Using ICT to Improve Employability Skills Opportunities for Women Within Ethnic Minority Group: A Study on Working for Families Project for Women in Scotland

AUTHOR
Nidhi Sharma and Shalini Kesar

ABSTRACT

In 2005, the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) launched ‘Moving on up-Minority Ethnic Women at Work’, as part of a major investigation into the participation, pay and progression of ethnic minority women in the Great Britain labour market (i). This investigation aimed to improve understanding of the diverse experiences of ethnic minority women and the key factors which impact on their participation and progression in the labour market. As a result of this investigation, various projects, like Working for Families Projects (WfFP) were initiated in Scotland mainly to identify employability skills opportunities. These projects used Information, Technology and Communications (ICT) tools as a means to facilitate and hence improve skills of ethnic minority prior to entering the job market.

This paper reflects on phase II of an on-going research that focuses on one of the Working for Families Project (WfFP) initiated in Scotland. The scope of phase I was on the holistic support and resources such as child care and ICT training/learning skills in particular. Our findings in phase I found that a lack of capability and gaps in provisions of child-care facilities provided by WfFP was one of the most common barriers for ethnic minority women to avail ICT training. This is in turn had an impact on the jobs and other opportunities not being taken up by women in the ethnic minority group in particular (also see paper presented at Ethicomp2008 conference (ii.) ). These findings were consistent with the recent report published by the Napier University that presented the Final Evaluation Report of the Working for Families Fund programme up to the 31 March 2008 (from April 2006- March 2008). It was carried out by the Employment Research Institute, Napier University, Edinburgh, for the Scottish Government (iii.) , where the price of childcare was also stated as a main barrier for parents. It also showed a mismatch between clients starting work and having to pay for childcare, and receiving their first wages. Some of the challenges for parents included hours of work, finishing-time, use of public transport, and closing times for nurseries and registered after-school clubs.

As mentioned earlier, the main focus in phase I was to identify the problems linked with affordable and flexible childcare facilities provided by the WfFP. Hence, the research questions addressed in phase I included:

  • Why do the women within the ethnic minority do not avail affordable and flexible childcare facilities provided by WfFP?
  • What are main barriers that prevent women from ethnic minority to seek education or/and training for employment purposes?

Based on our findings, few suggestions were incorporated in the WfFP in 2008. It was found that there was an increase in the number of ethnic women who availed various employability skills such as ICT training. Women seemed to be more motivated to use the flexible childcare facilities to enroll in seminars and workshops to enhance their employability skills prior to seeking employment.

In phase II, we conducted interviews and surveys again on the same women from ethnic group from phase I to further evaluate and understand “What motivated women to avail employability skills such as ICT training?” In this research, our method for data collection included qualitative techniques such as surveys, workshops and focus groups. This will help us to better understand how to augment ICT facilities and tools in future seminars and training. As in phase I, it takes the support of Kolb’s cycle (1984) as part of action research method to collect data from ethnic minority group. This framework has been most suitable to increase our understanding of an immediate social situation, with places emphasis on the complex and multivariate nature of this social setting. Further, action research assists in practical problem solving and expanding knowledge.

The finding of this research is significant in many ways. Firstly, the findings of this study will also help the Scottish Executive to further continue developing good practice and criteria for allocating ICT resources to improve employability among ethnic minority, particular among women. Secondly, studies indicates that projects vary between different local authority areas and therefore they need to be modified and designed to fill gaps in existing service provision in each area (see, Napier University Report (iv.) ). Thirdly, studies on minority ethnic people in Scottish context are very limited and fragmented (v.). The existing studies available clearly highlight the complexities involved in analyzing minority ethnic experience. They also indicate that ‘easy’ and narrow cultural assumptions are frequently made about the employment position of minority ethnic women and references to their social and family roles mask other factors, such as workplace discrimination. This is also clear from our findings of phase I. Fourthly, the minority ethnic population in Scotland increased by 62% between 1991 and 2001 (vi.) (Scottish Executive, 2004). Yet, in Scotland, minority ethnic women are underrepresented in the labor market with only 45% of minority ethnic women in employment compared to 59% of white women. Therefore, the ‘employment rate gap’ between white women and minority ethnic women is 19% (also see Office for National Statistics (vii.) ). Although, it is not easy to gauge the real picture of the opportunity gap by gender and ethnic group, it is clear that projects such as WfFP, are needed to train and enhance employability skills of these women who have never been in formal employment, or have never been engaged in any type of work with technology. This paper contributes in providing a rich insight to the importance of ethnic women-focused support that is tailored to their needs which will lead to effectiveness in dealing with their circumstances. To conclude, this research is significant to explore patterns over time and analyze causes and consequently using ICT tools and facilities to work towards improving employability skills opportunities for women within ethnic minority group.

ENDNOTES

i. See http://83.137.212.42/sitearchive/eoc/Defaultbdae.html?page=18694&theme=print

ii. See Ethicomp08 by Sharma, N. and Kesar, S. (2008), “Engendering Action to Fill the Gap of Ethnic Minority Employability: A Study on Working for Families Project for Women in Scotland.

iii. See http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2009/04/20092521/2

iv. Source: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2009/04/20092521/2

v. See Scottish Executive, 2001, http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications

vi. See Scottish Executive, 2004, http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications

vii. See http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/People/Equality/18500/MinorityEthnicWomen

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