From the TUC

Young Worker’s Challenge #2: poor quality jobs

04 Nov 2016, By

Ever heard of the shrinking middle? No it’s not the latest weight loss fad, or a forgotten indie band from the ‘90s. It’s when the jobs that are traditionally held by people with middling skill levels (such as administrative roles, semi-skilled blue collar roles) are lost – usually to foreign countries or automation. Instead of a balance between jobs at different levels, we’ve seen a growth in high-skilled ‘knowledge intensive’ jobs and in low-skilled roles. In lazy tabloid terms think ‘lovely’ jobs and ‘lousy’ jobs.

This means that even those with relatively good qualifications find it harder to secure mid-level jobs – if there’s fewer of them, there’s going to be more competition to get them. Unable to access the high-skilled jobs, the low-skilled ones are the only option for many people.

This trend is more noticeable amongst young workers. Often lacking the required work experience at the beginning of their career, the competition can be even fiercer. A TUC report found that many more young people are working in ‘elementary occupations’ now – usually routine, sometimes physical – compared with 20 years ago.

This is a problem because the lower end of the labour market is characterised by low pay and insecurity. Job quality is weak. The highly competitive environment facing many retailers for example, has put pressure on employers to reduce costs. So instead of treating their staff as an asset to invest in, employers treat them as machines, with standardised tasks and like a ‘production line’. Many retail staff describe their work as stressful, characterised by ever-changing targets, feeling understaffed, overstretched and unsupported by senior management.

Our analysis shows that nearly half of Britain’s young core workers work in just three sectors: retail, (outsourced) health and social care, and hospitality. What makes these jobs low quality is the low pay, insecure contracts and lack of progression that are often found in these sectors. And good pay, decent contracts and development opportunities are what trade unions work to secure for people. So there’s the challenge – how will unions rise to it?


Britain’s young core workers are the voices that are missing from our movement. They are aspirational, dynamic and want to be successful. But they are often trapped in low income work without the opportunity to progress or achieve what they want.

We’ve identified ten challenges facing Britain’s young core workers, and challenge unions to meet them. Check back here for the next challenge and read the full report.