Last week the Office for National Statistics revealed a 1.3% drop in unemployment over the last quarter (December 2011-February 2012), bringing the total amount of jobless down to 2.65 million.
Yet a closer look at how the figures break down shows that the amount of people in full-time jobs fell by 27,000 while the number of people moving into part-time work rose 80,000 to 7.9 million, its highest level since records began in 1992.
Some commentators see this shift towards part-time work as bad news, but with the changing landscape of jobs, is part-time work actually the much needed silver lining to a miserable employment situation in the UK?
Many critics have suggested that the promising drop in unemployment figures is from people being forced into part-time, temporary or self-employed roles because of a lack of full-time opportunities.
However, a quick glance at a few job sites shows that this suggestion does not really add up; there were 3,747 part-time roles on one popular website compared to 114,962 full-time jobs advertised.
The move to part-time work perhaps has got more to do with the increased competition for full-time positions, a lack of the right type of full-time employment (the millions of people unemployed have differing skills and interests) and people looking for greater flexibility in their working arrangements.
Whatever the reason, the impetus to find work is made more urgent when you consider that unemployment is still extremely high and the number of long-term unemployed is rising.
The latest figures show that in total there are nearly 900,000 people who have been out of work for over 12 months; 231,000 of this number are 18-24 years olds.
Faced with this number, it is sad that for some, a part time position is not really seen as a ‘proper job’.
But surely having any sort of job is better than no job at all?
[Related link: Look for a new job online]
Full time vs part time
There is a risk when you settle for a full-time job you don’t enjoy that you become stuck in a rut; grateful you won’t be cast as a scrounger, satisfied with finally having a source of income but deeply unhappy about the type of work you do.
The benefit of working a part-time job which you perhaps also don’t enjoy is that you can spend the rest of your time focusing on the career you want and take steps to get there without worrying so much about money.
Having a little less money than you would like is not ideal, but can be motivational and keeps you driven to succeed.
Typically job opportunities with reduced hours are found in customer services, admin, accountancy, bar work, and retail trades. While they don’t follow traditional career paths they offer an opportunity to gain experience and avoid long periods of inactivity.
When you’re unemployed, a part-time job can be your chance to get back into working life, make you feel valued, provide an income and give you more opportunity to meet people who have experienced similar issues.
The lost generation
‘The lost generation’ of 16-24 years olds has been discussed at great length in the press. This economic group consists of school leavers and graduates struggling to get a foot on any sort of career ladder as they are up against more experienced workers in the job market.
This represents a catch-22 for young people as they want to work but have little to no experience and lack key skills compared to other older candidates in the same unemployed pool.
Part-time work offers an opportunity to add new skills and new interests to an insubstantial CV, making you a more attractive and employable candidate.
The more young people start to realise this, the more they can do to change their situation by attending short courses to gain the right skills employers are looking for (something that may prove difficult if you work full time), do work placements in companies to bolster their CV (impossible when you work full time) or even get the sort of bog standard experience in an office that many employers like to see before offering young people a job.
As long as you are proactive, working part time can work for you and get you where you want to be.
[Related feature: Why youth unemployment should worry everyone]
Space for perspective
Going part-time also takes the heat off the tireless job hunt and gives you some time and space to gain some perspective. You will have an income to sustain you while you figure out how to be successful in a struggling economy.
Some people may have been made redundant and would like a career change so need an in-between job; some may have graduated with grand expectations only to realise their dream job doesn’t exist, so need a source of income while they readjust. Even those with no idea of what they want to do may benefit from doing some part-time work to see if it could be right for them as a career.
The perspective you gain may mean you realise you don’t want to work for anyone else and would like to start your own business or even make you realise you need to save to achieve your goals.
Whatever the epiphany, the pressure to find a full-time job right now and stop living off the State will be abated.
It's not only young people that could benefit from part time and other work patterns.
Families with young children can gain a greater work life balance from the increased flexibility of working hours (like shifts or job shares), meaning more time to spend with the family and less need to spend on expensive child care.
So what are your experiences of part-time work? Should a push towards a greater range of work patterns be considered to avoid long periods of economic inactivity?
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