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  2. Sophie Watson (Sociology): Interrogating the ‘soft skills’ of street market traders.

Sophie Watson (Sociology): Interrogating the ‘soft skills’ of street market traders.

Friday, June 17, 2022 - 12:00 to 13:00

The Covid 19 crisis has generated new awareness of the significance of different forms of labour. Neoliberal thinking that has permeated labour policies since at least the 1980s has contributed to devalue low-paid work and contributed to portray such work as low-skilled. However, recent events and the reliance of societies on a whole range of jobs often undertaken, in particular, by migrants, people from British Black, Asian and ethnic minorities, and women have demonstrated that these portrayals are misleading.

Supermarket workers, hospital cleaners and fruit pickers have rarely had their contributions valued, but the significance of their roles has never been clearer. As the shadow Home Secretary said on the 19thMay 2020 referring to the government’s controversial immigration bill: ‘Those who clapped {for carers} are only too happy to vote through a bill today that will send a powerful message to those same people: that they are not considered by this government to be skilled workers. Are shop keepers unskilled? Are refuse collectors? Are local government workers? Are NHS staff? Are care workers? Of course they are not’. (Syal 2020).

However, in addition to the importance of their labour at low wages, often minimum wage, the pandemic has shown that they are still highly skilled workers. Untrained people cannot easily replace their work because their skills are specialised but also because their work is in many cases physically hard labour which workers without experience need time to adapt to. In this talk Professor Sophie Watson discuss, first, the notion of skill. I then explore skills among a group that are not typically imagined as particularly skilled: market traders to illustrate that a job which seemingly anyone can do requires a complexity of know-how, if the trader is to be commercially successful. I conclude by arguing that the definition of soft skills is very useful to extending the boundaries of skills definition, but that it could go even further in recognising the complexities of work practices which fall outside of the more common skills debates.

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