Party manifestos and the big jobs gamble

Blog posts

9 Dec 2019

Ed Griffin

Ed Griffin, Director of HR Consultancy and Research

Reading the party manifestos one could be forgiven for thinking that the Conservative and Labour parties are engaged in a game of labour market poker. There’s a real sense of “I’ll see your fifty thousand new police officers and raise you two thousand,” or “I’ll see your one million climate jobs and raise you two million.” Throughout both manifestos are commitments to create new jobs and opportunities covering a wide range of sectors that include health, child and social care, construction, energy, the environment, education and more.

From an individual perspective, this could all seem very attractive. If I’m thinking of a career change, the manifestos suggest I could have a lot of options! From a quick scan these could include arboriculturalist, nurse, police officer, care worker, wind turbine maintenance engineer, school counsellor or nursery assistant. And it looks from all of the manifestos that I could also get some new or improved opportunities to (re)train for these, that include partial bursaries, more apprenticeships, an entitlement to learning and even my own training budget pot.  My colleague Becci Newton has blogged her own views on manifesto-based education and skills pledges here.

Whilst these manifesto commitments are bold and in areas that few would argue there isn’t a need, they risk over-simplifying the challenges of delivering on them. Those challenges range from how to attract suitable candidates to ensuring the management capacity to support new colleagues.  I’ve written before about one specific example – the commitment to increase police numbers – and the need for us to rediscover the art of workforce planning.  

And there’s another problem when you look at the employment figures, where are the people to fill all these new jobs and are they a good match for the types of roles that will be created? As Tony Wilson blogged last week, with employment at record levels and unemployment its lowest since the 1970s, meeting the workforce needs of the huge planned public investments could be the key labour market challenge for whoever wins the election.  

Of course, it is well possible that the economy will weaken in the next year or so, with many commentators predicting a recession during the next Parliament.  Retail and the automotive sectors, in particular, appear to be slowing down.  But even if this does serve to increase labour supply, problems will persist in supporting workers to retrain, upskill and move location.  And as the RSA’s Matthew Taylor pointed out at our recent event on progression in employment, there seems to be a “stickiness” in the job market with people staying put in both jobs and locations.

Sitting behind this potentially massive increase in job opportunities, there are a number of other challenges that are not spelled out in all the manifestos. A good example is to look at what it may take to grow the numbers in the construction industry to the levels that would allow us to meet the suggested house-building targets. It’s worth noting that a recent Ranstaad survey showed a third of EU nationals working in construction in the UK had considered leaving because of Brexit. When you consider that a quarter of London’s construction workforce are from EU countries, we have a major retention issues before we even start to increase the workforce.

The construction industry itself, working with employers and local and national government, is taking a range of steps to support people to train and retrain for construction jobs. Through the Construction Skills Fund for example, which we are evaluating, new onsite hubs are supporting unemployed people and those changing careers to become site-ready and then move into work. This has meant working in close partnership locally, reducing barriers to entry for new recruits, and delivering flexible, short, training support.  But the significant investments planned in infrastructure and housebuilding will create demand in a range of occupations and levels – including the lecturers and trainers to develop the workforce, and the need for more architects, planners, building standards officers and across the wider supply chain.

However this shouldn’t all be doom and gloom.  This cross-party consensus on the need for public investment is welcome, and these workforce challenges are a great problem to have.  As I’ve said before, I believe that they’re also a great opportunity for the HR profession to step up and play its part. This growth brings the need for effective workforce planning, attraction and recruitment programmes, induction, education & training, effective HR processes, good mentoring and management.  All areas, I should add, where we at IES have done work over the years!  If the funding is there for this growth in new employment opportunities, we want to ensure that HR is an enabler of that growth. It could be a great time for HR to make its mark.

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Any views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Institute as a whole.