Monday, 7 March 2016

Thoughts on Bricklaying versus Teaching

by Miranda Worley

A topic often misunderstood by A level pupils, is the difference between skill and productivity.  In discussions of labour markets and pay levels, skill refers to qualifications attained; productivity refers to output by the worker.  The assumption is that higher qualified workers produce more.

I’ve just spent two days on a bricklaying course:  My usual occupation is teaching, categorised as a high skilled job.  Does this mean that I am a productive worker?

Well, in teaching I guess I am.  I’ve been teaching for decades, my productivity has increased with experience and my employer must value my output at least at the cost of employing me, otherwise they wouldn’t. 

However, in bricklaying, generally a non-graduate occupation, my productivity is rather lower.  My weekend bricklaying resulting in the output of one rather short wall.  Clearly I am the same unit of labour, but the use to which I put my labour, resulted in a very low value of output.

Interestingly, the current full-time salary of a classroom teacher at the top of the main pay range, is slightly less than the full-time wage of an experienced bricklayer, with similar years’ experience.  Of course there will be other factors effecting the pay levels in these two occupations, but it is interesting to show that skill (in terms of educational qualifications) doesn’t always equate to more pay. 
So does this mean I should become a bricklayer? 

Well, no.  Most bricklayers are paid on a piece-rate, and at the speed I lay bricks, I would be lucky to earn 40p an hour.  

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