Five ways employers can support vital career progression among low-paid workers

More than half of poverty exists in households where at least one person is working. Helen Barnard outlines five ways employers can support low-paid staff in their careers.

More than half of poverty exists among households where at least one person is already working. Low pay is part of the problem but poor quality part-time work and self employment are big issues as well, says Helen Barnard.

Tackling in-work poverty, low pay and progression is rising up the policy agenda in part because of Universal Credit. Jobcentres and Work Programme providers have to implement in-work conditionality with a client group who have very different needs from the workless claimants they are used to dealing with. Making Universal Credit achieve benefit savings and poverty reduction relies on staff advising people who are in low-paid work on how to improve their pay or get more hours.

There are three key questions: Do they have the skills, tools and partnerships to make this happen? Will there be less emphasis on ‘work-first’ and more on ‘work-with-progression’? And will employers enable more low-paid staff to gain experience, skills and promotion?

Our work on the future of the UK labour market shows that a key problem is the nature of the jobs on offer. In particular the disconnect between the ‘core’ market of secure, well-paid jobs offering chances for development and progression and the ‘peripheral’ market of insecure, low-paid, dead-end jobs that so many people in poverty get stuck in.

Recent census analysis demonstrates a clear ‘ethnicity’ dimension to these issues. People from some ethnic minority groups are disproportionately shut out of full-time, good quality employment. They are more likely to be low paid and in part-time jobs or self employed.

The research we have published today shows in detail how the workplace cultures of large employers prevent low-paid staff from progressing, wasting skills and potential. These cultures tend to disproportionately affect employees from ethnic minority backgrounds.

Employers need to take a strategic approach to supporting career progression among low-paid workers from all ethnic backgrounds and take a long hard look at the pockets of informal culture that undermine their equal opportunities policies.

Organisations in the public, private and voluntary sectors should:

  • change managers’ performance objectives to include developing low-paid staff;
  • build ‘working to learn’ cultures with inclusive opportunities for work shadowing, coaching and mentoring, as well as training;
  • create transparent career ladders that show clearly what skills, experience and training are needed to move up;
  • use procurement to ensure that low-paid workers in their supply chains are also able to progress out of poverty (linking to the Social Value Act where possible);
  • monitor and benchmark not only recruitment but also progression, retention and development.

In addition, Jobcentre Plus, Work Programme providers, local authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships need to develop a specific focus on monitoring and supporting progression in work across ethnicities.