Bad jobs or just job snobbery?

Jun 25 2003 by Brian Amble Print This Article

The popular belief that service sector jobs in supermarkets and catering are ‘bad’ or ‘dead end’ is far from true, according to research by The Work Foundation. In fact, ‘job snobbery’ is rife in the UK and hampering efforts to fill skills shortages and boost productivity.

The study, Are we being served? Career mobility and skills in the UK workforce reveals a gulf between popular perceptions of work in the service sector and the reality. The report argues that these much maligned jobs are actually providing communication and teamwork skills that the country is crying out for and that the sector can boast some of the most innovative training programmes in the UK today.

The report warns that, on the eve of the Government’s Skills Strategy, failure to take notice of the career progression and social mobility engendered by service sector employers could damage attempts to raise productivity.

Andy Westwood, head of policy research and author of the report, said: “Jamie Oliver was rightly applauded when we watched him work incredibly hard to develop his trainee chefs – so why aren’t the same plaudits given to companies who do the same on a much greater scale?

“There are unsung ‘heavy lifters’ at work in the UK economy – employers like McDonald’s and ASDA who dig deepest into some of the country’s most difficult and marginalized labour markets and that simultaneously boast some of the most far reaching development programmes.

“The UK seems to have a blind spot towards these leaders who take vast numbers of people from little or no skills to high skills. These organisations emphatically do not offer the dead end jobs that are so often associated with the service sector. In fact, they are bucking our increasingly poor trends in economic and social mobility.

“On the eve of the Government’s Skills Strategy, it is clear that we can all learn from the way the service sector approaches training and development. The value of these skills and their training programmes is high. If we continue undermining them, the battle to narrow the UK’s productivity gap will become much harder.”

The report illustrates this blind spot towards the service sector by comparing people's attitudes to McDonald's with their perceptions of a manufacturer, taking the example of Ford. But it finds that the two companies actually have an enormous amount in common, with both having franchised operations and having laid down deep roots in the UK.

Companies whose training and development programmes are profiled in the report include Tesco, ASDA, James Beattie plc, Whitbread and McDonald’s.

Contrary to popular belief, the Work Foundation’s research discovered that McDonald’s could boast an ingrained development culture and continuous training; an understanding of the value of training to the bottom line; a track record of career progression for company staff – nearly three-quarters of restaurant managers began as hourly-paid crew members, as well as pay rates significantly above the minimum wage after training.

Andy Westwood said: “These organisations are extremely good at developing skills that are of tremendous and incalculable benefit to the UK’s economy. They are the new and unlikely role models for a more efficient approach to improving workforce skills.”

A poll of 2,500 people commissioned for the report found that the views of peers had an enormous impact on people’s choice of work. Half of those under 30 said they were influenced by the views of friends and family when it came to choosing where they worked. Asked if they would take a job with good career prospects in the quick service restaurant sector, two-thirds said no.

Dr Glenn Wilson, of the University of London’s Institute of Psychiatry, said:

"The findings reveal that Britain is a nation of snobs when it comes to the world of work. These inbuilt prejudices mean that some types of jobs - particularly those involving serving customers - are looked down on.

“The job snobs choose status and prestige ahead of more hidden benefits like training and career progression. In actual fact, were they to try service sector work, they might discover that the career and development opportunities probably exceed what's available to them in trendy employment like arts and the media."