Skills, Knowledge and Organisational Performance

Occupational Mobility and Career Paths in the ‘Hourglass’ Labour Market

This paper looks at how patterns of occupational mobility in the UK have been affected by the change in the occupational structure away from middle-wage routine occupations and towards higher and lower wage non-routine occupations. The first analysis looks to identify the additional mobility created by this shift in the occupational structure – referred to here as displacement – separate from all the other factors which are associated with labour market transitions. Two UK birth cohort studies are used to compare the experiences of workers who entered the labour market in the mid-1970s and the late 1980s respectively. The main conclusion from this analysis is that the older cohort is less mobile in general, but did experience significant increases in occupation mobility associated with the decline in non-routine jobs, while the younger cohort was more mobile in general, but this mobility is largely unaffected by shifts in the occupational structure. This points to a fundamental change in the way recruitment takes place into the growing number of good non-routine jobs. For the older cohort, there were progression opportunities from lower positions, while the later cohort has not benefitted in this way. These conclusions are explained further by looking at a more representative panel dataset from the UK Labour Force Survey (LFS). The LFS records occupational transitions over the previous 12 months for a subset of survey respondents. For routine workers, patterns of mobility are observed that are consistent with those of the cohort analysis. Changes in the upward mobility paths for low-wage service workers are also explored as the number of good nonroutine jobs increases. The findings show there is some mobility for these workers, but it is limited by age, qualification and the state of the economy, and is more common in certain industries or occupations where internal progression pathways exist.

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