With economic opportunities gravitating towards urban centres, many rural areas have lost out
This summary is based on research by Dr Anne Green. Read an interview with Anne.
With economic opportunities gravitating towards urban centres, many rural areas have lost out. This can create real economic and social hurdles for people living in remote parts of the UK. Rural residents may be unable to secure increasingly scarce local jobs and can face long commutes in search of work in regional urban areas.
This article analyses UK employment trends (both actual and predicted) between 1990 and 2020. Where policy-makers previously attempted to bring jobs to people in rural areas – by artificially creating economic hubs or ‘growth poles’ – now they are tending towards encouraging people to move to jobs. This can be done through either commuting or migration. Interestingly, new developments in ICT and the Internet offer possibilities for ‘telecommuting’, although this is far from a ‘quick fix’.
Britain in 2010: Did we see it coming?
The hourglass economy
Moving jobs to people, or people to jobs?
A sub-national policy approach
Working with the Internet
In 1991, the Policy Studies Institute published a report predicting what Britain would look like 20 years in the future. Their expectations of Britain in 2010 included a number of predictions about the future of working life, mobility and migration.
Employment and mobility predictions (made in 1991) for Britain in 2010
Accuracy of prediction made in 1991
A rise in non-manual jobs
But there is still demand for low skill jobs as well
Jobs to be located mainly in the South of the UK
The UK economy remains spatially unbalanced
Longer working hours for high level occupations (e.g. doctors, engineers, accountants)
The UK retains a culture of long hours in these occupations
New technologies will not abolish work, but they will change it
Work, workplaces and ways of working have changed
Increasing possibilities for teleworking, reducing time, cost and stress of commuting
This has happened, but many people commute on a daily basis
Reduced car use, although policy is important in achieving this
The UK is probably more dependent on cars than in 1990s
Increased migrants arriving at UK from the EU
Migration has increased, but not as much from the EU as expected
Unlikely that large numbers of migrants will arrive at the UK from Eastern Europe
Eastern European countries joined EU earlier than expected, resulting in large migrant flows
Over the last 20 years, professional jobs have increased, medium level jobs have declined and low skill jobs have retained demand. This has created a polarised, ‘hourglass’ economy characterised by two types of jobs – high skilled (e.g. professional – quaternary and tertiary sectors) and the low skilled (e.g. manufacturing – secondary sector).
The growing professional business and service sectors have created more jobs than any other sector since the 1990s – a trend that looks set to continue up to 2020. At the other end of the UK’s hourglass economy, there remains demand for low skill jobs, despite a decline in manufacturing jobs.
The division of the UK labour market into two broad categories has implications for geographical mobility and migration. People working in high level occupations tend to have a great ability and desire to travel for work. Meanwhile, those in the low skill jobs tend to have a much more limited economic mobility. This has resulted in skilled workers travelling further to work than less skilled workers.
The ‘segmentation’ of people into sectors of the economy means that individuals at the bottom end of the labour market can be particularly disadvantaged if their local area experiences widespread job loss. Since they are not as mobile as those in professional occupations, they may find it harder to find work beyond their immediate locale.
If people are less able to travel to jobs, it may seem best to create jobs in the areas in which there is greatest need for them. However, this concept of ‘moving jobs to people’ is not necessarily sustainable in the medium- or long-term.
Previous attempts to move jobs to people –economically regenerating areas by creating employment opportunities – have resulted in recipient areas becoming vulnerable to future decline. This is because such policies work against ongoing geographical processes by diverting industry and investment away from economic cores to peripheral areas.
Policy-makers are beginning to favour ‘moving people to jobs’ – through either commuting or migration. This helps ensure that employment policies work with, rather than against, the forces of geography in encouraging economic growth.
Not everyone has the ability to commute long distances or choose where they live. Caring responsibilities, poor access to transport and family ties all can limit peoples’ abilities to accessemployment opportunities around the UK. Policies are therefore made to support people across the nation.
Due to wide spatial variations across the UK labour market, a sub-national persective is often required for decision-making. ‘Sub-national’ refers to any geographical scale below the national, including: regional, city, local and neighbourhood. Within each of these scales there are spatial variations in the quality and quantity of employment opportunities.
Current policy-making attempts to stimulate and strength existing local enterprise, rather than bring new business into the area. However, this may not be enough on its own. Local people must be equipped with the relevant skills to work in the industries in their region in order to make the best of the opportunities.
The movement of working people to jobs is often considered an essential process for a healthy labour market. To move upwards in their careers, high skilled young people may move to an ‘escalator region’. An escalator region works by:
Stepping on the escalator: A large number of people at the start of their working lives are attracted to the region by job opportunities
Being taken up the escalator: The region provides a professional working context for the young migrants to experience accelerated upward social mobility
Stepping off the escalator: Having achieved upward social mobility, these professionals migrate out of the region at an older age
As a result of their mobility, the young professionals are able to move to jobs. This results in rapid career progression and upward social mobility. However, since they move out of the area at an older age the ‘escalator region’ loses out on a skilled workforce that could support the economy.
The rise of the Internet and the widespread use of ICTs in working life across Britain today have created different ways of working. Employees can now:
work without travelling
work while travelling between places and
work in places and times previously outside of the workplace and working day
This has been enabled by the rise in ‘teleworking’, facilitated by the growth in Internet use on a range of mobile devices. Employment has spilled over into many parts of life, with people working at home and in other ‘non-work’ places.
The importance of digital communication is evident from a doubling in the amount of people working mainly at home between 1981 and 2010. Of those people working from home at least once a week in 2010, 58.7% relied on a telephone and computer, up from 33.1% in 1997.
However, the rise in flexible employment – of people working in traditionally ‘non-work’ times and spaces – should not be overestimated, with a relatively modest 2.9% of people working mainly from home in 2010. Furthermore employees on flexible contracts are often required to live nearby in case they are required to travel into work on short notice. In short, the locations of work and home – as well as the ability to travel – still matter greatly.
Case study: Cornwall’s technological revolution
Cornwall is experiencing a technological revolution with broadband speeds in many areas among the fastest in the UK. This high speed hub has made waves across the county and more people and new internet based businesses are choosing to locate in the area despite the distance from London and the South-East. So how has this happened and what are the effects on the county?
The UK job market is spatially uneven, with great unbalance between the North and the South. For example, manufacturing opportunities are to be found in the Midlands and North of England, whereas professional opportunities are more likely to be found around London and the South East.
Due to geographical forces, the majority of economic activities occur in and around urban centres. Working with these geographical forces means moving people to jobs. For rural areas, this means improved transport links and communications network. People living in rural areas may also have to be willing to migrate or commute long distances.
The ability to move across space can prove essential in securing economic prosperity, as evidenced by the upward social mobility experienced by young professionals’ exploitation of escalator regions.
Using the two choropleth maps provided, compare the spatial distribution of people in manufacturing occupations with people professional occupations throughout England and Wales. (5)
Can you suggest reasons for the varying spatial distributions of low skill and high skill jobs? You should use you own knowledge and the information given in the article, (4)
Explain the economic and social implications that a policy of ‘moving people to jobs’ can have on rural areas. (15)
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