Higher skilled, but with less responsibility: the UK workforce

09 November 2010

The UK's workforce is more highly skilled than ever before, but statistics show that employees are less likely to be allowed to use their own initiative in their jobs.

While teamworking has become more widespread, these teams are largely taking orders from above rather than using their own talents or creativity, according to statistics from the UK Skills Surveys and the Employment in Britain Survey. 
However, a paper by a leading academic commissioned by unionlearn, the TUC's learning and skills organisation, has shown how companies which take steps to involve their employees can maximise skills and work practices and how unions can play a role.
With ministers conducting a major review of skills strategy, Francis Green, Professor of Labour Economics and Skills Development at the Institute of Education, London, has looked at companies which use "high involvement working practices" (HIWPs).
Professor Green says: "The idea is that by harnessing employees' creativity, employers can find ways to improve efficiency, devise new products or raise the quality of services provided. In order to do this, it is argued, employees must be encouraged to become involved with the organisation."
The UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) says that in order to achieve world class employment and skills, we will have to attain more than 20 million additional qualifications – equivalent to more than one for every second adult of working age. It also says that the government needs to play a role in promoting HIWPs as a means to improving skills utilisation.
Another report, Engaging for Success: enhancing performance through employee engagement, by David McLeod and Nita Clark, says: "Business and organisations function best when they make their employees' commitment, potential, creativity and capability central to their operation."  However, their figures show that only three in ten of UK employees are actively engaged with their work, a fifth may be disengaged and only four per cent exhibit high levels of engagement.   
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development has called for a skills strategy which includes a campaign to boost employee engagement by promoting best practice on leadership and people management, in order to 'nudge' employers to invest more effectively in people management skills. Professor Green says that union officials and shop stewards can make a positive contribution into these new organisational practices. 

 Tom Wilson, director of unionlearn, said: "The TUC supports the work of the UKCES in developing a skills utilisation strategy.  This paper by Professor Green shows that unions can do much to negotiate with management to promote work practises that are more efficient and allow staff to be creative without increasing workload.  But this means establishing mutual trust and partnership with co-operative employers."


To read the full report, click here