Institute for Employment Studies Conference, April 2022

17 May 2022      Sophie Crouchman, Strategic Projects and Research Manager

I was lucky enough to attend the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) Annual conference which took place at the end of April this year – given that it lasted a mere morning, the amount that the IES managed to include was impressive, with engaging sessions alongside the opportunity to network with peers from HR and beyond. This year’s theme was “Looking ahead to the future of work” and it did not disappoint.

We started the morning with an excellent presentation from Tony Wilson, Director of the IES covering the state of employment in the UK post-Covid. I’m biased of course (being a “data-head”) but the statistics that Tony presented were incredibly eye-opening, showing an unprecedented landscape of employment and the economy. Whilst it is clear that the UK has managed to avoid an unemployment crisis, the country is currently in the throws of an altogether different crisis – one which revolves around recruitment, participation, satisfaction and retention in the labour market. Growth in worklessness in significant swathes of the population alongside the highest ever number of people who are unable to work due to long-term ill health has led to arguably the tightest labour market the UK has ever seen. Or to put it bluntly, it is a far better time to be looking for a job than it is to be trying to recruit!

I discovered that I am one amongst a record number of people (~1 million!) who moved jobs in the final quarter of 2021, and that for those in work, over-employment (working more hours than desired) is rising whilst under-employment (working fewer hours than desired) is falling. All of these issues are crucial for UHR members to understand, as we know that members are struggling with recruitment challenges as well as retaining staff and ensuring employee satisfaction and wellbeing are top of the agenda. Ensuring recruitment practices are inclusive; retaining valued colleagues by making workplaces better and developing enhanced support mechanisms for those in work are just some of the ways in which HE can address the challenges and we are working on all these aspects at UHR – please get in touch with Emma Brookes or me if you want to discuss our projects further.

We moved on to a great session run by Prof. Emma Parry (Cranfield) and Dan Lucy (IES) on Planning for uncertainty: using scenarios to plan for the future of work and the ex-Planner in me was delighted by the theme! An effective use of break-out groups to undertake a scenario-based activity was welcome at a fully-virtual conference, and got us thinking about how HR teams can address some of the big issues affecting the workforce such as the energy crisis and the aforementioned labour market participation crisis.

Next up were presentations on jobs and young people including insight from Oluwafifebomi Obidipe about her first “real job” with the IES and the heartening (to me anyway!) news that young people don’t just want any job – they want good jobs which align with their values and provide a positive work-life balance. Less heartening was the fact that young people, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, aren’t getting the support they need to find these jobs.

A lively panel discussion on (you guessed it!) hybrid working broached some interesting points about whether we are forgetting “other” types of flexible working in amongst the noise of WFH, and the need to consider hybrid working as a massive culture change project as much as it is an operational change project. Inclusive recruitment came up again with the Office for National Statistics revealing that virtual interviewing is more inclusive and they have the statistics to prove it (you’d hope so!). The morning finished with a discussion on Building Healthier Workplaces with Prof. Sir Cary Cooper (University of Manchester) and Stephen Bevan (IES) which highlighted, amongst other things, the importance of the manager in improving both the mental health and the productivity of our workforce and the fact that gendered expectations of workers can contribute to disparities in building better workplaces for all.

I’m looking forward to the opportunity to attend future events from the IES, and hoping to explore how UHR can work with the IES on projects which will benefit our members.

The first session of the IES conference can now be watched online here:

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