How can we enable job progression in low paid sectors?

The value that sectors such as care, retail and food add to Wales’ economy, is not widely recognised in the pay packets of the vast majority of their respective workforces. Many employees struggle to make ends meet and gaining experience and training to progress beyond entry level jobs to better paid positions can be particularly challenging in these sectors.

Enabling job progression has emerged as a recurrent policy priority across many of our recent assignments, with regards to poverty reduction, economic growth and the future of work and skills. As part of our current work on job progression in low paid sectors, we hosted a symposium in July 2018 to garner knowledge from careers advisors, training providers, academics, employers and policy officials.

The insights from the event will enrich the evidence review we are currently undertaking. Having taken stock of the symposium discussions, here are three immediate reflections from the day:

The need for sustained support

As our previous research has shown, the world of work is rapidly evolving. Over the next ten years, the type of work performed in low paid sectors will significantly change. Offering people sustained adult learning throughout their lives is vital to allow them to keep up with change and thrive in the workplaces of the future.

Lifelong learning is important for enabling people to move up and into new positions with their employer (so-called ‘vertical progression’), and for supporting people to obtain the relevant skills that allow them to move ‘horizontally’ into other high growth occupations and sectors.

Adopting a sectoral approach

While some of the challenges low paid sectors face (such as low levels of workforce retention) are general, different sectors face specific challenges in relation to skills shortages and productivity.

Expert insight from the day and the evidence we are examining suggests that a sector-focused approach works best. This means job progression initiatives should be designed in a bespoke way to meet the needs of both employers and employees within a sector. This requires employers to identify their skills shortages, then work with training providers and employees to develop job progression plans that meet their skills needs. At the same time, employees should be offered a meaningful route to progress into more sustainable, fulfilling and better paid work on the basis of obtaining new skills.

Communicate the benefits of progression

Encouraging employers to support job progression is vital. The evidence we have been reviewing shows there are clear benefits when employers offer job progression – increased productivity, improved workforce retention and improved growth prospects are just some of the associated benefits.

The discussions at our symposium suggested that more needs to be done to communicate the benefits of job progression to employers in Wales and to secure their support for job progression initiatives.

Our future work

Our symposium reinforced the importance of job progression; for both employers and employees in low paid sectors, as well for supporting the development of Wales’ economy. Insights from the day will be further refined and integrated into a new report, due to be published in September 2018.


Image: Neil Moralee (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)