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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.

Beyond 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.
Picture Credit (women between olive trees): Orlio

David Ducheyne is the founder of Otolith. As a former HR and business leader he focuses now on humanising strategy execution.

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