_TB15033 Desmond Change Please

Our Director of Impact, Ceri Sheppard, reflects on good employers’ strategies for ensuring progression opportunities.

Say ‘progression at work’ and we immediately think about training, qualifications and promotion. The CIPD has found that employers are investing less in training than 20 years ago, and we know that people can get stuck in low paid jobs for years. Without better work opportunities, this leaves people at perpetual risk of homelessness.

As Director of Impact at the House of St Barnabas, I’ve been picking the brains of friends and colleagues in the hospitality sector for practical examples of what good progression looks like.

One of our employer partners summed up their approach beautifully, telling me; “We need to create space for people to show their ambitions and stop making assumptions about what progression means to individuals”.

Career progression is not only about status and money, although a fair wage is of course vitally important. It’s also about what’s best for each individual at a particular time in their lives. This could mean working closer to home (working from home is simply not an option for most lower paid workers) or being creative about developing skills.

To create genuine opportunities for progression in staff teams, employers need to focus on culture add rather than culture fit, and not ignore the role of race and gender in decisions about who gets support and resources. And to state the obvious, people are not the sum of their current role; many of us come to our jobs with a wealth of life and work experiences, sometimes hidden from view.  One of our good work champions was supported early on in her career to take on additional projects beyond her front of house job role in hospitality, as she was keen to learn about organisational culture. As a result, she was able to move teams, and years later is now Director of People for a nationally recognised brand.

Many hospitality employers pride themselves on the high level of internal manager hires which inspire staff teams and create business stability. The challenge then, is filling gaps created by internal appointments and also making sure that there is space for fresh thinking. That means not overlooking people who are quieter, who work part-time or who do not see themselves reflected in management. It also means giving encouragement, time and opportunities to work out what they aspire to do.

Importantly, employees who have come from challenging and insecure backgrounds are sometimes the last ones to articulate what they actually want and need out of work. As our employment programme graduates tell us, you need a belief that things can get better to even think about what progression might look like.

So, what are five practical things employers can do to create more opportunities for progression?

  1. Support people to try different roles without having to commit to an ‘all or nothing’ move.
  2. Create internal job transfer schemes which are coordinated centrally and aren’t solely dependent on local managers and create pathways for moving across teams.
  3. Use scenario questions for training and selection to explore candidates’ thinking which can also lead to useful development support.
  4. Consider psychometric testing for behaviours (not personality) at any level in a company, for bespoke development, mentoring and progression.
  5. Move away from old style ‘boardroom promotions’ which favour charismatic personalities, full-time workers and people who look and sound like existing managers.
    1. Allow individuals to independently develop a professional social media presence, e.g. chefs on Instagram showcasing their menus and reviews.

With special thanks to our friends at The Ivy Collection and Corbin and King


To learn more about the level of employer investment in progression, see this CIPD report.

Trust for London addresses the role of employers in reducing in-work poverty here.

To read about experiences of employees, employers and homelessness, see this Crisis article.

And for sobering research on being stuck in low paid work, see this from the Resolution Foundation as well as their annual Low Pay Britain reports.