Our Ideas Updates

Updated Nov 2016

Jobs & Skills

Over the last decade, the labour market has been transformed. Jobs for life are rare. Changes such as greater use of zero hours’ contacts and the “gig economy”, where workers are either temporary or employed as independent contractors, have led to an increase in both flexibility and insecurity. New forms of employment protection are needed to improve job security while embracing technological innovations that are becoming part of the fabric of people’s everyday lives.

Everyone who can work should have the opportunity to. Too many people, particularly parents of young children and people with disabilities, face barriers to entering the labour market. Full employment brings advantages in terms of increased tax revenues and lower spending on social security. Employment also has wider benefits such as a positive effect on people’s physical and mental health.

As the world of work goes through these changes, IPPR, in partnership with the JP Morgan Chase Foundation, are currently undertaking a major programme: New Skills at Work to understand the changing needs of employers and the workforce and to develop a skills infrastructure that supports both.

READ MORE: Boosting Britain’s low-wage sectors: A strategy for productivity, innovation and growth

READ MORE: Jobs and skills in Scotland: Addressing productivity, progression and in-work poverty

Ensure better skills for the workforce

While Britain has a world class university system, it is lagging behind on vocational and technical education. Too many people are completing low level vocational courses that don’t help them to progress into higher skilled work. This means employers cannot find workers with the skills they need, and people who don’t go to university struggle to find good quality jobs. This country needs to build a stronger vocational education system that rivals the quality of the academic route and offers students equally attractive pathways.

READ MORE: Self-employment in Europe

READ MORE: Technology, globalisation and the future of work in Europe: Essays on employment in a digitised economy

Deliver a broad range of vocational options with a stronger apprenticeship system at its heart

Too many apprenticeships are low quality and are just a ‘re-badging’ of existing training schemes for adults who already have jobs. The government should reform the apprenticeship system so it is focused on helping young people to develop the skills that will help them get a foot on the career ladder. New regulations should be introduced that require apprenticeships to be restricted to those under the age of 25, contain a transferable qualification and a better balance of ‘off the job’ and ‘on the job’ training.

Equally, vocational education should not be restricted to apprenticeships. There should be vocational and technical routes available in higher education. That is why FE Colleges should be allowed to award degrees and a new generation of ‘polytechnics’ in England should be created. We also propose shorter ‘£5,000’ degree courses for those wanting to live locally and pursue a vocational pathway.

READ MORE: England’s apprenticeships: Assessing the new system

READ MORE: Rethinking apprenticeships

Better paid, more flexible and higher quality employment is an essential element of a modern economy

We believe that employers should pay a genuine living wage. All firms that can afford to should pay this to their staff, whether they are contractors or employees. Those that cannot yet afford this should make it a future goal. We call for a series of living wage zones in towns and cities. When the saving accrued to the Treasury by payment of a living wage by councils are returned to local areas to encourage living wages in the private sector, this encourages take up by local businesses and increase productivity.

Employees do better when they have a more equal stake in a company’s success. Where all workers have a voice, influence and some control in their working lives, this benefits both companies and the UK economy as a whole by improving workplace productivity. In order to boost the economy overall, the government should reward companies who take this approach.
Opportunities for flexible working should be increased to reduce the number of people who are kept out of the jobs market by family and other caring commitments. Flexible and part time work should be as fairly rewarded and secure as full time work.

READ MORE: Beyond the bottom line: The challenges and opportunities of a living wage

READ MORE: Fair shares: Shifting the balance of power in the workplace to boost productivity and pay

READ MORE: Who’s breadwinning in Europe? A comparative analysis of maternal breadwinning in Great Britain and Germany

READ MORE: The sandwich generation: Older women balancing work and care

Unemployment must be tackled quickly and effectively

The government should introduce a jobs guarantee. This would ensure that anyone who has been out of work for more than 12 months is given the chance to return to work. This is a key element both of achieving full employment and making sure that those who want to work but can’t find a job don’t drift too far from the labour market.

Schemes aimed at getting people back into employment work far better at a local rather than national level. It is through local authorities working closely with local employers and further education providers that these schemes have an impact local labour markets.

READ MORE: Jobs for the future: The path back to full employment in the UK

READ MORE: Alright for some? Fixing the Work Programme, locally


New Skills at Work, IPPR's joint initiative with JPMorgan Chase Foundation, is bringing together and mobilising the best policymakers, business leaders, academics and civil society organisations across Europe to develop new solutions for the workforce challenges of the future. It is publishing a series of reports offering analysis of new data on the labour markets of core European countries, and new research on innovative approaches to employment and skills policies.

READ MORE: New Skills at Work

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