Jobs Summit: A city which learnt to be flexible

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The Independent Online
People in Cardiff are more `flexible' than Continental workers, says a senior Welsh economist. Barrie Clement, Labour Editor, finds a new attitude to work.

Lesley Porter, a lone parent, spent much of the recession looking after her son.

But as her home city of Cardiff staggered out of the economic gloom, she began to take temporary typing work.

Now Ms Porter, 34, has found a permanent job as clerical assistant with ERES, a marketing and economic consultancy which services public authorities in the area and economies abroad - just one of many service jobs being created in the Welsh capital, which grew up as a coal exporting port and centre of steel making and manufacturing.

Courtesy of South Glamorgan Training and Enterprise Council, Ms Porter has updated her information technology skills and is now looking forward to her flexible working week becoming full-time as the firm takes on more business.

Inevitably, the most prominent beneficiaries of the economic upturn have been shops and stores which endured some of the unemployment which had grown in the city.

According to Calvin Jones, head of economic research at Cardiff City Council, the retail sector has seen a dramatic increase in jobs of around 40 per cent between 1991 and 1997.

Almost as impressive has been the surge in employment in construction - up by about a third in five years. The Cardiff Bay development project and in particular the tidal barrier now nearing completion has delivered much of the increase in building employment.

The recovery has also yielded a 33 per cent rise in banking, insurance and finance jobs - although salaries are just 80 per cent of the UK average in the sector. Many of the 2,600 extra jobs have come from companies establishing regional and national headquarters and also from local firms expanding.

Manufacturing employment has remained steady at about 20,000 between 1991 and 1997 and overall the number of jobs in Cardiff has risen to 160,000 - an increase of 6.2 per cent since the end of the recession.

But why should Cardiff, in common with many other British cities, have so many jobs during the recovery?

Part of the reason is believed to be the hire and fire powers given to management by the previous government which have enabled companies to take people on in the knowledge that it will be relatively easy to get rid of them..

But Steve Hill, a senior economist at Cardiff Business School, believes that the emergence of a new attitude to work and how it is organised has been far more important.

He gives the example of the nearby Llanwern Steelworks where contractors have taken on most peripheral tasks - even down to transporting the steel between one part of the plant and another. "British Steel simply makes steel," he says.

The New British Worker is also more flexible than his Continental counterpart. "To put it crudely people are more likely to do as they're told my management and be prepared to perform a wide range of tasks without objection."