Students, workers, the unemployed

Rafael Puyol. Vicepresident. IE Foundation

13 December 2010

There’s no such thing as hard-set roles in the labor market, because just as someone who is unemployed has to get active to retrain, a worker has to stop being so active to do exactly the same thing.

Anyone could fall into one of the above mentioned categories. But it is hard to fall neatly into just one of them because students want to finish their degrees and start work, workers want to retire at some point in the future, and the unemployed want to stop being unemployed and back in employment as soon as possible.

However, any two of these three options can be combined to form a main element, complete with a hint of one of the other categories. There are students who can occasionally work in part-time employment. There are workers who occasionally spend part of their time doing training or educational programs. The educational process is being increasingly viewed as a continuum, replacing the idea of education that will last a lifetime with an education that will continue throughout a lifetime. It´s the Anglo-Saxon concept of lifelong learning that allows working people to acquire new knowledge, update their existing knowledge or improve their skills, capacities and work tools. And there are unemployed people who, whether they are encouraged by the government or not, use what they see as a temporary situation to train in order to become more skilled.

But we should not misinterpret the situation. Someone who is not working is truly unemployed no matter what else they might be doing. Not including them in the unemployment statistics is simply self-deception. Of course, that is not meant to be a criticism of the fact that at least one and a half million people are undertaking training or education, or are in other positions, such as receiving agricultural subsidies or the €420 benefit. And, of course, it is by no means a form of defeatism with spurious intentions. It is a question of simply recognizing a reality.

We should look at the positive side of the situation and not that clumsy attempt to disguise the figures. The fact that our workers are given additional education is good. The fact that they are given education only in times of crisis is not enough. It should not only be used to massage statistics in times of crisis, it should be embraced just as eagerly in times of prosperity.

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