Gavin Poole is Executive Director of the Centre for Social Justice.
The Centre for Social Justice’s (CSJ) new report, Creating Opportunity, Rewarding Ambition, promotes the value of entry level employment and celebrates its contribution to our economy, society and day-to-day lives. It also highlights the centrality of entry level employment in achieving economic growth in the UK.
Building on earlier work by the CSJ in Breakthrough Britain and Dynamic Benefits that focused on welfare reform and the supply side of the unemployment crisis, this report focuses on the demand for labour. The recommendations we made in these earlier reports have been largely accepted by the Government and drive a large part of its current agenda on welfare reform. But now our immediate challenge is to generate sufficient sustainable long term opportunities for those with limited experience, education or skills.
The report reviewed recent trends in entry level employment and the structural challenges in the economy, and it presents practical ways to improve the outlook for those detached from the workforce. We believe that employers, job seekers, intermediaries and government all have a role to play in building a society that creates opportunity and rewards ambition.
For policy-makers, the focus is on the rising skills premium, evident across all skill levels. The report calls for a greater emphasis on responsibility both in schools and across wider society. Responsibility means an awareness of employers’ needs and how a decision made today can affect future employment prospects. While employers clearly appreciate academic skills, for entry level jobs the key concern for employers is the poor ‘employability’ of many job seekers. This manifests itself in individuals’ poor attitudes towards work and a lack of awareness of basic employer requirements such as presentation, punctuality and hard work.
For employers, a culture of mentoring would help start-ups, growing businesses and established employers to increase the number and quality of their employment opportunities. For new businesses, there is no lack of information on how to grow, indeed there is often too much and business owners would benefit from trusted, personalised advice from other business people. Access to tailored advice and the growth of a mentoring culture would help sustainable business growth.
The CSJ believes that employers are best placed to make recruitment decisions. The report does, however, ask established employers to look again at their recruitment processes to eliminate bias and open up opportunity, to invest in their management capability to develop new employees more effectively, and to work with intermediaries that can support long term job seekers and employers during the recruitment process through to work readiness. Thus while the Government plays its part in reforming the welfare system and providing support to long term job seekers through the Work Programme, employers must take steps to improving employment opportunities by looking for the latent potential in the UK workforce.
And for job seekers and those who help them, the job search process can be challenging, and entry level employment can often be short term or part time. People who are able to improve their resilience to periods of unemployment, adapt to the changing needs of the labour market, and increase their flexibility over the type of work they will consider and the distance they are prepared to travel, will benefit from access to more employment opportunities. There is support available to increase an individual’s resilience and flexibility from intermediaries, notably through the Government’s Work Programme which launched this June.
Ultimately, however, individuals should be responsible for their own progression into employment. Our work emphasises the importance of encouraging personal responsibility both via institutions and wider society. People must be better prepared to build their skills and adapt to the changing requirements of the labour market.
There is much the Government can and should do to respond to the unemployment crisis. It can create a strong investment climate by tackling the country’s debt and deficit, and establish the right conditions for business growth. However, we often forget that employment is a voluntary exchange between an individual candidate and an employer.
Structural reforms to institutions and infrastructure can facilitate the creation of employment opportunities and improve access to jobs. But to be truly effective, these policies must operate in tandem with efforts to influence the behaviour of employers, employees and wider society. Creating Opportunity, Rewarding Ambition recognises that we all have a role to play in shaping our economic future, in building a society that rewards ambition, where everybody has the opportunity to realise their personal potential through work.
Creating Opportunity, Rewarding Ambition is free to download via www.centreforsocialjustice.org.uk.