guidance to TechRepublic

What a lot of career advice doesn't address are the psychological aspects of looking for a job.

Read the full article


i.e. those people who are outside, or on the outside edge of, the informationally aware group(s) in society.

The UK government is not the only government in the developed world to make rash assumptions about information needs and the ability of people to meet their needs without assistance. Who are the outliers, and how can advisers best help these to understand information and how best to use it?

Lark Birdsong wrote a very useful article in Searcher back in September of this year which will, I believe, help you to understand both the issues and the solution(s).

Constrained by hours and restricted in wages: ...

the quality of matches in the labor market

an article by Keith A Bender (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee) and John Douglas SkÅtun (University of Aberdeen) published in Economic Inquiry Volume 47 Issue 3 (2009)

© 2009 Western Economic Association International


This paper examines the explicit loss born by workers who face constraints in their working hours by analysing differences in actual and desired hours and wages. Men tend to be under-employed while women are evenly split between over- and under-employment. Losses in surplus are generally small, but 10% of under-employed men and women experience losses of more than 34% or 50% of surplus, respectively. The loss measure is also an important determinant in predicting labour market transitions, meaning increases in surplus losses generate a higher probability of changing from workers’ present jobs or changing the number of hours.

Hazel’s comment:
An interesting read even if some of the maths was beyond me! For those of you with access to the British Library it’s on display in the Social Sciences Reading Room.

OECD in Figures 2009

OECD’s original, simple to use, pocket-sized data book. As ever, this year’s edition contains key data on the OECD-wide economy, society and the environment. There are comparable tables covering the entire spectrum of the organisation’s work.

Now available from the Online Bookshop
The e-Book - PDF format is Free
Also sold as a subscription