There’s a BBC program called “Employable Me“, about the employability of the mentally ill. The program is about people with psychiatric disorders and the labour market. Now if you watch this video you might say that these people are simply unemployable. And yes, there is a scene showing a man suffering from full-blown Tourette who is looking for a job. And he has trouble finding it.
The program “Employable Me” shows people who are at the side of society due to extreme behavior that makes people feel uncomfortable. But this person has a high IQ and has many skills. And he cannot find a job. So a lot of potential is lost to society. And it’s such a waste.
But thinking about this, I thought about how it would be like to hire someone like him. And what keeps us from doing this. It’s easier to hire someone with a physical disability than it is to hire someone with a mental problem. And yet, to hire someone with a physical disability could requires effort too. You need to adapt the work space, the work tools, the furniture, the work instructions, … All of this is changing the physical context of work to the physical capacities and limitations of a person. It’s advanced ergonomics.
But if you’d translate this approach to people with a psychiatric disorder, it would require to adapt the mental context to the mental capabilities and limitations of a person. But how do you adapt the mental context if that mental context is also a social context? The social context does not suffer from the physical adaptations to physical qualities of a person. But the mental disorders disturb the social context. We feel uncomfortable. We need to adapt to peculiar behavior. Is that more difficult?
We are able to adapt to the mental capabilities of a developing human being. From childhood, there’s a long way to go to adulthood. But we get used to that. Why? Because we know there are stages every person must go through to become an independent person. Puberty is an ordeal for most parents and yet most of the parents seem to be able to get through it somehow. Parental behavior during puberty sometimes digresses towards less elevated behaviors.
But on the work place you cannot have this. And yet, it is possible – it must be possible – to hire people with different behaviors due to a mental disorder.
Let’s have a look at the data.
In the U.S. only 12% of people with a serious mental illness are employed full-time, with another 10% being employed on a part-time basis.
99% of people diagnosed with schizophrenia have worked at a certain point in their lives, showing that they are able to work. But after the diagnosis only 5,8% of people with schizophrenia are employed.
66% of people with a severe mental disorder are willing to work.
Let’s face it. The labor market is still exclusive. Hiring who do not fit the profile remains a challenge. And if you think of it, the same goes for education.
I recommend you to watch Employable Me. It confronts us with our own prejudice and embarrassment. And maybe we can use those emotions to maybe look for ways of becoming more inclusive. Or welcoming. Or humane.
Employable Me deserves a TV award. It has probably done more for employability programs than any government program could have. I recommend all employers, CEOs, HRDs to watch it and to think about how we could open up our minds for people who have skills and potential, but have a different behaviour than most people.
This blog is a personal reflection on the word employability. I think we should expand its meaning.
The labour market & Employability
The labour market faces two problems:
How will we keep people employable in the light of longer careers and a more turbulent economy?
How will we create jobs in the light of increasing automation and robotization?
This blog focuses on the first question. You’re employable when you offer the necessary skills, energy, resilience, health to perform an economically relevant activity now and in the future. Employability depends on personal characteristics but also on contextual fact. We all know that the context of education and work influences that employability.
Re-read my definition of employability. The crux lies in the phrase economically relevant activity. Work has to serve the economy. So we are talking about paid work. And yes. Paid work is important. It is a source of income and prosperity. It enable people to live independent lives, invest in their future and fuel the local economy. But work is much more than that. It’s a meaningful activity. It enables people to develop themselves. Work creates connections between people. Work itself is a source of employability.
There are other Activities
But work shares the latter characteristics with a lot of other activities and relevant societal roles other than work. Roles like parenting, volunteering, helping people, managing the household, caring for the elderly are valuable roles. The focus on paid work puts these other activities in the shadow. In most developed countries volunteer work is declining. People just do not have the time or energy to go out and contribute to a good cause. In some countries people have more than one paid job. In those circumstances, It’s easier to give money than it is to give time.
The point is that these other activities are meaningful as well. But they are not paid for. Nevertheless they contribute to a better society and they also contribute to the development of someone’s employability.
So I think we should expand the notion of employability and break the almost exclusive link with paid, professional activities. If employability is the ability to be employed, maybe livability if the capacity to live a prosperous life. And maybe employability will follow from livability. At least it’s a part of it. These are a lot of maybes. But to be honest, if we are to live 100 years, there are no tested solutions. Never before life expectancy was so high. So we need to find other ways to manage an aging civilization. One thing is sure. If we focus normatively and exclusively on work as the sole engine behind employability, we probably just extend what we have known for decades or even centuries. If we try and expand our view on how to engineer a society with the right balance between contributing to society in whatever role, paid or unpaid, we might create conditions that will enable us to have long, prosperous and meaningful lives. This is far beyond the notion of employability and not only the responsibility of employers.
We should look at life as a whole and make sure someone can integrate the various roles he can play in life. I’m sure that’s the best way to enable people to make the bridge towards the 100th year of their life.
May I draw your attention to an international conference on sustainable employability in Brussels, September 14-16. Check here for more details.
Saturday June 29th was a day to remember. That day I took my 15 year old daughter to a Rolling Stones concert. Actually she went along because Triggerfinger played at the same festival. But we stayed (of course) until the Stones played their last note. Both of us were in awe. And seeing how Mick Jagger moved on stage made me owner how he did that. How did he develop this level of employability?
At a certain moment Mick Jagger mentioned the death of Bobby Womack. Bobby Womack wrote songs for the Stones and they played one of his earlier songs in tribute. Casually Mick Jagger mentioned that this was a song they brought in 1964. My daughter looked up to me (I am taller than she is) and she startled: but that’s 50 years ago. And I thought: this is employability in practice.
50 years of career
How many people have a career of 50 years? Few. Most people in Europe retire long before that. People do not see the use of having long careers. Why is that? Because work is something that you need to keep as short as possible to be able to enjoy life. Retirement is seen as a sort of return on investment. You work hard to have a pension? Isn’t that bizarre?
What if we would change that accepted point of view into: you work (as hard as needed) because it is fun. Because it keeps you alive? Because it provides meaning? Why do the Stones perform at higher age? For the money? For the status? Frankly, I don’t care. But the fact is that they do. After 50 years they are on stage. And I can tell you that I haven’t seen many 70-year-old people do what they do. He was on stage like of he were 30 years younger. And that puzzles me. Because somewhere in the back of my mind I seem to remember to have read about this guy’s life. It wasn’t the healthiest of ways to lead a life. So how did he make his career sustainable?
In short, sustainable employability is the capacity to work tomorrow, or next week. Someone who is employable sustainably is able to create value for his employer or customer today and in the foreseeable future. There are three components in that: health, competence and engagement. Poor health makes it less likely to work on a longer term. Having obsolete competencies will not enable someone to work longer. And lacking drive to do something kills the longevity of your work ability. So working on those 3 is key to long-term, sustainable employability.
I don’t know if the Stones have worked deliberately on all three of them. But what I do know is that have kept their engagement to perform over all those years. What I do know is that they still have the competencies to perform in a changed world. That their music has kept its vibrance and energy. And that there still is an audience for their music, even when that music is half a century old. This might be luck, but I don’t think it is. A sustainability Environment
I did not mean to write sustainable environment. There are some environments that kill sustainable employability. These are environments that have following characteristics:
There is no way to acquire new skills.
The desired behaviour is defined by hierarchy.
There is no openness for new insights, new ideas, …
The personal goals are irrelevant.
There is no longer term perspective
Leadership is of the diminishing kind.
Personal development is not stimulated as the focus lies on process efficiency.
There is no room for decision-making. Actions are pre-programmed or subject to hierarchical approval.
And I could go on. The Stones have created for themselves an environment where they could thrive. Today they choose what they do. they can afford to do so. What would happen if you could afford to do so yourself? What choice do you have?
There is always something you can do
Sustainable employability is your own responsibility. There is no point in waiting for someone to nudge you forward. You have to do it on your own. And part of that is looking for people who can help you to develop. And before you say that you cannot do anything: yes there is something you can do. You can start to think. Let me ask some questions:
How likely is it that you will be able to work in one company or industry? Not likely.
How likely is it that what you’ve learnt at the start of your career, is still valid today? Not likely.
How likely is is that the job you hold will exist in its current form 10 years from now? Not likely.
How likely is it that you can build a career without changing profession? This is less and less likely.
So you need to do something yourself. And there is always something you can do.
You can hope that you will reach your retirement age without trouble.
You can run away and find something else to do.
Or you can work on your employability whilst doing your job.
And whatever you decide to do, it’s your decision. The thing is that at least is a decision. And if you take it you’re active about it. I am sure the members of the Rolling Stones did not always take decision deliberately, or wisely. But that’s not so bad. Fact is that they are still on stage. And seeing them is not saddening. It’s rejoicing. The Rolling Stones are exemplary to people who will need to work longer. They are inspirational for companies that are faced with an ageing workforce.
They show that it is possible to deliver quality at a later age and that stereotypes of the ageing process need not be true.
So think about your personal employability. Look at the Stones and ask yourself: how can I do what they do?