For someone living in poverty, a route to progress out of a low-paying job can be a light at the end of the tunnel. Whether it’s developing skills, providing clear pathways free of barriers or challenging perceptions, people professionals play a vital role in helping staff progress in the workplace. To do so, it helps to understand why people get trapped in lower-paying roles in the first place.
Why people get stuck on low pay
People can become trapped in low-paid roles, with little hope of increasing their salaries, for several reasons:
Some low-paid roles can see employees living from shift to shift, rather than having a clear role within the organisation.
A lack of flexibility and access to good work can make it difficult for those with caring responsibilities to progress. This is especially so for women and single parents, with
Confidence or motivational barriers – exacerbated by the risk of changing jobs or careers – are more prevalent among the low paid.
Logistical barriers – like a shortage of higher-paying roles in the immediate area,
Direct or in-direct discrimination within organisations, which mean people – particularly older workers, those with disabilities or those working part-time – are overlooked for development opportunities.
What employers can do to break down barriers to progression
Progression doesn’t just happen naturally – people need a clear path to follow, access to the right training and a supportive line manager. People professionals also play a vital role in breaking down barriers that stand in the way of progression:
Does flexibility help or hinder progression
Flexible working can both enable or hinder in-work progression, depending on the organisational culture. Many people find themselves stuck in low-paid roles because they can’t sacrifice the flexibility – if progression means disrupting an already precarious work-life balance (juggling work and childcare, for example), their options are limited.
A well-managed flexible working culture – with options like job-sharing, compressed hours, hybrid working or flexibility around start and finish times – can make higher paid roles a reality for those who need the flexibility. In fact, show that flexible working has been successfully adopted in roles and sectors where you might least expect it.
Skilled managers are key to supporting in-work progression efforts
An organisation’s efforts to support in-work progression will be hampered without skilled and capable people managers who are willing and able to spot and nurture potential in their teams.
Managers should set aside time for informal development conversations, and encourage employees to speak openly about their long-term ambitions so that they can build the skills and identify the steps they need to take to reach their goals.
However, managers’ willingness and ability to support in-work progression will be limited if not supported by an organisational
Developing in-house talent is good for business
Developing in-house talent is often easier than recruiting new people to plug your organisation’s skills gaps.
Here are some key steps that employers can take to develop their workforce’s skills:
Create an individual progression and learning plan: People professionals are instrumental in putting in place – and measuring – progression plans for low-paid employees. Draw up a clear progression pathway for each employee, with regular reviews.
Offer mentoring: Giving staff the opportunity to learn from their peers is invaluable and can help boost their confidence and ambition.
Introduce shadowing and work experience: Schemes aimed at low-paid workers that offer individuals a taste of all areas of the business – from the shop floor to the boardroom – can help expose them to different roles and opportunities. Experiencing what greater responsibility looks and feels like first-hand can address any attitudinal barriers to progression.
Support professional development: Pay for and/or provide paid time off for employees to work towards a professional qualification or develop the skills they need to progress.
What if my business can’t afford to invest in L&D?
Investing in a dedicated training and development plan may be easier for larger companies than smaller ones, but it’s important not to ignore it.
Take advantage of existing skilled staff and create both formal and informal environments for them to pass on their knowledge to lower-paid employees. Mentoring and work experience can form part of this offering.
For any training you do provide, be clear about what you’re trying to achieve and what employees need to learn – find their skills gaps, set clear goals, and then measure the outcome.
As well as offering career progression through training and development, small and large businesses can also help to boost pay packets in the short term by helping people work more hours if they want to (and helping to break down any practical barriers that make this difficult).