PERSPECTIVES ON THE PRACTICE OF EMPLOYMENT-ORIENTED
LOCAL ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT IN THE UNITED KINGDOM
This report is based on a study of the roles of those who are engaged in the professional practice of employment-oriented economic development at the local level. The focus on the local level is to distinguish the area of practice from that which is concerned with particular sectors of the economy (eg engineering, retailing, hospitality, construction), or with the national labour market as a whole. The term 'employment-related' is used to emphasise the focus on activities which are mainly concerned with helping local unemployed people to gain jobs, and for local people to improve their employment situation for example, in terms of relative permanence, skill levels required, pay etc. This is regarded as an aspect of economic development, in so far as any sustainable effect on employment is regarded as being dependent on economic circumstances. Whilst public funding, ie from the state (whether national or local), may create employment for a limited time period, this is generally regarded as non-sustainable over long periods. So various forms of intervention have been and are being tried, to develop the circumstances giving rise to economically sustainable development of employment opportunity and outcome.
At the same time, the emphasis upon the local also implicates issues of community, the social as well as the economic. The connection between economic decline and social decline is generally accepted; the latter expresses itself in terms of low educational achievement, crime, vandalism, disregard for the local physical environment, low levels of communal activity, and the tensions in the lived experience between different 'identity' groups within a local community. Interventions intended to improve employment opportunity at the local level are often based on interventions to improve social conditions, as well as the economic circumstances of individuals. This study concerns those individuals who engage in work related to such interventions.
The starting point for the study is the notion that the activities involved in such employment-oriented local economic (or socio-economic) development constitute an identifiable arena of professional practice. We are using the term 'professional' here in its 'commonsense' usage. In general terms, this is based on some generally accepted idea that professional work is based on the intelligent use of bodies of knowledge to differing circumstances, for which relatively high levels and long periods of education, training and experience are essential. Along with these goes some sense of commitment to standards.We find an account of the work done by 'professionals' contained in a report on the training of personnel management practitioners in the early 1970s is a succinct and apposite expression of what we mean by professional practice:
"Work done by a 'professional' is usually distinguished by its reference to a framework of fundamental concepts linked with experience rather than impromptu reaction to events or the application of rigid laid down procedures. The hallmark of a professional person is seen as the possession of a high level of distinctive competence reflecting the skilful application of specialised knowledge, which is: 1. accompanied by a sense of responsibility and an acceptance of recognised standards,2. acquired by a process of specialised education, training and experience over a number of years. from: Department of Employment, Training for the Management of Human Resources', HMSO, 1973 (HMSO, 1973 :12)The basis of the study is that the occupation employment-oriented local economic development constitutes an arena of professional work. A key issue then, is to examine what forms of 'specialised education, training and experience' is appropriate for those who are engaged in such work, in terms of both entry to and progression within the occupational arena.
It has become clear, from the early stages of our investigations, that the examination of employment-oriented local economic development as a professional occupation is no simple matter. First, there is the problem of how we draw the boundary of such work. For the purposes of this study, we specified the focus as activities concerned with employment-development, and 'local' in terms of inner-city localities, particularly the inner-London boroughs 'local' to the University of North London (particularly Islington and Hackney). However, establishing who is engaged in such activity was more problematical, as there were not only many agencies involved but also many types of agencies. Figure 2 displays the key types of agencies involved in local economic development, with examples relevant to this study. (Part Two of the report provides descriptions of a number of the agencies.) These include agencies for whom the employment development activity is central, and those for whom it is merely a part of a wider remit. The nature of involvement varied, from those which engaged directly in development initiatives at the level of individual recipients, to those which developed policy and provided funding. So the agents of employment-oriented local economic development are employed in a variety of posts, and by a variety of organisations. This dispersed pattern of employment poses significant issues for any attempt to establish the educational and training needs of such individuals.
In addition to the dispersed nature of the employment of such individuals, the notion that there is, indeed, some identifiable set of practices which constitute a professional occupation was subject to serious question at an early stage. Although we would emphasise that we were using a very broad definition of the area of work, many of our respondents would preface their responses to our initial questions with the statement 'it all depends on what you mean by ...'. Our own backgrounds in the area suggested that there were differing perspectives on the nature of the work involved. These were explored through sifting through the documentation of a wide range of local economic development initiatives, and noting the way in which this reflects different views about how the 'problem' is best understood, what should be done, and different interpretations of the outcome of those initiatives. We have organised the different understandings of local economic development under four perspectives ( i.e. Town Planning, Community Development, Training and skills Development, Local Economy Development) and these are examined in this report in terms of their prescriptions of the educational and training requirements for men and women working in this area.
These differing perspectives on employment-oriented local economic development do not operate in total isolation. In presenting them as different, we highlight key features of each in contrast with each other. In actual practice, we found that, typically, any particular initiative or project would draw upon two or more perspectives. We were, therefore, also interested in the manner in which differences between the perspectives were resolved. We identified two modes of resolution, unitarist and pluralist, which we examine in the report.
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