Over the past twenty years there has been a shift in the anatomy of the UK labour market. The forces of technology have changed the nature of the workplace while globalisation has intensified the competitiveness of the business environment.
We have seen a change in demand for the types of roles we need to run and grow our businesses. Many of the jobs which we relied on then, no longer exist.
The squeeze on traditional ‘middle-tier’ jobs has meant that, all too often, fewer opportunities are available for people to progress from the bottom tier in the workplace to the middle — let alone the top. Many people have the aspiration to ‘get on’ but they find that the link between hard work and reaching the next rung of the ladder is elusive.
This ‘hourglass’ phenomenon has been seen in the US and most other developed economies, although figures suggest it is most pronounced in the UK. And forecasts suggest this trend will only accelerate over the coming decade.
At the same time the UK lags behind many other western economies in terms of productivity and improving this situation remains essential to stimulating our recovery. It remains a complex issue, but ensuring people can move up the pay scale should be an important element of that journey.
Research recently conducted by the John Lewis Partnership and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) showed that many people had the desire to progress in the workplace but found there were no clear paths to show how this could be done. They saw limited opportunity to increase their contribution to their employers and, with this, their productive capacity and their earnings.
In the economy as a whole the picture shows that part-time workers and mothers of young children feel this problem most acutely, and age can play a key role in affecting one’s ability to progress, as job roles change and lifelong training becomes even more important.
At the same time, there are 4.3million workers in the UK with skills and qualifications that exceed those needed for their job – that’s 16% of employees. It is clear there is a renewed need for employers and government to tap into this pool of talent.
This isn’t a problem facing a single sector, or a single job role, but is a symptom of a broader shift in our economic landscape. The good news is that with concerted effort, business and government can take action to explore these barriers to progression in more depth. Whilst there are no ‘easy answers’, job design is a key component, and it is important that employers create roles that enhance employees’ capability and contribution.
None of these issues can be solved by government or business alone but, working in partnership, we can go some way towards shaping a more dynamic labour market in the UK – one that is ready for the challenges ahead.
Sir Charlie Mayfield became Chairman of the John Lewis Partnership in March 2007. He joined the Partnership in 2000 as Head of Business Development, responsible for business strategy and development for both John Lewis and Waitrose. Sir Charlie joined the Board as Development Director in 2001 and was responsible for developing the Partnership’s online strategy. He became Managing Director of John Lewis in January 2005 prior to taking up his appointment as Chairman of the Partnership in March 2007. Sir Charlie is the Government appointed Chair of the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, President of the Employee Ownership Association, a Director of Central Surrey Health Trustee Limited and Chairman of the British Retail Consortium (BRC). Charlie was knighted in June 2013 for services to business.