‘Sticky labour market’ means lower-paid workers cannot progress

Individuals increasingly less likely to relocate for new opportunities, says government adviser, partly owing to concerns over housing

A ‘sticky labour market’ is harming the ability of lower-paid workers to progress in their roles, a leading government adviser has said.

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the RSA and author of the 2016 government review into modern working practices, said an inability to secure jobs with the potential for training or career progression meant many workers were staying in poorly paid roles for longer.

He added that people were also less willing to move to a different area to find a new job, a combination of economic insecurity and the “very problematic nature of our housing system”.

“One of the primary reasons for people not having mobility is people are less likely to change their jobs now in the economy. The best way to increase your salary and skill levels is to change jobs, and people are less likely to change jobs than they were in the past,” Taylor said.

“The interaction of those things means people are spending a lot more time in jobs where there isn’t much opportunity for progression.”

Taylor’s comments were made at the launch of a new guide from the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) to help employers create progression opportunities for lower-skilled employees.

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The Progression in Employment toolkit, which was released alongside a number of best-practice case studies, argues that having opportunities to progress in work is an important way to reduce the number of people facing in-work poverty.

Focusing on sectors that employ a large number of lower-paid workers – such as hospitality, retail and health and social care – the report also makes the business case for supporting career progression, covering greater employee engagement, higher retention rates and improvements to quality of service.

“Although the focus is quite a lot on skills policy and regulatory policy, there’s far more to [progression] than that,” said Tony Wilson, director of the IES. “This is about how organisations are run, about culture, about leadership, about how we manage our staff, the opportunities we open up and how we work flexibly.”

Taylor, who described the report as “a really important resource”, said every role needed to be a ‘learning job’. “I think the idea that every job should be a learning job is a case that can be made on economic grounds in terms of productivity, on social grounds in terms of inclusion, and on ethical grounds in terms of what citizenship and wellbeing involves,” he said.

He also reiterated previous calls for the creation of a standardised employability framework – one of the recommendations of the report – and argued that lower-skilled employees in particular often did not have a way to demonstrate the skills and development they had gained through their working lives.

“Most [professionals] will be on LinkedIn. We middle-class people are very good at creating portfolios and talking about how great we are,” said Taylor. “But for the bottom 30, 40 per cent of people there isn’t that story. There is no way of capturing what they’re achieving.

“Far too many people leave a job with almost no evidence at all that they can take to the next job. And new forms of work like gig work make this even harder.