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The full story behind the increase in part-time workers

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This year, the number of those in part-time work has reached its highest level since the Office of National Statistics began its employment series records in 1992.


8 million people are now working less than full-time hours. That accounts for 27% of all those in employment in the UK, and represents an increase of 6% since the start of the recession.

This will come as no surprise to readers, since the ‘part-time boom’ has made headlines for over a year now. And it is the rise in ‘underemployment’ — where someone is employed, but below their desired capacity in terms of hours, pay and skills — that has dominated the news agenda. But has underemployment really driven the massive increase in part-time workers?

Underemployment is now at its highest level ever, with 1,146,000 people in part-time work who actually want to work full-time. This accounts for just 4% of all people working in the UK (i.e. both full and part-time) and 15 per cent of the part-time workforce alone. By contrast, 5,262,000 people say they are working part-time work because they specifically did not want full-time jobs. Whether to secure a flexible job before retirement, balance work with parental responsibilities, or to fit work with academic studies, there are scores of reasons why highly skilled, qualified people only want work part-time hours. And that number, plus those who are working part-time for reasons of ill health, make up 85 per cent of our part-time workers.

This surge of experience-rich candidates is changing the ‘face’ of part-time work and the possibilities of what you can do with a role. ‘Part-time’ is no longer just for positions of low skill and low reliability. Instead, increasing numbers of HR departments are hiring in £60,000 candidates for £30,000, or £40,000 candidates for £20,000 and so on. By thinking through the structure of a brand new vacancy, and considering if it is possible to advertise it 2.5 days rather than 5, you widen its appeal to women with children, single dads, people working several consultant roles and so on. People who want part-time roles, for the long term. Provide a good quality part-time opportunity, find a candidate whose needs match the hours — and you will recruit a committed employee.

But knowing where to look for such experienced and skilled candidates, who exclusively want part-time work, presents a challenge in itself. Research by Women Like Us shows that employers buy into the concept of part-time working, but do not know where to find high volume, quality candidates when recruiting for a new role.

Where to begin? Traditional recruitment agencies are dis-incentivised from promoting part-time jobs for which they only ever get a part fee. Rather than paying an agency to give their great role half of the attention it deserves, and to get in front of candidates who are mostly looking for full-time work, HR departments often choose to advertise the good quality part-time jobs through small, closed word-of-mouth networks.

Five years ago, business consultants and working mums Karen Mattison MBE and Emma Stewart MBE realised this had created a huge gap in the market, and so began Women Like Us — a visible part-time market place where employers could advertise any and all vacancies, direct to the candidates that wanted them. Every year — even through in the recessionary period — Women Like Us has doubled in size.

A recent survey over 2,000 businesses by Orange UK indicated that employers are planning to recruit in force in 2011, and, interestingly, that 74 per cent of small companies are considering flexible working options when they do so. In 2009, many saw ‘part-time recruitment’ as a recessionary, short-term measure. But now, it is becoming embedded in HR strategy throughout the UK, in recognition of the fact that there are brilliant candidates out there, who want part-time work that uses their all their skills and potential to the max.

Resa Galgut is head of recruitment at recruitment agency Women Like Us