OPINION – Low Paid But Not Low Skilled

Low paid migrants harvesting in the UK.
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Low paid jobs. Or is it “Low skilled”? These two terms are routinely interchanged by politicians and the media alike. However, despite the assumption that a low wage must equate to a low skills, it couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Carers often work long hours for extremely low wages. Sometimes, they are incorrectly described as “unskilled” workers due to their lack of a University degree. While they may lack in having academic knowledge, they more than make up for it with their real world knowledge.

As 18 year-old could be working a 12 hour shift in a care home. It’s highly likely they’ll be getting paid the minimum wage or just above it. In the current economic climate they are classed as low skilled.

These are young adults who in a short space of time can plan patients care, liaise with medical professionalises, be compliant with the relevant laws in care and so much more. These are not low skilled workers, they’re highly functioning underpaid workers.

With an ageing population care homes are swelling in size across the UK. This is putting carers under more and more pressure. Yet despite this, their wages stay stagnant as they’re not deemed smart enough by the outdated methods used by governments and companies.

When carers are classified as low skilled it reinforces the stereotype that these people lack intelligence or ambition. This is what companies want. By classing them as unintelligent it allows wages to be suppressed.

This suppression of wages has led to a shortfall in carers as they struggle to make ends meet. In turn, this has allowed the rise of care agencies to come in offering staff tantalisingly high pay rates with little job security. While I’m all for carers getting better pay, zero-hour contracts or forced self employment are not the way to do it.

Farming Experts

Let’s look at agricultural workers. A hot topic in our Brexit filled news cycle. In the South of England, agricultural companies are getting worried that our exit from the European Union will end their supply of migrant workers who farm their crops.

These workers are in my opinion, some of the worst treated in out emerging temp economy. Drafted in to harvest crops, these people do not only perform manual labour but they are responsible to the high yields their employer enjoys.

They will manage the land and soil, ensure the crops are ready for harvest, sort, pick, quality control and pack the product. They are multi skilled workers who are treated with contempt by nearly everyone. These people are managing several complex tasks at once and being paid pittance for their efforts.

What’s more, despite doing all these tasks, their CV will simply show “agricultural worker”. Should a worker aspire to improve themselves, they already face difficulties because their job title doesn’t reflect their actual skills.

Now all of a sudden, the farmers are getting worried they might get those pesky UK workers who want rights. Even should migrant workers dwindle should we leave the EU, don’t expect farmers to change their ways.

They have enjoyed years of high profits with low tax and wage bills. However this economic method is hurting businesses as much as workers.

The Unlikely Candidates

My final example is fair ground workers. You may seem sceptical about this but I’m convinced you’ll see why they aren’t low skilled by the end.

Fair grounds. They’re a buzz of people, noise and flashing lights. Staff are often temporary from the area of travel round the country staying in caravans and tents.

These people while low paid, certainly aren’t low skilled. Think of it like this. Could they list their skills on their CV they could include things such as;

  • Health & Safety Awareness
  • Cash Handling
  • Customer Facing
  • Manual Handling

However, I can almost guarantee that if they applied for a job as a receptionist or a shop assistant, they’d be ignored. As well as being low paid, they are stereotyped too.

A fair ground or travelling show is a fast paced environment. There are people coming and going constantly, staff have to be aware of their surrounding at all times. They’re juggling safety and enjoyment all while putting on a smile.

They may not be book smart but they can probably deal with people better than most of us combined. They deal with drunk revellers who may be a danger to themselves or others. They don’t do it for thanks but because they enjoy it.

When they decide to move on to a new job, I’d say to any company “you need to look at this person closely.”

Lack of Utilising Intelligence

How are companies suffering from paying their staff low wages and treating them as unskilled you ask. The answer is simple; They lose out of a pool of intelligence they already have.

While these workers don’t have a fancy piece of paper saying they spent years in a classroom, they have an understanding of how the system works. They’ve lived it and in many cases the company is benefiting from their intuition. Instead of getting promoted, these workers see graduates come in and fill a role they most likely have a greater understanding of.

When things like this happens it can affect the morale of staff. When they are already on a low wage this doesn’t help productivity.

Low paid workers are what drive our economy. They are why companies profit and, sometimes why they make a loss.

Charaterising low-wage work as “low-skill” is unfair but it also undermines our economic future. Work is solving problems. Who usually solves these problems? The low paid workers.

When we invest in low-wage workers by allowing them to put their skills to better use  and with better pay,  our economic returns will be higher, and our society healthier.

We are currently in a race to the bottom on workers rights and pay. While companies and government may see short term benefits, the bubble will burst at some point. When it does they’ll be asking themselves; “what went wrong.”

Many people have warned them about the low paid, low skill culture. They’ll only have themselves to blame when it comes crashing down.


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  • Child and elder care workers would agree with your bringing attention to this destructive practice by their experience-education of the very real benefits of positive recognition of the growth and contributions of their charges. That, a refusal to respect and honor ability applied is a reason for most to pull back, to try less or even give up on a work place, classroom, society and even family.

    If , for example, Care-providers teach us this one thing they are more worthy of the pay of a CEO of BP as they contribute the, much, greater benefit to our society, country and the world we interact with.

  • Many years ago, in the US, I had an acquaintance who worked as a care worker in a residential home for people with dementia. The first time I met her, she was outside my partner’s house in -5C weather, rinsing out her shoes with the hose. She explained where she worked and said that one of her patients had been saving his pee in 2L bottles (no idea why). When another worker found the bottles and tried to take them away, he tipped 4 of them over, flooding the floor of his room with pee. Then he sat down in it and refused to get up. She had a particularly good relationship with that patient, so she’d stayed late to convince him to get up off the floor, accompany him to the shower, get him dressed afterward, and take him to dinner. Then she’d returned to his room to help with the cleanup, because if he came back to the mess he wouldn’t remember that he’d done it, and he’d get very confused and upset. She was perfectly cheerful about the whole thing.

    She’d already tossed her scrubs, but the shoes were expensive, so she was going to put them through the wash. Her housemate didn’t like it when she dripped “fluids” on the way to the washer, so she was rinsing them outside. “Fluids?”, I asked? She said that it happened about once a week, but not always with pee – sometimes it was blood, sometimes vomit, sometimes faeces… I have a very sensitive sense of smell, so I probably made a face or said, “Ew” or something. She looked at me and said, gently, “They don’t know what they’re doing a lot of the time. It isn’t their fault. They’re lovely people, really.” I felt really guilty, but at the same time knew that there was no way I could do her job.

    I heard many more stories (without names) from her. The only time I saw her angry was when a patient hit another patient, and that was only because she’d warned the Home that he shouldn’t be alone with other patients. She had almost no training when she started, but she was so good at caring for her patients, at connecting with them even when they were frightened, confused, and sometimes abusive/violent. She never blamed them for the things she had to deal with. After 5 years, she’d just had a raise, which was only a few cents an hour above minimum wage. Thank God for her and people like her. Low-paid, and should be paid so much more. Extremely skilled, and a rare person.