The recovery is taking root and business leaders have a spring in their step compared to this time last year – but this is no time to rest on our laurels. Businesses must support employees in every part of the country to move up the career ladder, while also giving a helping hand to young people taking their first tentative steps into the world of work.
As the financial situation of many firms begins to turn a corner, one of the biggest challenges facing businesses is to deliver growth that will mean better pay and more opportunities for all their employees after a prolonged squeeze. It’s really positive news that jobs are now being created fairly consistently across the UK. Encouragingly, this is also shaping up to be a full-time recovery with the majority of new jobs permanent.
For the first time since the start of the recession, 2014 will see most firms increasing the size of their workforce, boosting their graduate intake and the number of apprentices they take on.
It’s important to remember that our flexible labour market has worked to save jobs and keep our economy going through a long drawn out downturn. Those who propose to damage that flexibility with inappropriate regulation put the very system that has kept unemployment here far lower than elsewhere at risk. And they miss the point; it’s not just the floor we should be concerned with – as Britain has a strong base of employment rights. It is also the escalator – how we ensure people move on from that first job.
The future of the UK economy is undoubtedly higher-value and higher-skill, so training is critical to helping people move onwards and upwards, and key to our national success, particularly when it comes to delivering an effective industrial strategy. We need to widen the gateways into higher-skilled work for far more people, including those already working, or those for whom a degree may not be the best option. Of course, that doesn’t mean the end of the traditional three-year degree and universities will continue to play an important role in delivering growth.
However, at the moment, employers and potential students alike simply don’t have enough information on study options like higher apprenticeships and part-time higher education. That’s despite some excellent, well-established, programmes at companies like McDonald’s and Asda.
We need a UCAS-equivalent vocational system, with similar standing, to help raise awareness and parity of esteem for alternative routes to higher skills, and once people are in work, businesses can do more to help their employees reach their full potential. More than half of firms have or are considering mentoring schemes and a quarter are looking at issues around their workplace culture that may be holding staff back.
With an election less than eighteen months away, politicians must remember that businesses are absolutely crucial to driving the recovery home, creating jobs and raising living standards for all. My message to the public is that businesses are up for that challenge and 2014 is the year we will deliver.