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Taylor: The idea of 'good work' is having a moment

Matthew Taylor called for a national employability ‘soft skills’ framework and for hidden assumptions about work to be addressed

The idea that all employees should "experience good work, is having a moment right now”, according to Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the RSA and author of the Taylor Review.

“The fight for good working practices is in a better position now than in the past so we need to keep talking about it to make sure change happens,” he said, speaking at the Engage for Success Conference 2018: People at the Heart of Business, in London.

“Ten years ago there would not have been the same interest. So we need to drive home the importance of the quality of work now so that we progress far enough forwards; so that we can’t go back to a time where quality came second to quantity.”

Taylor reiterated one of the points in his review: that the UK should have a national employability framework for soft skills that the government, employers and academic institutions all focus on.

“Employers have been saying for some time that it is the soft or generic skills that really matter, but research has shown there are multiple different employability frameworks out there,” he said. “Hard skills are easy to evidence but soft skills like creativity, teamwork and problem-solving are much more difficult to prove.”

Taylor called for one employability framework with up to 15 broad skills categories that employees can be measured against in performance reviews and during recruitment. A standard framework would also allow workers to easily transfer between companies and identify any areas they need to upskill in, he added.

“It is also important to recognise that employees don’t just pick up soft skills on the job but also outside of their workplace experiences,” Taylor explained, adding that a framework would encourage employers to see employees in a more “rounded way”.

Taylor also called for outdated assumptions around work to be challenged. “There are two huge assumptions that still exist in the workplace,” he said. “The first is that employment is a master and servant relationship where leaders think they need to intensify the workplace to drive efficiency rather than to engage. The second is that there are some sh*t jobs and it’s just tough that some people have to do them.

“In polite company people wouldn’t say them out loud but they are still there and we need to attack these assumptions," he said.

Businesses need to recognise that this master-servant relationship doesn’t work, Taylor continued, and that “the most innovative organisations in the world are innovative because they instead have creative communities”.

For leaders, he said, this means creating a community where “people feel in it together” and “a culture where employees are encouraged to take risks rather than a leadership based on bureaucracy".

Taylor's review was published last July. It outlined recommendations for government policies that could improve working practices in the UK, including the right to request a direct employment contract, reduced tribunal fees, and a ‘dependent contractor’ category of worker.

Commenting on the report at the Engage for Success conference, Taylor said: “I don’t want the review to be in the unmarked graveyard of other reviews. It’s a campaign we need to continue.”