Productivity in Professional Services (PiPS) Proof of Concept

Evaluating the potential impact of online career development support on productivity in SMEs

Lucy D, Hey L, Hirsh W |   | Institute for Employment Studies | May 2019

Increasing productivity, in simple terms the total output produced per input within an economy, has been identified as a key priority by the UK Government, central to its Industrial Strategy, and the key way in which both economic growth and living standards can be sustainably raised. The UK has a productivity gap compared with competitor nations, and there is a long-running discussion as to why UK productivity has essentially flatlined since the 2008-09 financial crisis. Recent Government reports have identified SMEs as a particular focus for understanding this gap.

The purpose of the Productivity in Professional Services (PiPS) project was to explore the potential possibilities and benefits of introducing an online career development programme within SMEs in the professional services sector. In particular, the project was interested to explore whether such an intervention might helpfully support productivity growth within those organisations. Given the short timeframes for the project, it was not expected that measurable change in productivity would be achieved, more that glimmers of changes in ways of working that could result in changes in productivity might be seen.

There were three key objectives:

1. Test whether the ‘Be Bold’ programme demonstrated positive impact on intermediate indicators of productivity in SME professional service firms (positive changes have been demonstrated by The Career Innovation Company for larger firms, and there is an interest in whether similar results can be obtained in the SME context).

2. Assess whether complementary support for managers, in the shape of the ‘Unlocking Potential’ programme, was necessary for, or enhanced the impact of, the ‘Be Bold’ programme.

3. Identify whether, and how, there is value in a more robust large-scale trial of the PiPS project conducted over a longer period of time, and with the capability of demonstrating impacts on quantifiable productivity measures.

The PiPS programme incorporated:

■ The ‘Be Bold’ course for employees of SMEs; and

■ A manager stream called ‘Unlocking Potential’

The programme has been designed by the Career Innovation Company (Ci). Ci had previously successfully developed impactful online career development programmes for larger employers, and through this project were keen to test whether similar results could be achieved with SMEs. The ‘Unlocking Potential’ element of the programme was an additional element to ‘Be Bold’ and was designed to assess whether additional support for managers was important for ‘Be Bold’ to have the best impact.