Could better investment in skills derail future train strikes?

3 Jul 2022, 6:00

Training and upskilling opportunities are an important way to improve job satisfaction and retention in essential jobs, writes Kirstie Donnelly

Last week’s rail strikes highlighted many critical issues facing workers in our transport sector, with trade union RMT calling for better pay, better working conditions and the guarantee of no forced redundancy.

But they aren’t the only ones suffering. As the rail strikes come to an end (for now), there are murmurs of other sectors starting their own picket lines, with workers and unions across healthcare, education and other public services also threatening strike action this summer.

It’s no coincidence that these industries are the very ones that were deemed essential during the pandemic, providing the critical services and infrastructure that communities and people rely on, day in, day out.

Making up half of the workforce, these essential jobs are the lifeblood of Britain’s economy.

And over the coming years, we’re only going to see the number of roles in these critical sectors increase, with more than three million essential job openings expected in the next five years, including 340,000 brand new jobs.

But, it’s not just the workers who are discontented. Employers are already reporting that they are struggling to fill vacancies, leaving us with a labour market crisis that is set to worsen in the years ahead without intervention

It’s about more than just the money. Our research published earlier this year looked into the vital role these industries play. We found that despite the ten key worker sectors being critical to keeping our lights on, only 25 per cent of the UK population would consider working in one.

The research demonstrates the undeniable fact that low salaries, unattractive or inflexible working conditions and a general lack of respect for these critical jobs is having a catastrophic impact on the ability of employers to fill these roles.

Across the board, good pay, a respected status and sociable hours are cited as the top three reasons why people find certain essential jobs attractive.

As well as these, other important factors included having the relevant skills, experience or qualifications and good opportunities for career progression – demonstrating once again that training and upskilling opportunities are crucial for encouraging more people to apply for these roles.

The government needs to take action to place higher value on these essential roles

So, while there is work to be done in reviewing and increasing pay for some of these industries, that’s just one piece of the puzzle.

In the face of further potential strike action, and a growing labour crisis that continues to impact these vital industries and wider society, we need to collectively take a long, hard look at how we can make these jobs more attractive.

Find out what employees want

Employers should consider polling their workers on what they really want, and prioritise offering benefits, such as flexible working or increased learning and development opportunities, if they don’t already do so.

Offer upskilling opportunities

There is a need to focus on training and upskilling throughout people’s careers to ensure that the current workforce maintains their skillsets. Also important is a strong offering to younger people (i.e. traineeships and level 2 and 3 apprenticeships) to ensure a solid talent pipeline of people coming into industries

Boost pride and pay in essential jobs

The government needs to take action to place higher value on these essential roles and drive a public behaviour change through working with employers to ensure fair wages across both public and private sector roles and by supporting positive campaigning to reinforce the pride in essential jobs.

If we’re to solve the crippling skills and recruitment gaps these sectors are facing once and for all, employers, industries, educators, government and the general public must all give these hard-to-fill roles the respect they deserve and reposition them as the foundation for our whole economy.

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