In his Autumn statement the Chancellor set out a budget aimed at growing the parts of the economy that grow GDP, and moving more people who are out of work into jobs. But will these measures generate the jobs we need in places that need them? Is there a commitment to move people into good jobs, or just any jobs? Who can access ‘good jobs’ and are they good for both employees and society at large? And most importantly, what parts of the economy do we actually need to grow to meet our society’s needs?
What is a good job?
There are many definitions of what good jobs are and some excellent studies¹ trying to understand this from the perspective of employers, employee wellbeing and the contribution to a well or thriving society. Most agree on a fairly clear list of things considered to be critical, including:
- Wages, including pay and benefits
- Secure employment contracts
- Workplace conditions, including job design and the quality of relationships in the workplace
- Work life balance, both in terms of whether people are over or underemployed, and flexibility and autonomy over working hours
- The degree of control, voice or representation of employees in the workplace
- Skills and career progression.
Why do good jobs matter to Thriving Places?
Centre for Thriving Places has been measuring ‘good jobs’ for many years as part of our Thriving Places Index (TPI). The quality as well as the quantity of work in places across the UK matters, for the wellbeing of people and communities, in the short and long term. We use a bespoke indicator in the TPI that brings together wage levels, security of contract and working hours², to help us understand the proportion of local employment that is delivering these wellbeing benefits.
How do you grow the number of ‘good jobs’?
Clearly part of the task is to try and make ‘bad’ jobs better. That might include looking at sectors with a high concentration of these jobs, or at particular jobs within different parts of the economy, or evaluating how to make all sectors improve the quality of those kinds of jobs.
Alongside this, legislation and regulation must provide minimum standards, such as a living wage threshold and a sensible total working hours threshold. This requires investment – in good business support; better job design; more joined-up and long term workforce planning, wage levels, working hours, and contract terms. Whichever route is taken, employers need time and investment to create viable and resilient business models. We believe a business whose success depends on its workforce being paid less than a real living wage, or is overworked or insecure, is fundamentally unsustainable. This is why it is vital to support employers to evolve business models where good jobs and thriving business activity go hand in hand.
Some sectors already operate business models that include good quality jobs so another task is to grow these sectors to give a wider range of people access to these jobs. If the jobs require higher levels of training and skills, this requires an economic policy that creates training pathways so that more people have the skills to access them.
Delivering this kind of joined up business support and workforce planning is a lot easier in some sectors and with some types of employers. It’s less straightforward for small to medium enterprises (SMEs) to do workforce planning at scale, or to sustain long term investment in skills and training, than it is for larger companies. But with nearly half of employed people in the UK working in SMEs with fewer than 49 employees, and nearly two thirds working in companies with fewer than 250, it’s vital for policymakers to deliver better support for SMEs to work together at scale, to provide regional and local infrastructure for investing in skills and training, job redesign, career progression and so on³.
We know that we don’t necessarily have a clear correlation between the biggest employment sectors4 and the best jobs5 . Even just looking at this in terms of pay alone, bearing in mind the national average weekly pay across all sectors is £644:
- The largest proportion of UK jobs are in the human health and social work sector (13.72% of all jobs), which along with education as the third largest employer (10.14% of jobs) has an average weekly pay of £632;
- The next largest is retail (10.76%) with an average weekly pay of £422;
- The sectors we know pay the most are very small: financial and insurance with the highest weekly pay of £866 employs only 4.67% of workers; construction with the second highest pay at £729 employs 6.55% of workers and manufacturing at the third highest pay of £700 employs 7.66% of the workforce.
As for other conditions – precarity, work life balance, progression opportunities, these vary dramatically across not just sectors, but employer types.
And do ‘good jobs’ come in ‘good sectors’?
So do we just need to shrink the low paid sectors and grow the high paid sectors? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple, if we want an economy that also functions to meet society’s needs.
Before we even think about jobs, we need to be asking: what sectors do we actually need, to produce the things we want in our future economy and to reduce production of the things we don’t want? What do we do with sectors that are high carbon but have good jobs? And what do we do with sectors that are critical to health and wellbeing, but have poor quality jobs?
We know that in order to meet the needs of our ageing population, we will need to grow the social care sector to meet demand. How do we do that whilst also shifting the pay and security of the jobs it provides? We also know that we need to decarbonise our economy. How can we do this while not losing good quality jobs in currently high carbon manufacturing sectors, or replacing them with poorer quality jobs?
We actually know a lot about how to invest and grow sectors, and also a lot about how to support employers to redesign and improve job quality. At CTP, we work with many visionary local leaders who are starting by asking what economic sectors we need, and then how we structure the growth of those to make sure they are full of good jobs. But to really drive systemic economic change at scale, national economic policy needs to be designed in this way too – not just at a local or regional level.
We believe good quality national economic policy urgently needs to work out how to do three things well:
- Grow the sectors that support our ability to thrive
- Grow the number of well paid, secure jobs in those sectors, with great conditions and progression routes, with well funded and accessible skills pathways
- Transition high carbon sectors into becoming lower carbon sectors, without losing quality of jobs
Sadly, the measures in yesterday’s budget do not even begin to ask, let alone answer, these three critical questions.
Rachel Laurence, Deputy Chief Executive
If you’d like CTP’s support to rewire your local economy to deliver good jobs in the right sectors – get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo by Elle Hughes
¹ See for example:
- Institute for the Future of Work https://www.ifow.org/resources/the-good-work-time-series-2023
- CIPD Good Work Index https://www.cipd.org/globalassets/media/knowledge/knowledge-hub/reports/2023-pdfs/2023-good-work-index-report-8407.pdf
- http://quinne.eu/ – Quality of jobs and Innovation generated Employment outcomes project
- Timewise https://timewise.co.uk/
² This includes indicators on the proportion of employees in a place who have a permanent contract, or do not want a permanent contract (i.e. excluding those who unwillingly have a temporary contract); earn the living wage or above (i.e. excluding those earning less than the living wage); and work no more than that 49 hours a week and no less than they would like (i.e. excluding those who work fewer hours than they would like to). We also incorporate in this indicator the proportion of self-employed workers who’s work meets these attributes.
³ DBEIS Oct 2022 Annual Business Population Estimates for the UK and Regions 2022, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1106039/2022_Business_Population_Estimates_for_the_UK_and_regions_Statistical_Release.pd
4 ONS data (Labour Force Survey, https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/employmentandemployeetypes/datasets/employmentbyindustryemp13
5 ONS Average Weekly Earnings https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/earningsandworkinghours/datasets/averageweeklyearningsbysectorearn02