It might be supposed that part time employment is increasing more rapidly than full time employment, but is it?
According to MBIE “being flexible about how, when and where people work can help to increase engagement and productivity, and help keep turnover low”. This seems common sense and, in a world where business efficiency is paramount, it might be expected that the quest for workforce flexibility would be reflected in, amongst other things, an increasing emphasis on part-time employment. However, this has not been the case in recent years; the number of people in New Zealand working part-time has hardly grown during the past 10 years, while the number of people working full time has forged ahead.
The Household Labour Force Survey (HLFS) shows that, during the 10 years to the second quarter of 2019, the total number of people in the full-time employment increased by 29.2 percent, while the number in part-time employment increased by just 7.1 percent. During the same period, the proportion of all employment that was part-time decreased from 23.4 percent to 20.2 percent.
Just 6.9 percent of all employment growth during the past 10 years was part-time
Putting this another way, the statistics show that only 6.9 percent of all employment growth between the second quarters of 2009 and 2019 was accounted for by part-time employment.
Moreover, the pattern was much the same for males and for females. Male full-time employment increased by 24.2 percent between the second quarters of 2009 and 2019, while male part-time employment increased by 8.9 percent. During the same period, female full-time employment increased by 37.0 percent, while female part-time employment increased by just 6.3 percent.
Again putting this another way, the statistics show that only 5.1 percent of total male employment growth between the second quarters of 2009 and 2019 was accounted for by part-time employment. And only 8.6 percent of total female employment growth was accounted for by part-time employment.
It should also be noted from the graph above that most of the rapid growth in full-time employment, relative to the growth in part-time employment occurred during the past five years.
The question, though, is why part-time employment has grown so slowly? Three possible reasons come immediately to mind, although there is no hard evidence to back up any of them.
The first possibility is that employers find it much easier to recruit and manage one full-time worker than two (or more) part-timers. This is logical, but it is not clear whether this alone would be a sufficiently powerful influence to explain the very slow growth in part-time employment, compared to full-time employment.
The second is that goods and service production processes lend themselves more to full-time jobs than to part-time jobs. This does not really seem credible, however. Most of the employment growth has come in the services sector, where customer demand is often spread unevenly through the day. If anything, therefore, part-time jobs to cope with uneven demand should be more common.
Most employees do not want part-time work and, in a labour market where employment is increasing and unemployment is low, they are likely to be able to get what they want.
The third and, probably, the most convincing reason is that most employees do not want part-time work. Granted, some – for example students, parents with young children and seniors – will actually prefer part-time employment, but most people are likely to want a full-time job to secure a good income. And, in a labour market where employment is increasing and unemployment is low, they are likely to be able to get what they want. With this in mind, it will be noted that employment started to grow more strongly and unemployment started to trend downwards after 2012. Employees became better able to secure full-time employment after that date.