"I think it is unnecessary that we have unemployment and lack of workers at the same time". That is the firm belief of Daniella Petersen, PhD student at Chalmers, the Department of Technology Management and Economics. She has spent the last few years researching how to create employment opportunities for long-termed unemployed people in the construction sector through procurement.
In her licentiate thesis; Let the right ones in? Employment requirements in Swedish construction procurement Daniella has studied how these “employment requirements” affect the daily work of individual actors and organizations in the construction sector.
Tell us about your research!
I have conducted interviews with actors working with implementing employment requirements in the construction sector. Because social criteria such as employment requirements are novel in Sweden (and internationally), there is scarce knowledge about how to best implement employment requirements, and how this affects the daily work of the people working in the sector. Therefore, I investigate the organizational implications that arise due to the implementation of employment requirements, and what effect that has for different actors, like clients, contractors, architects, technical consultants, and the Employment Agency. What new roles and practices have been created in response to the implementation of employment requirements? Do actors think in a different way regarding the procurement process?
”Employment requirements in procurement is a strategic tool for decreasing exclusion while simultaneously supplying the sector with new workers”
Daniella Petersen, Chalmers
Why is this so important?
Sweden is facing growing issues with social exclusion and unemployment among disadvantaged groups like immigrants, youths and the disabled. In addition, Sweden is approaching the largest construction investment ever made, while the construction sector is lacking in construction workers. Employment requirements in procurement are, therefore, a strategic tool for mitigating these issues, by decreasing exclusion while simultaneously supplying the sector with new workers.
Why do you find this area so interesting?
I used to work as a recruiter, and have always been interested in people and employment issues, and I think it is unnecessary that we have unemployment and lack of workers at the same time. Therefore, I think employment requirements is an interesting procurement and employment tool to study. Employment requirements are novel in Sweden and there are many uncertainties in how to organize the implementation and design of the requirements, which adds another dimension. From a research point of view, this means that there is an opportunity to contribute with knowledge both to practitioners and to theory, as employment requirements and social sustainability, in general, is scarcely investigated.
What are your most important research findings?
I have used an institutional perspective* to study the organizational implications of implementing employment requirements, and see that the construction sector seems to be undergoing an institutionalization process where old norms, logic, roles and practices are being reshaped. A new type of role has been created, but this is not a coherent profession yet. Practices have been reshaped, but there is no strong convergence of practices throughout the country. The sector is also thinking differently about the role of procurement and what procurement should entail and aim for. I have also outlined the barriers and drivers circumventing employment requirements.
Was there anything that surprised you during your research?
It was interesting to see how actors are open-minded towards different work practices and the emphasis on collaboration, while many at the same time are careful to point out that their proposed practices are probably the best. I was also surprised to learn about the high ambitions surrounding employment requirements, while there is also a great humility in admitting that employment requirements are new and complex, and there is much we don’t know. Also noteworthy is the time and effort spent on consulting stakeholders in the design of the employment requirements, while the unemployed themselves have been left out of this consultation.
What new knowledge do you bring forward in your research?
I have tried to outline the main barriers and drivers for implementing employment requirements. In my work, I have identified new work practices, like the extensive promotion of proposed practices and deeper collaboration, and new roles, like the “employment requirement professional” as an institutional entrepreneur. If looking to my theoretical framework specifically, I discuss who is important in institutionalization processes, and how one can characterize institutional work and institutional entrepreneurs. These findings add new knowledge for the research field, as well as provides useful insight to practitioners who might work in a more informed, effective, and efficient way.
What do you hope for your research to lead to?
I hope that practitioners can get an insight into how employment requirements affect their daily work, and how the requirements are used by different actors throughout the country. I hope my results can provide an indication of how employment requirements and related roles, practices and logics might develop in the future. For those not yet implementing employment requirements, I hope my findings might give them support in possibly pondering if employment requirements might be a useful tool for them. For research, I hope to emphasize the importance of studying this phenomenon and social sustainability in general, as well as to show that institutional theory may be useful in construction management research.
What will be the next step in your research?
During spring, I will spend approximately three months at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, as a guest PhD candidate together with a prominent professor in my field – Martin Loosemore. I hope to lay a foundation for future collaboration and co-publication, as well as to have a rewarding exchange of inspiration and knowledge. When I come home in the end of April I will start my next study, which hopefully will be a multiple case study. The aim is to study employment requirements from specification to hired employee, in order to delve deeper into the phenomenon and its implications.
Text: Ulrika Ernström
Institutional theory is a perspective for studying change and behaviour in a field, e.g. the construction sector. By using the theoretical perspective of institutional theory one can study how established logic and behaviour may be broken down and replaced with something new, or be further strengthened.