How can business help to address the living standards squeeze?

As the UK’s economic recovery continues, easing the squeeze on living standards has come to the forefront of public debate. To achieve the sustainable increases that we all want to see, there’s a growing consensus that solutions must include improving the UK’s productivity performance and creating more opportunities for people to progress up the jobs ladder.

However career paths and progression routes are not as straightforward today as they were in the past.

For many people across the country it’s not always clear what skills are needed to keep moving upwards in work, or how to get them – whether it’s trying to choose the right steps when starting out in working life, or aiming to climb up to the next level in mid-career.

The irony is that while getting a foot on the next rung of the ladder can be difficult for individuals, many employers are finding it hard to fill those higher skilled roles that can help them grow their business, innovate and gain that extra competitive edge.

“Building better ladders and a more upwardly mobile workforce is a win-win scenario for business and individuals”

Creating better ladders for a more upwardly mobile workforce is a win-win scenario – good for individuals and good for business.

While education and training have an important role to play, there is also a lot that employers can do in their own organisations.

A good place to start is high quality line management.

Where managers have a remit to build teams and manage performance smartly, they can play a key role in championing staff development. Equipping them with the right skills and tools to spot and nurture talent, and setting clear objectives to do so, can really help embed a focus on progression into the fabric of an organisation.

Secondly, gathering the input of employees into decision-making around training and development can help employers gain a clearer picture of their workforce’s existing skills and training needs, and unearth frontline ideas for innovation.

This enables a better alignment of business needs with individuals’ needs, facilitating greater opportunities for internal mobility at the same time as building trust, commitment and boosting organisational performance.

Thirdly, there must be commitment from the top. Strategies around good people management, leadership and communication, skills development, work organisation and harnessing talent and innovation, need to be bound into overall business strategy.

“Employers can make a big difference to progression in their own organisations: good line managers, involving employees, and commitment from the top”

No-one would say this is easy – it’s true that implementing these practices can take time, investment and know-how. There is no straightforward blueprint for making it happen.

But there’s a strong business case for a greater focus on progression, supported by a raft of evidence showing an impressive list of mutual benefits for individuals and organisations: higher job satisfaction, motivation, staff retention and employee earnings, alongside increased profits, sales, shares price and productivity.

There are already great examples of success across the UK, but many employers could benefit from more practical information and advice to help get these practices going in their own organisations. That’s where Acas can lend a hand. Our practical expertise in the workplace means we can support employers, managers, employees and their representatives to work together in achieving mutually supportive and productive business environments.

We can expect to hear a lot more about living standards, productivity and job progression over the next few years. There is an opportunity here for employers to play a pivotal role in helping address these challenges — finding smarter, more productive ways of doing things that will benefit everyone.

David Taylor is Senior Policy Adviser at Acas (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service)

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