Dr Robert Stewart
(University of Strathclyde)
Has the impact of the global pandemic and spiralling household living costs changed what people in the UK value in jobs? If so, what factors are important for people looking at jobs in 2023 and what are the implications of this for UK manufacturers?
As part of the recent InterAct Making Things Work Survey , we asked people what things they would look for in a new job. We found that the top five reasons are an interesting mix of the usual economic and non-economic (i.e. the quality of work settings) suspects. Our top 5 job choice factors are: pay and benefits; well-being and flexibility; clean and safe work settings; contractual security and stability; and having an employer who listens and values people’s opinions (voice).
The prominence of these five job quality factors is probably not surprising. Apart from the legion of Health & Safety sceptics on social media, what manufacturing workforce wouldn’t prioritize a safe and clean working environment? What is surprising is that both pay and wellbeing are rated equally highly by our sample because in survey questions of this type, pay is usually out on its own as the main reason for job choice. This makes perfect sense for those of us who don’t live to work, or who aren’t strongly morally and vocationally wedded to our labour or employer. The importance of pay and reward and these other job quality factors should never be understated: especially in competitive labour markets with shortages of people and skills.
All of these top five factors play very nicely into wider debates about job quality and what we mean by ‘good jobs’. For manufacturers, understanding what people value in jobs and tailoring the recruitment messaging towards this should keep you up and running with the talent war pack. Good jobs are essential for successful recruitment and retention. As every decent manufacturing employer knows, if people’s working needs are being supported, the better the chances are that you’ll get the talent you need for the business, be more able to keep your ‘key’ people and get performance and productivity benefits over the longer term: ‘happy people, happy customers, better productivity.
In our sample, there wasn’t too much statistical distance between the top five factors. The relative prominence of wellbeing is interesting. Although wellbeing always been a central topic in conversations about job quality, the pandemic shone a unique spotlight on health at work. Wellbeing issues have come a long way from the days when it was mainly about masking or softly managing people’s problems, or just tackled by asking people to try whistling a happy tune.
Part of our new normal seems to be having a reset on long hours culture and achieving more work-life balance. The pandemic also showed us that discussing different ways of working was not only possible but operationally practical (especially non-production staff) in manufacturing businesses, though this remains a work in progress for production staff. Take a brief look across many manufacturers’ websites today and you’ll see that most companies do explain how they support people’s wellbeing.
We know about job quality, but what are people’s perceptions about what manufacturing jobs offer? We are only at a very early stage of survey analysis and getting under the skin of the topline figures, however we can examine pay as an example.
Unfortunately, for UK manufacturers, the great British public are telling a familiar tale. The good news is that most people think that manufacturing jobs offer comparable levels of pay and benefits to those in other industries. The less great news, however, is that there are just as many who are sceptical or unsure about relative pay rates in the sector.
These figures look consistent with what we know from the past about public perceptions of manufacturing jobs in the UK and the US: that while the sector objectively pays people comparable or higher than average levels of pay, this reality doesn’t carry through into public opinion . In other words, there still seems to be a reasonable gap between what most people would want in a job and what most people think is on offer in manufacturing. This latter point also seems to hold true across all of the top five job quality factors that we outlined at the start.
Therefore, an early message from our survey may be that many people are largely uncertain about the quality manufacturers are offering in terms of jobs: a persistent perception that will influence the attractiveness of jobs in the sector. Going forward it may require more focused attention from employers, industry shakers and policy makers if they want to remake the image of jobs in the sector.