News & Insights

Read and share Parliament Hill insights and news on the tips, trends, and key developments we’ve identified for benefit management and member satisfaction.

Getting the UK back to work – the next generation

In his recent blog, Dr Mark Pegg, explores the return to ‘normal’ life and asks what will happen to the job market, and for some of us, the important part we can play personally in getting people, particularly younger workers, into work.

As the days shorten and a chill comes into the air, we look with some trepidation towards a return to ‘normal’ life and wonder what will happen to the job market and for some of us the important part we can play personally in getting people, particularly younger workers, into work. So many questions: will some jobs still exist after furlough, have skills held up well in the pandemic, will there be enough people to fill major vacancies in some sectors and what sort of completely new jobs will become available? Let’s look at the key elements and data where they exist and try to make some sense of this uncertainty.

An important factor is the upcoming end of both furlough and the £20 uplift in universal credit. In July 2021, HM Government’s contribution to furloughed staff wages dropped from 80 to 70 %. The contribution fell to 60% in August and will stop altogether at the end of September 2021. This is difficult news for sectors like overseas travel that can’t properly open up, but the overall news is good. A survey of 8,000 workers by YouGov, commissioned by think tank the Resolution Foundation found that of those furloughed during the 1st and 2nd lockdowns in 2020, 80% were back working again in June 2021. YouGov also found 69% of those still furloughed in October 2020 – those least expected to return to work after furlough – are also back at work.

Another factor is the number of people available to fill jobs again as business opens up. We can all see evidence of labour shortages – too few to fully reopen pubs and restaurants or to pick crops, a shortage of workers in construction, not enough HGV drivers to move goods around the country and a lack of skilled staff to restore full manufacturing capacity. Some of this is anecdotal, some entirely predictable – few thought the path back from the pandemic would be smooth across every sector of the economy. The data show the job market overall is tightening, but there is still spare capacity – UK unemployment fell to 4.8% in July 2021, from a peak of 5.1% in December 2020.

The Resolution Foundation warns that, while these are encouraging signs, there is a risk of “breeding dangerous complacency” and an “over-playing” of the health of the labour market. In their view: “a recovering labour market is not the same as a recovered one”. For example, the hospitality sector says it is struggling to recruit as it reopens: it is hard to recruit staff quickly and the move out of lockdown is full of uncertainty around timing and social distancing rules. The sector traditionally has high staff turnover, recruits heavily from a younger until recently unvaccinated demographic and relied heavily on EU nationals, some of whom may have returned home. The Resolution Foundation observes that those who worked in sectors hardest hit by the pandemic were 30% more likely to have taken jobs elsewhere during the crisis.

For those looking to change jobs or set up on their own, it is worth noting the actual size of labour force may be much larger than was thought. According to UK Hospitality, 1.3m workers left the UK during the pandemic, but if we look at the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) that registers EU nationals living in the UK and assigns them settled status. HM Government estimated between 3.5m and 4.1m people would be eligible but in fact 5.3 m people have already applied. At end May 2021 some 4.9m had been granted settled or pre-settled status with some 335,000 going through the system before the deadline of 30 June 2021.

Probably one of the most significant issues in the recovery is under-employment: people doing fewer hours or generating less wealth and operating below optimum productivity now getting up to full speed. After lockdown, the total hours worked in the UK were still down 5% on pre-crisis levels, with an estimated 2.3m people still not working fully. Moreover, many are doing jobs that are well below their education and skill level. This era is particularly tough for school leavers and college and university graduates. They face more challenges getting a job and, when they do get one, it is often below their potential with low pay, little job security and few prospects.

This is critical moment for all of us. If we want to build a high productivity, high skill, high added value economy with well-paid and more secure jobs, then the professional and vocational training and development that young people and career-change workers can access must be revitalized. To see our economy rejuvenated after the pandemic, all of us need to encourage more of our talented young people to join professional organisations, engage in training and study for qualifications. We need to give them access to high quality and trusted professional support to enhance their prospects and unleash their full potential in a very different labour market.

Millennials are the next generation members in many Parliament Hill clients, who have a key role in helping talented people grow and succeed. In my recent conversations with a wide range of clients, many told me they believe the most successful organisations will be those who see recovery from Covid as a great opportunity: listening to members and future members, adapting to their changing needs and refreshing their offer, they will come back stronger, more accessible and more relevant.

In the months ahead, the next generation are looking for greater value from benefits and services than ever before. Young people are resilient – they have been through a lot – and if anything, they are hungrier to succeed because of it. But they do need a confidence boost and they can’t do it all on their own. They are demanding and want a whole lot more from a provider. No longer in awe of their professional masters, they see setting standards, training and development and assessment as a given. As digital citizens, they also expect to have ready access to intelligent membership systems offering greater value in benefits and services from a trusted source. And if they don’t receive them, they will go elsewhere.

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