Research Statement by Eric Kofi Kontoh (PhD Applicant), School of Labour Studies, McMaster University.
In the summer of 2014, I walked through the doors of a manufacturing firm in Hamilton to assume the position of a Compensation Analyst Intern in a Human Resources (HR) department. My task was simple: to develop a model that would link wage increases and profit sharing to both employee and company performance including prevailing labour market conditions. During my work term, the marketing department asked that I share my employment experiences in a company newsletter. When my supervisor added his side to my employment story, coupled with my working experience in the HR department, I visualized how the employer-employee social contract worked. I imagined the social contract to resemble a formula of employers posting jobs, r''sum''s being collected, and screening applicants for a good fit. Decisions are then made on suitable candidates and once hired, employees sign an agreement with employers. Employees are put on a probationary period where work is observed for some months and if employers are satisfied, they enter into an employment contract with the employee. During the lifetime of the employee's employment term, promotions and wage increases occur in response to good performance, while bad performance is dealt with by terminations or performance improvement plans. The employer-employee social contract system worked well, as predicted.
Today we are at a crossroads, confronted with new employment relations and fields of work. We are not only dealing with unions, industrial, and labour relations, but also the internet as well as contingency and so-called platform work, which is vulnerable and associated with risks including job security, lack of benefits and social security. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO) , the share of workers in vulnerable forms of employment is expecting marginal improvement in the coming years. Given a projected expansion in the labour force, this means the share of total employment exposed to fluctuation will increase. This situation is rampant in developed economies, where ILO estimates nearly four out of five workers to be in vulnerable employment conditions, compared to half of all workers in emerging countries.
We are faced with real-time labour market platforms due to the acceleration of technology, new socio-demographic culture and digitization. A mobile and diverse workforce aspires towards autonomous working arrangements and digital platforms that make it easier to connect skills to services. The reorganization of work will have an impact on employment forms. The unclear effects of changes in the structure of employment on workers and firms have led to uncertainty among policymakers and governments across different economies. Will eradicating precarious and non-traditional employment offer greater opportunity to out-source work to low-wage economies with a high percentage of non-traditional employment? How do you make sure the labour market operates equitably and efficiently in the wake of real-time labour market platforms, demographic shifts, and social-economic changes? Examining the changing nature of work and employment relations and its effect on informal and non-traditional employment, workers, and human resource policies implemented by firms is the main interest of my research. Providing research evidence on these emerging labour issues will enhance policy making, and address a wide range of social and economic problems, including employment equity, skills obsolescence, income security, job loss, and employment legislation. It is this interest that has led me to pursue Labour Studies (PhD) at your prestigious academy, McMaster University.
I have a passion for research and great interest in contributing knowledge that makes an impact on our society. My graduate studies major research paper identified government transfer payments as fiscal policy instruments, which are usually viewed as having no net effect on aggregate demand. Using econometric techniques and narrative methodology, I analyzed its effects on aggregate consumption expenditures and labour force participation rates. The results give a better understanding of how changes in welfare programs and social safety net impact consumption and labour force participation of the various demographic cohorts in Canada. I am working on the manuscript for submission to an academic journal. My desire is to build on the knowledge acquired at the Masters level and explore how statistical and econometric techniques are used to address labour market issues.
Additionally, my research interest has evolved through my work experience. My current work entails leveraging and optimizing both internal and external labour market data to make informed decisions to management driving organizational performance. I manage the company performance recognition process, workforce planning and total rewards strategy, and actively apply for government funding to support in-house employee training programs measuring its impact on earnings, productivity, performance and attrition. My position has offered me practical insight into how regulatory changes, employment laws, wage subsidies, automation, demographic shifts and globalization affect company strategies, processes and systems. Currently, I am a member of the advisory committee panel of the Workforce Planning Hamilton Board contributing to a research report that identifies gaps in the skills trade work to determine the alignment between demand and supply. I am looking forward to translating these experiences into my research study.
In the summer of 2017, I undertook an online course in machine learning run by the School of Operations and Research Department, Massachusetts Institute Technology. I strongly believe the connection of technological shifts and big data evolution have opened avenues to better collect information, design and implement policies. My goal is to explore new data sources, including data from surveys, proprietary sources, and administrative and government records. I have had an opportunity to connect with Professor Wayne Lewchuk, whose work on labour markets and precarious employment fascinates me. His interest in both economics and labour issues aligns with my research, and I look forward to interacting and learning from the breadth and quality of research supervisors in the faculty who are helping change our world through research.
The collaborative culture and vibrant academic community at McMaster University provide an exceptional platform for study. Gaining admission to the PhD program in Labour Studies would serve as the most effective continuance of my career pursuits. I will endeavour to apply the knowledge I will gain to address work, labour and employment issues as best as I know how. Moreover, through my doctoral studies program, I will strive to contribute to making the School of Labour Studies at McMaster a world-renowned venue for the exchange of concepts on issues of work and labour that nations, governments, and organizations will face.
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