How to develop a better ‘progression offer’ for low paid workers

11 March 2016

The JRF’s Better Jobs, Better Business conference in Leeds yesterday debated what was needed to create a ‘virtuous circle’ of higher skills, wage progression and improved business performance.  Panellists discussed a number of stubborn challenges such as engendering greater employer leadership on skills; more effective collaboration between employers and education and training providers; supporting businesses to ‘raise their game’ in terms of investing in workforce skills; and the importance of harnessing technological innovation to enhance job roles and improve employee engagement.

Also showcased were a number of innovative business practices aimed at improving progression and job quality in the hospitality and retail sectors commissioned through the UKCES’ UK Futures programme, ranging from the development of skills toolkits for employers, to re-designing jobs around people’s desired working hours, to smartphone apps to deliver career mentoring.

Inspiring and engaging though this was, what seemed missing for me was a focused assessment of what city-region stakeholders need to be doing in order to ensure that such practices spread beyond the narrow range of currently engaged employers and to develop a better ‘progression offer’ for low-paid workers.

As our report for JRF launched at the event argued, this requires local stakeholders working in partnership to develop employment and skills strategies that foreground progression from low pay as a key outcome.  Our analysis of current skills provision in the Leeds City Region shows that relatively little resource is targeted at workers in low pay.  However upgrading skills on its own is not always sufficient to effect pay progression.  Our evidence review also shows that progression requires positive individual and employer orientations, supportive HR practices in the workplace, accessible training provision and strong links between skills activity and progression routes.

Our research recommended three interlinked areas of focus for city-region initiatives:

Careers IAG services targeted at low-paid workers – Supporting people to move between jobs and sectors is an important strategy for pay progression, and high quality IAG services, with outreach targeted at people currently in low pay, are required to support this.

An in-work progression service – Evidence suggests a sector-based approach can be effective that targets high growth sectors and engages employers in the development of training provision and career pathway mapping.  Skills gaps or retention challenges can provide the business case for employer engagement.

A business support service aimed at shaping workplace practices around progression, especially for part-time workers, through generating peer-to-peer business support networks and offering a specialist advice service on job re-design.

Over the coming months, Learning and Work are going to be developing this activity further through Projects such as Step Up and our flagship programme Ambition London, which is working with employers, local authorities, and learning and employment providers to look at new ways of engaging people in learning, new ways of delivering training, and new ways of supporting people and employers to make the most of that learning in order to progress their careers and improve their earnings, as well as tackling skills gaps and improving productivity for employers.

The lessons learned from this work should start to provide us with some of the answers to that thorny question of what needs to be done to effect the ‘virtuous circle’ of higher skills, wage progression and improved business performance, in order to reduce poverty and engender more equitable economic growth.