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close this bookJob Quality and Small Enterprise Development - Working Paper No. 4 (ILO, 1999, 35 p.)
close this folder3.0 Practical experiences
View the document(introduction...)
View the document3.1 Changing demands and prerequisites for inter-firm trade
View the document3.2 Internal enterprise transitions
View the document3.3 The community context

3.3 The community context

The community or geographic location that a small enterprise inhabits presents a dimension to approaching job quality. This includes the participation of social partners and civic organisations in development strategies. Strategies that incorporate access to knowledge and training, as well as those that address concerns related to living and working conditions.

This latter concern reflects awareness of overlapping working and community experiences and conditions. Where a local economy has a strong presence of small and micro-enterprises, the ‘boundary’ between the enterprise and society may be more porous and relationships more likely to intertwine. The ‘world of work’ and the ‘world of society’ are often overlapping. As pointed out by Joshi (1997), for many small-scale operators in the informal sector, and particularly in respect of home-workers, the home and workplace are one and the same, with housing conditions being synonymous with working conditions. Moreover, relationships between workers and employers are more likely to be informal and of a social kind, spreading into non-work settings.

Even in the case of more advanced small enterprises, the dependency on community support and regulatory institutions is likely to be greater than for large enterprises which may have their own resources to call upon. Like larger enterprises, small businesses are under pressure to achieve new competitive abilities, such as high quality and a capacity for constant improvement, which call for solutions small enterprises might by themselves not be able to provide. Consequently, collective community solutions in training, social security and other areas might be necessary. Moreover, as the new competitive requirements potentially demand greater cooperation and involvement from the workforce, community conditions may have a bearing on relationships within the workplace and the propensity to cooperate.

The experience of the Italian region of Emilia-Romagna seems to indicate that good working relationships in the small workplaces there may be an important factor in the success. Here the average size of enterprise is only around five people, and the average for manufacturing alone around ten or eleven. Yet competitiveness and a capacity for innovation is reported to be high. However, such a positive collegial atmosphere may not necessarily be completely attributable to ‘small size’ in itself12. Research in the region has suggested that the readiness to cooperate and for workers to become involved and ‘give of their best’ is influenced by the attitudes they bring to the workplace, which in turn are influenced by conditions in the broader community (Brusco, 1996). The implication is that, for small enterprises in particular, perceptions of social fairness and experiences of social cohesion in the community in general can affect relationships at work and the ability of the enterprise to be competitive.

12 Surveys have suggested that better collegial relationships may be one of the few qualitative advantages which smaller firms may in the aggregate offer.

An important community trend has been a heightened emphasis on the issues of knowledge acquisition and dissemination. Knowledgeable entrepreneurs and adaptable well trained labour are seen by many as key to both the promotion of flexible, innovative, quality conscious and productive enterprises, and to the future employability and security of workers. Such knowledge can be generated locally. It can include ‘on the job’ training in the workplace and in local colleges and other knowledge institutions. It can also be solicited from the global marketplace. Thus, local-global connections are important for improving knowledge.

The creation of a high value adding and high knowledge milieux is a means of, not only creating local enterprises capable of providing good jobs, but also attracting inward investment, particularly of a high value adding type. That is to say, the provision of a quality training and knowledge generating milieux, is an important discriminating factor by potential investors. This is especially so amongst those investors who are not simply seeking to compete on a cheap labour and cheap price basis13.

13 In this regard it might be noted that a recent report by Deloitte Consulting into US foreign investment patterns revealed that in 1998 US manufacturers allocated as much as 65 percent of their foreign direct investment to high-wage and mature labour markets, with Europe being the main recipient. The existence of skilled labour was mentioned as a key reason for the choice, alongside other factors such as stability, well-developed infrastructures, and market opportunities. Moreover, it is instructive to note that in respect of investment into Asia, it was relatively high wage Singapore that captured the greatest investment, ahead of other countries, including China (Mohan, 1999).

Thus, training and knowledge generation and dispersion initiatives at the community level are crucial aspects of broader local and regional development attempts to move economies along a high wage high value adding path. Businesses and representative organisations in community development initiatives have become more involved14 in these efforts as the attention of those concerned with improving the economic environment has shifted from a narrow focus on the enterprise context to that of the broader community. Economic reasons for improving community conditions include a concern for the quality of the labour, the image that communities present to possible incoming investors or incoming people (such as visitors or new residents), and the reputation of individual businesses to consumers and other businesses. In addition, communities have come to recognise that the adequacy and efficiency of community infrastructure and regulations have a significant effect on local business success.

14 For example, in the USA organisations such as the Council for Economic Priorities and Business for Social Responsibility has been established. In Europe, the United Kingdom has seen the creation of Business in the Community, whilst at the broader continental level has arisen the European Business Network for Social Cohesion (Pyke and Henriques, 1997).

Community involvement by business organisations has developed alongside a growth of cooperation and partnership amongst public and private actors. This has often brought together representatives from institutional backgrounds who would not normally act together. Thus representatives of employer and worker organisations might be involved in policy dialogue and joint actions with representatives from educational institutes, research organisations, regulatory authorities, financial institutions, welfare agencies, planning authorities, and others. All with the aim of tackling economic and social issues at local and regional levels.

Pyke (1998) suggests that attempts should be made to achieve coordination and harmonisation of programmes and initiatives at local and regional levels. In addition, resources should be maximised and new synergies created in concert with different actors. This requires the facilitation of consensus within potentially conflicting issues that link ‘economic’ and enterprise issues to broader community and welfare issues. These initiatives are receiving much attention in the context of decentralised competition at the local and regional levels. An important issue within this context is the extent to which small and micro-enterprises and their workers have the institutional organisation and capability to become involved in policy network activities.

In conclusion, major changes in the way individual industries and indeed whole economies are being organised suggest that qualitative aspects of work and the environment may be receiving more attention in the future, both in the workplace and at the broader level of the community. However, the fact that some authorities are pursuing improvements in areas such as health and safety, greater participation and involvement in the workplace and the community for both good social and business reasons, is no guarantee that it will automatically occur. The ILO review of export processing zones, for example, found that there were small enterprises which were responding, at least at first, with short-term cost cutting and work intensification measures, with little or no consultation with the workers. This occurred while the more progressive enterprises responded to new competitive pressures by innovating with new organisational methods, controlling quality and emphasising long-term development and greater employee involvement. Moreover, there are certain trends, such as the movement towards flexible employment contracts, which could actively impede the achievement of the cooperative committed work culture that is now desired. Consequently, there is a need for thought and action to determine what kinds of active policies might bring about the desired results.