opinion | What makes a good job good?
People can disagree even about those basic criteria. How would you rate a job that pays well but displays poor mobility or equality? A survey of LinkedIn members released this month found that a third of workers would trade a small pay cut for more enjoyable work, and a quarter would do so in exchange for a “stronger opportunity for job growth,” among other hypothetical options — but 46 percent would not forego paying for anything. .
Labor economists speak of two types of employers. Some take the high road, design jobs that are diverse and interesting, require a lot of training and are well paid. Others are taking the low road, relieving jobs so that anyone can do them and thus paying lower salaries. What employers save in ways that are low in wages is offset by higher supervision costs and rapid turnover. Companies that follow these two different approaches can coexist in the same industry. Groschen from Cornell told me.
Not all “highway” companies are white-collar businesses. Maureen Conway, executive director of the Economic Opportunity Program at the Aspen Institute, cites QuikTrip Corp. , a private company headquartered in Tulsa, Oklahoma, that has more than 24,000 employees at more than 900 locations, where they sell food and gasoline. Conway said QuikTrip designs “stable jobs, more interesting jobs.” Employees are taught how to interact with customers and keep track of inventory. Additional training takes time. “There is an important rehabilitation process,” she said. “There is job shadowing for a few weeks.”
Most people would consider a highly-trained, high-paying job to be better than a low-paid, high-training job. But not all. Some people just need quick cash to pay bills and may lack the desire, time, or ability for a “highway” job. I got an example when I spoke with David Zamir, founder and CEO of Nana Academy, a company that trains people to repair devices at no cost and then sends them for jobs. Zamir said that Nana graduates who learn the most complex repair jobs can make $160,000 or more annually. But, he said, “15 percent want simplicity and ease.” “They want to get in and out.” He said that’s good.
You might think it makes sense for jobs to improve when the demand for workers increases, but at least in one respect it’s quite the opposite, according to research by Brad Hirschbein, chief economist and deputy director of research at the WE Upjohn Institute for Employment Research. He said that when companies are desperate to fill vacancies, they will lower hiring standards, which may require them to streamline tasks. That would be a low-key approach. Conversely, when unemployment rates are high, they will hire only the most skilled applicants, giving them the option of making jobs more complex—a strategy for the highways. (It’s hard to answer if they actually pay people for more complex work.)
Hirschbein told me that the average quality of new jobs has risen over the past 15 years or so in a declining pattern: an increase in periods of high unemployment and no turning back in periods of low unemployment. He created an index that finds more employment in higher paying occupations than in lower paying occupations. And that happens even in industries that have a reputation for low wages, he said: “In leisure and hospitality, it’s not just about waiting staff and chefs. You have market analysis — where should I open a restaurant? — and decor and food consultants.”
The Job Quality Measurement Initiative plans to release its findings in September. Korberg said she would like to see a job quality index included in the monthly jobs report. The BLS, on the other hand, has a limited budget — Groshen, the agency’s commissioner from 2013 to 2017, said he hasn’t surveyed employer-provided training since 1995. She also noted that some aspects of job quality, such as upward movement, can only be accounted for at a time. later. (You can’t tell if people can move up until they actually do, which takes years.)