Is part-time the new full-time?

Is part-time the new full-time?

Part-time job opportunities have risen to a three year high, according to the latest figures released by the Reed Job Index. But does this shift reflect a fundamental change in the way Britain works?

It’s been widely reported that part-time work is on the up and reed.co.uk’s own data backs this trend. Whilst the number of full-time vacancies available has risen by a promising 8.5% in the last year, the number of part-time positions has risen by more than 18% over the same period.

But why the change and who’s benefiting? We’ve explored some of the issues below as we attempt to understand whether part-time is, in fact, the new full-time.

A changing workforce

In some respects the rise in part-time positions reflects a changing dynamic in our lifestyles. For many of us, working shorter hours means more flexibility, allowing us to fit our careers around our increasingly busy schedules. The standard 40-hour working week has become too impractical and outdated to apply to every jobseeker’s situation.  

So whether it’s raising young children, caring for a disabled or elderly relative, or even undertaking unpaid voluntary positions to gain experience within an industry of choice, having the versatility to work less traditionally can be an attractive option for many people seeking work.

A rise in part-time jobs could, therefore, be seen to highlight the importance many of us place on maintaining a healthy work/life balance. Sometimes, the perfect career is simply the one that suits our lifestyle, and own individual needs.

A ‘stepping stone’

Aside from adding flexibility to our lives, part-time positions are becoming more and more important for candidates who are looking for work within especially competitive industries. With a growing number of graduates and skilled workers applying for the same roles, standing out from the crowd can be a challenge. For some employers, having previous experience can make all the difference.

Part-time positions are a great way of gaining valuable knowledge in a more practical and hands-on fashion, and can really help reinforce some of the skills mentioned on your CV. 

Additionally, taking a shorter term or temporary position allows some individuals more time to study or receive training in an area they are interested in. In other words, gaining a professional qualification while working part-time can open the door to a career which may have been unattainable if working longer hours.

Underemployment vs. Unemployment

While for many of us working part-time may be a lifestyle decision or career move, for some people, working shorter hours may not be out of choice.  Whilst the current economic outlook suggests a slow recovery is under way, unfortunately, not all businesses have been able to weather the storm. However, instead of full-scale redundancies, many employers have been able to survive by cutting back on hours.

This has given rise to those termed ‘underemployed’ (i.e. those in employment but who are not working as many hours as they would like). Often seen as a negative by-product of the recession, and not suited to everyone, being ‘underemployed’ is, nevertheless, often more desirable for employees than the alternative.

Although this compromise is by no means a perfect solution, working part-time does allow workers to look for a more permanent position while still being able to maintain an income (even if that income is reduced).

What it means

Latest official figures estimate that more than eight million of us are now working part-time (Office of National Statistics, March 2013). That’s nearly a third of the whole working population of the UK. 

There’s no denying that the current economic situation has been a major reason for the rise in part-time jobs. According to the ONS, the first substantial signs of growth occurred between 2008 and 2009, when the impact of the recession hit the jobs market. But, although many have been forced to reduce their hours, our shift to part-time employment, rather than redundancy, demonstrates a resilience and flexibility in the nation’s workforce.    

The idea of the traditional working week is evolving over time and is no longer exclusively limited to individuals working 40 hours or more per week. Britain’s workforce is adapting to the needs of the job market to include a wide variety of permutations of full-time, part-time, temporary and self-employed workers, ultimately leading to a more diverse working environment for all.  

So whether you’re a marketing graduate, working part-time at an advertising agency to gain invaluable industry experience, a student taking on part-time bar work to fund the pursuit of a professional qualification or a parent looking to fit their income around the school run, having the flexibility to work part-time can have a multitude of benefits.

So is part-time the new full time? Share your opinions here, or tell us on twitter @reedcouk

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