Worker Rights: A New Wrinkle in Financial Education
By Dan Kadlec
September 5, 2018
Canadians have been upping their financial literacy game for years, adopting or moving towards standardized mandatory programs in the provinces. Now, as they work toward a common curriculum and national mandate, some educators worry the effort is overlooking a key topic: worker rights.
This isn’t just a Canadian sleight. Worker rights and the role of unions and collective bargaining get little attention in schools just about everywhere. In financial literacy circles, the subject largely has been pre-empted by concerns over job readiness and 21stcentury skills.
Future job skills are a perpetual concern of CEOs. Only half of hiring managers believe college graduates are well prepared for the work world, according to a survey from salary data firm PayScale and executive development firm Future Workplace. That compares to 90% of new graduates who believe they have what it takes to nail down a career.
The skills deficit isn’t just in STEM fields—science, tech, engineering and math. More than half of companies say new grads lack critical thinking skills and attention to detail; nearly half find fault with their writing and ability to speak in public. In a hint at how deep the skills deficit runs, PwC found that 73% of workers are willing to learn new skills to remain employable and 67% of CEOs feel they have a responsibility to retrain them.
Financial education programs rightly have begun to emphasize future job skills. After all, young people need to find and keep a job before they have any real need to budget, save and invest. Yet the emphasize on what employers want is seen by some as shortchanging the many young people headed for basic labor jobs in construction or manufacturing, or even in professions like law enforcement and education.
“When we say kids need to learn about financial literacy or career studies, that must come with a basic knowledge of how collective action ensures a better standard of living and quality of work life,” Erika Shaker, Education Director at the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives,toldPressProgress, a left-leaning media outlet.
Shaker and others believe in the value of teaching future job skills, many of which increasingly translate to basic labor as the world becomes more tech oriented. But if financial literacy is to be broadened beyond things like wants vs. needs, delayed gratification, and compound growth it should also include…
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…some history and context around worker rights that have been instrumental in securing a middle-class lifestyle, they argue.
Right now, that isn’t happening. “Worker rights, labor history and labor relations may find a place in civics, history or social science classes, but it’s very uneven,” Simon Black, professor in Brock University Department of Labor Studies, told PressProgress. “Young workers need to know their rights and know how workers past and present changed the world of work for the better.”
This issue represents a new wrinkle in the financial literacy movement. Unions and collective bargaining, and labor laws, contribute to the financial well-being of millions of people. As part of their financial education, they should understand the benefits. Young people that are aware of their rights at work can protect themselves against things like wage theft and illegal discrimination. This is especially true of people in low-wage jobs.
Employers and educators may think mainly of high potential students when it comes to financial literacy instruction. Yet for many, their rights as workers may prove the most valuable financial lesson of all.