A new report from the Work Foundation reveals a growth in the number of managerial, professional and semi-professional jobs over the past decade – and in the number of women occupying these roles.
The report Efficiency and labour market polarisation finds that far from there having been a boom in low-paying, low-skilled service sector work since the mid 1990s, low paying jobs have grown less significantly than ‘good jobs’ at higher levels of the labour market.
The report finds that among men, managerial jobs grew by 12.73 per cent, professionals by 8.13 per cent, and associate professional jobs (such as nurses and computer technicians) by 16.98 per cent between 1995 and 2005.
But those figures are dwarfed by the level at which women moved into managerial and professional work. Among women, the number of managers grew by 29.53 per cent, professionals by 15.01 per cent, and associate professionals by a huge 56.89 per cent.
Ian Brinkley, director of the knowledge economy programme at the Work Foundation and co-author of the report, said: “The idea that the decline of manufacturing has meant the end of decent jobs paying decent wages for vast numbers of people is clearly unfounded.
“Economic change is never painless. However, a more knowledge-intensive world of work, where people work with their heads more than their hands, appears from these findings to be a relatively benign development for workers.
“The report challenges a hefty number of popular theories. In the 1990s, it was widely claimed that work and society were becoming more divided, while breaking into the elite would be nigh on impossible. That story no longer looks right. Instead, what seems to be happening is that, if anything, the world of work is upwardly mobile.
“Although there has been some polarisation among men, with the growth of shelf-stacking, van-driving type jobs alongside the lawyers, accountants, and management consultants, overall the knowledge economy does not seem to be creating a new class divide. And among women in particular, there seems to have been a fairly smooth transition into higher skilled, higher paying work.”
Overall, the number of workers in the managerial and professional categories remains relatively small – for example, women in associate professional roles comprised just 16 per cent of all workers in 2005.
The report also shows the impact of the spread of information technology on work. Administrative and secretarial work, traditionally the preserve of women, has fallen sharply, while personal service jobs – jobs which are by their nature immune to computerisation and off-shoring – have risen. And for men, process, plant and machine operative-type jobs have also fallen.
Although jobs at the top have grown most quickly, the UK still has relatively large numbers of people in low skilled, low-paying jobs. Some 7 million jobs require no qualifications, while 26 per cent of men and 35 per cent of women earn below the median level of income.
Rebecca Fauth, co-author of the report, said: “The knowledge economy deserves a reasonably clean bill of health. Contrary to the predictions, it does not appear to be creating a new underclass. From our analysis it seems that more workers are moving towards professional and managerial work over the last decade.
“But with labels like ‘manager’ there is always an issue of ‘title-creep’ – people calling themselves managers when ‘administrator’ or ‘supervisor’ might be more accurate. Unfortunately, statistics do not really help with such issues.”