Introduction

    Welcome to the Wales Wide Web

    October 25th, 2007 by Dirk Stieglitz

    Wales Wide Web is Graham Attwell’s main blog. Graham Attwell is Director of the Wales based research organisation, Pontydysgu. The blog covers issues like open-source, open-content, open-standards, e-learning and Werder Bremen football team.

    You can reach Graham by email at graham10 [at] mac [dot] com

    Wales Wide Web

    Economic catastrophe?

    September 23rd, 2020 by Graham Attwell

    Navigating the labour market will be challenging, especially for people in insecure and low-paid employment. Despite the emergence of a range of online products and services, some basic needs – like matching people to training and education courses that provide the best return – are not being met.

    Further, although a range of financial services already exist to support vulnerable families, the scale and accessibility of these services are out of kilter with what is now required.

    To stimulate innovation in these fields, Nesta launched the Rapid Recovery Challenge – a new £2.8 million challenge prize seeking scalable ways of giving vulnerable workers better access to jobs and financial help in the wake of COVID-19.

    Find out more about the challenge prize.

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    Language courses and science, technology, engineering and maths subjects cut

    September 16th, 2020 by Graham Attwell
    jet engine, jet, airplane

    LittleVisuals (CC0), Pixabay

    Over the past few years there has been great emphasis placed in the UK on the importance of science, engineering, technology and maths (STEM) for the future development of the economy. there has also been attention placed on the poor record of language learning in the country. And education – and especially the vocational further education colleges have been urged to ensure that employability is high on te agenda.

    It is surprising then to see the latest report from the UK nation Audit Office which has found that “Some colleges have stopped teaching modern languages courses and some science, technology, engineering and maths subjects, while others have significantly decreased employability activities.”

    As a report on Sky News says, the Aidit Office report the reason being that core funding for the college sector has fallen and its financial health “remains fragile” – with an increasing number of colleges across the UK under financial pressure due to the coronavirus crisis.

    The report warned that mental health and careers support for college students had also reduced.

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    More ways of understanding the Labour Market

    September 15th, 2020 by Graham Attwell
    architecture, skyscraper, glass facades

    MichaelGaida (CC0), Pixabay

    In most countries we have traditionally relied on official labour market agencies for data for understanding the labour market. From an education and training standpoint, that data has not always been ideal – given the main users are economic planners and policy makers – and the data collected is often difficult to interpret from the viewpoint of careers guidance or education and training provision.

    One of the main limitations of national data from official agencies is that the sample is often too small to draw conclusions at a local – or sometimes even regional – level. Yet opportunities for employment vary greatly by region, town and city. In recent years there has been a growth in popularity of scraped data, using big data technologies and techniques to scrape and analyse online job vacancies. This work has mainly been undertaken by US based private sector companies although the EU CEDEFOP agency has also developed a multi national project scraping and analysing data. The job advert data is not better or worse than tradition labour market data. It is another source of data providing another angle from how to understand what is going on. Pontydysgu is part of a consortium in the final of the  UK Nesta CareerTech Challenge prize. Our main word is developing a Chatbot for providing information for people whose jobs are at risk as a result of automation and AI. Of course that includes labour market information as well as possibly scraped data and we have been thinking about other sources of data, not traditionally seen as labour market information.

    One organisation which is accessing, visualising and publishing near real time data is the Centre for Cities in the UK. It says its mission is to help the UK’s largest cities and towns realise their economic potential.

    We produce rigorous, data-driven research and policy ideas to help cities, large towns and Government address the challenges and opportunities they face – from boosting productivity and wages to preparing for Brexit and the changing world of work.

    We also work closely with urban leaders, Whitehall and business to ensure our work is relevant, accessible and of practical use to cities, large towns and policy makers

    Since the start of the Covid 19 pandemic the Centre for Cities has been tracking the impact on the labour market. They say:

    Luton, Slough and Blackpool have seen the largest increases in unemployment since lockdown began. Meanwhile, cities and towns in predominantly in southern England and The Midlands have seen smaller increases in unemployment. Cambridge, Oxford, Reading, Aberdeen and York have seen some of the smallest increases in unemployment since March.

    As of mid-June Crawley, Burnley, Sunderland and Slough have the largest shares of people being paid by the Government’s furlough scheme.

    In the medium term, as many as one in five jobs in cities and large towns could be at risk of redundancy or furloughing, and those reliant on the aviation industry, such as Crawley and Derby, are likely to be hardest hit. These areas are also the places most likely to be worst affected if the Job Retention Scheme is withdrawn too soon.

    One interesting tool is the high street recovery tracker. This compares the economic performance of city centers since the outset of the Covid 19 crisis. At present they say footfall in the UKs 63 biggest cities has increased by seven percentage points in August and now reaches 63 per cent of pre-lockdown levels.

    However, this figure hides great geographic differences: in 14 city centres, footfall in August exceeded pre-lockdown levels; particularly in seaside towns and smaller cities. At the other end of the spectrum, large cities like Manchester and Birmingham have barely recovered half of their pre-lockdown levels of activity.

    Instead of relying on traditional surveys for this data, which would take some time to process and analyse, the recovery tracker is based on mobile phone analysis. Another potentially interesting non traditional source of data for understanding labour markets may be travel data, although that data is heavily disrupted by Covid 19. But that disruption in itself may be interesting, given the likelihood that those cities with continuing low travel to work numbers are likely to have a higher percentage of office based work, and possibly a focus on non customer based finance and administration employment. Conversely those cities where travel to work volumes are approaching near normal are probably more concentrated on retail and manufacturing industry.

    All in all, there is a lot going on in novel data sources for labour market information. And of course we are also looking at how such data might be accessed:hence our Chatbot project.

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    What’s happening to the labour market?

    September 14th, 2020 by Graham Attwell
    looking for a job, work, silhouettes

    geralt (CC0), Pixabay

    Its pretty hard guessing the future of the labour market at the moment. How bad is the downturn from the Convid 19 pandemic going  to be. Will there be U shaped recession or will there be a rapid V shaped recovery. Who will be hit hardest? What will happen to the hospitality and travel industries. What kind of policies might mitigate against a recession. And what kind of education and training measure are needed?

    Things are slowly becoming clearer. And the indicators are not good.

    The Brighton based Centre for Employment Studies (CES) released a briefing note today using newly released data from employers planning 20 or more redundancies alongside historic estimates of actual redundancies, in order to estimate the potential path of job losses this year. The CES were only able to obtain the data from the government followin a Freedom of Information request. Estimates of the actual historic level of redundancies are taken from the Labour Force Survey.

    Their analysis suggests that redundancy notifications by employers are running at more than double the levels seen in the 2008/9 recession, the vast majority of which is a consequence of the covid-19 pandemic and its economic impacts. The CES estimates  that this may lead to around 450 thousand redundancies in the third quarter of 2020 – significantly higher than the quarterly peak in the last recession (of just over 300 thousand) – and a further 200 thousand redundancies in the final quarter of the year.

    Among measure that they suggest are needed to deal with the employment crisis is guaranteed access to rapid, high quality employment and training support for those facing redundancy.

    The full report can be downloaded here.

     

     

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    Accountability and algorithmic systems

    September 3rd, 2020 by Graham Attwell
    programming, computer language, program

    geralt (CC0), Pixabay

    There seems to be a growing awareness of the use and problems with algorithms – at least in the UK with what Boris Johnson called “a rogue algorithm” caused chaos in students exam results. It is becoming very apparent that there needs to be far more transparency in what algorithms are being designed to do.

    Writing in Social Europe says “Algorithmic systems are a new front line for unions as well as a challenge to workers’ rights to autonomy.” She draws attention to the increasing surveillance and monitoring of workers at home or in the workplace. She says strong trade union responses are immediately required to balance out the power asymmetry between bosses and workers and to safeguard workers’ privacy and human rights. She also says that improvements to collective agreements as well as to regulatory environments are urgently needed.

    Perhaps her most important argument is about the use of algorithms:

    Shop stewards must be party to the ex-ante and, importantly, the ex-post evaluations of an algorithmic system. Is it fulfilling its purpose? Is it biased? If so, how can the parties mitigate this bias? What are the negotiated trade-offs? Is the system in compliance with laws and regulations? Both the predicted and realised outcomes must be logged for future reference. This model will serve to hold management accountable for the use of algorithmic systems and the steps they will take to reduce or, better, eradicate bias and discrimination.

    Christina Colclough believes the governance of algorithmic systems will require new structures, union capacity-building and management transparency.I can’t disagree with that. But also what is needed is a greater understanding of the use of AI and algorithms – for good and for bad. This means an education campaign – in trade unions but also for the wider public to ensure that developments are for the good and not just another step in the progress of Surveillance Capitalism.

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    Understanding the changing Covid-19 labour market

    August 26th, 2020 by Graham Attwell
    looking for a job, work, silhouettes

    geralt (CC0), Pixabay

    Yesterday I attended a webinar organized by the UK Association of Colleges in their Labour Market Observatory Series. The subject of the webinar was Using Job Posting Analytics to understand the changing Covid-19 labour market.

    Understanding labour markets is a hard job at the best of time and the Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting lockdown have disrupted the economy with unprecedented speed and scale. As Duncan Brown, Senior Economist from Emsi, explained, raditional labour market statistics take time to emerge, especially to understand what’s going at regional and local level, and real-time indicators become all-important. Duncan Brown, talked through what their Job Posting Analytics – derived from collecting (or scraping) around 200,000 new, unique job postings from job boards across the internet every week — can tell us about where and how the labour market is changing and what to look for as we move into the recovery.

    First though he explained how the data is collected using bots before being cleaned and duplication removed, prior to using algorithms to analyse the data. He pointed out that there are limitations to the data derived from job adverts but compared to the time taken for official labour market data to emerge, for instance through the UK National Office of Statistics Labour Force Survey (LFS)job posting analytics can provide an almost real time snapshot view of the labour market, and is easily projected at a local level.

    My notes on the webinar are somewhat patchy but here are a few take home points, particularly from a question and answer session that followed Duncan Brown’s presentation.

    There was a huge fall in online job adverts in April and May with the lockdown – as high as 80 per cent in some sectors and localities. Since then there has been a steady recovery in the number of jobs being advertised online but this recovery is uneven between different sectors and different cities and regions.

    As examples offers of employment in the food and hospitality. Industries remain dire and aerospace is also still badly hit. On the other hand, job advert volumes in manufacturing have substantially recovered and, perhaps understandably there is an increase in jobs adverts in health care.

    There is considerable differences as to how far the volume of job adverts has recovered (or otherwise) in different cities. In general, it would appear that those cities with the largest percentage of office work and of commuters are doing worse: London in particular.

    One area of the labour market that Emsi is focusing on is skills demand. They have developed their own skills directory, which Duncan Brown said, now contains over 3000 skills and are running a project funded by Nesta to see if these skills can be clustered around different occupations. Yet despite the so-called pivot to skills, he said there few signs that employers were. Moving away from the traditional emphasis on qualifications. However, qualification demands often did not appear in job adverts but rather tended to be assumed by both employers and job applicants. For instance, someone applying for a job as an accountant would presume that they needed formal qualifications.

    Although there have long been predictions over the impact of automation and AI on employment, Duncan Brown said there was little evidence of this. His feeling is that, at least in the UK, the existence of relatively cheap labour in many sectors where it would be relatively easy to automate tasks, was a disincentive to the necessary investment. He thought that labour costs may have been kept down by immigration. He pointed to car washes as an example of an area where far from advancing automation had actually gone backwards.

    The slides from the presentation and a recording of the webinar will be available from 27 August on the Association of Colleges website.

     

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