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Improving employment and skills policies to support sustainable employment and progression

Low-paid employment is a persistent feature of the UK economy, with important economic and social consequences, including low productivity and in-work poverty. In 2017, almost 4 million UK workers lived in a household in poverty.

Research led by Dr Paul Sissons and Dr Jennifer Ferreira from the Centre for Business in Society, has had national and sub-regional policy impact on employment through the roll-out of new programmes, including a £5.2 million initiative supporting improved training and career outcomes for over 2,000 health and care workers in eastern England.

In 2014, Sissons was co-awarded Economic and Social Research Council funding to investigate ‘Harnessing Growth Sectors for Poverty Reduction’. The project examined transitions into employment, career progression and job quality for low-paid workers. The research found that many low-paid workers experience limited pay progression and highlighted that employment progression had not been a focus of UK government policy. The findings were used to develop a set of policy recommendations for harnessing career growth to reduce poverty. The outputs included evidence base papers and policy development guidance, and research papers published in internationally leading journals.

Alongside this research, between 2014-2016 Sissons was a co-investigator on an award from Joseph Rowntree Foundation in partnership with Leeds City Region (LCR) to develop sustainable employment strategy options for the city. The research found low pay locally was prevalent in retail, hospitality and residential care; and that supporting individuals to move between sectors can be an important strategy for earnings progression. This informed the development of three policy initiatives that were suggested for the LCR to provide access to employment and training support for low-paid workers.

Sissons and Ferreira’s research has generated new evidence on labour market outcomes, employment sustainability and progression, and established novel approaches to addressing these issues. This work has impacted on national and sub-regional policy and practice in the following ways:

Shaping policy design: In 2016, Sissons was invited by the Cities and Local Growth Unit (a cross-departmental government unit) to participate in activities to inform policy design for employment innovation pilots, to be trialled in different parts of the country and to provide learning for new national approaches to employment and skills.

Working with cities to develop local and regional approaches to sustainable employment:  In 2017, Sissons was invited to work with stakeholders in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority to utilise research insights to support the development of a new approach to employment entry and in-work progression. The business case for funding, which drew extensively on the research, was successful and the Health and Care Sector Work Academy programme received funding from national government as an Employment Innovations Pilot. The £5.2 million programme provides funding to train around 2,100 people in the health and care sector and is subject to a robust evaluation to inform the next steps of national policy development.

LCR utilised the research to develop new employment and skills strategies. The over-arching strategy supports the LCR European Structural and Investment Funds Strategy 2014-2020 document, which informs the £2.5 million allocation for Skills Support for Low Skilled workers.

Further policy development: As a result of the research projects, Sissons has participated in Department for Work and Pensions evidence workshop on in-work progression to help inform the next steps around policy design. Findings from the research continue to provide an evidence base for decision-making at different levels of government and shaping policy thinking.

To find out more about the research that formed this case study like the 'Jobs and Skills in the Leeds City Region' project, and visit the projects listing page. 

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