How to progress out of low paid work

How can employers ensure low paid workers can progress in the workforce? A new toolkit outlines practical steps employers can take.

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Low paid workers have come under the spotlight during Covid. Many have been on the frontline as key workers. Some have been the focus of concerns that they may not be able to afford to self isolate. Some work in sectors which have been hard hit by Covid and have had to furlough. Many of the lowest paid in the public sector are also likely to be in line for pay freezes over the next year to go by leaks from this week’s Budget.

A new digital toolkit published this week by the Institute for Employment Studies with the support of JPMorgan Chase aims to provide employers with practical information about how to build pathways out of low paid jobs.

The toolkit is part of the  Progression in Employment research collection which is based on a two-year research project and is designed to capture evidence of and insights into best practice on upskilling pathways for low skilled adults across six countries – Sweden, UK, France, Germany, Italy and Spain. There are a series of large and small employer case studies which focus is on three sectors (retail, hospitality, health and social care) and represent a diversity of approaches to progression.

The report highlights that 16 per cent of the UK workforce is low skilled; that 60 per cent of low paid workers in the UK are women; and 55% of hotel and restaurant workers are low paid. Only 14% of jobs in the £20-34K band are advertised as being open to flexible working.

It outlines the business case for progression, saying that any costs should be weighed against the benefits in terms of productivity, recruitment and retention, continuity for customers and clients, reputation and ensuring people are able to live up to their potential.

Progression readiness model

It talks about different types of progression, including horizontal [moving to another job on the same level] and vertical progression and about skills-based progression. At the heart of the toolkit is an evidence-based “Progression Readiness Model”, which identifies eight different dimensions to progression, including providing flexible working, different career pathways, designing jobs for meaning and purpose, training and supporting line managers and providing predictable hours and skills training.

A Progression Readiness Index backs this up, providing a set of questions and scores for employers so they can rate where they are in relation to career progression. There are case studies from employers on practical ways of enforcing progression, including encouraging acting up, partnering with supportive organisations such as the Living Wage Foundation, providing specific programmes aimed at targeted groups such as women, providing online learning and outlining a training journey.

There is also a section on how line managers can support progression, such as through providing workers with mentors, setting clear expectations and rewarding progress. And there is a section on ‘inclusion nudges’, ways employers can encourage particular groups to, for instance, apply for job opportunities.

The toolkit ends with a summary of what HR should do to address progression in low-income jobs from making the business case and getting senior manager buy-in to piloting or adopting initiatives that bring to light some of the barriers to progression within the organisation, bringing in targeted interventions and, finally, making sure they evaluate the impact of these.

Co-author Dan Lucy says: “We know that each employer is unique and will want to use [our] model differently and flexibly to meet their particular needs and situation. Importantly, the practical steps we have outlined are all approaches that have been adopted by other employers successfully.”

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