In May 2018 PIN opened our first public call; the ‘#pieceofthepuzzle’ campaign challenged teams of academic and non-academic partners to take a multi-disciplinary social science approach in finding fresh insights into the UK’s productivity puzzle. Applicants were encouraged to draw on the PIN evidence reviews, which highlight gaps in our current understanding of UK productivity. An overwhelming response was received to the call. The award panel was highly impressed by the quality project proposals received. Four ‘Pioneer Projects’ were funded up to £50,000 each and eight ‘Small Projects’ were funded up to £10,000 each. Projects started work in September 2018. Pioneer Projects will take around ten months to complete and Small Projects, four months. To find out more about the innovative projects and what they are trying to achieve, read the brief descriptions below. Click on the logo of each project’s lead organisation below for the Project Lead’s contact details.
PIN’s second public call for innovative productivity projects closed in May 2019. Watch this space to find about the successful teams who will be pushing the boundaries of our understanding of the UK’s productivity puzzle.
Productivity – what do UK manufacturers really think?
Politicians, economists and commentators are increasingly touting a productivity problem in the UK, when compared to other economies. Perhaps counterintuitively, productivity is not a ‘hot boardroom’ topic, nor is it necessarily a key focus of management and workforce meetings in the workplace. This investigation will analyse what, if any, ‘productivity narratives’ are shaping ideas in UK manufacturers at workforce, management and boardroom levels today. The outputs will provide a novel insight into how productivity is perceived, the key influences that drive, constrain and enable productivity, and the future challenges that UK manufacturers face. This project is being undertaken in partnership with the Universities of York (Professor Peter Ball), Aston (Professor Ben Clegg) and Bristol (Professor Palie Smart).
This study provides a new approach to both addressing how housing outcomes impact the productivity behaviours and performance of households and firms and improving the ‘housing’ dimension of regional studies of economic change. Housing has multiple characteristics including size, location, neighbourhood context and price/rent and system outcomes have implications for productivity. Recent work (Maclennan et al, 2015; 2018) indicates housing outcomes impact growth drivers: small, low quality homes impair the educational performance of children, some neighbourhood effects harm school-work transitions and constrained housing choices deepen spatial labour market mismatches. Housing prices may impact the use of capital and housing assets and neighbourhood outcomes small firm innovation possibilities. In growth localities rising housing prices/rents impact the price and availability of labour and the location choices of firms. Housing, and infrastructure, policy approaches have failed to take account of housing as essential economic infrastructure and within national and local governments policies for economic development, housing and planning have failed to grasp the growth and productivity effects of housing outcomes. The study offers a better conversation about productivity and a new narrative for housing policies.
Returning to Work and Thriving at Work
This project explores how we can promote sustainable return to work among workers with Common Mental Disorders (CMDs) such as anxiety, depression and adjustment disorders, i.e. help workers sustain work and be productive at work after prolonged sickness absence due to CMDs. According to the OECD, 15% of the working population suffer from CMDs and 50% of workers with CMDs at some point go on long-term sickness absence. Despite remission, workers returning have poorer work functioning and are at risk of dismissals due to low productivity. Sustaining productive and high quality jobs for workers with CMDs is an overlooked problem.
Measuring Regional Skills Mismatch
We propose a novel approach for measuring skills mismatch using a naturally occurring data on skill demands, namely online job adverts. This data offers both a very large set of specific skills as well information on where those skills are required. To arrive at a measure of skills mismatch, the skill supply in a given region will be mapped by using the UK’s Labour Force Survey (LFS). We will cross-reference occupations to a skills taxonomy, which we have developed in previous research, to determine the skills of employees in the region. We will also capture the impact of transport infrastructure on the mismatch by incorporating data on cost and duration of commute.
Exploring the relationship between non-cognitive skills and productivity
To advance understanding of the relationship between non-cognitive skills and productivity, CFE are exploring the relationship between non-cognitive skills and educational, social and economic outcomes. The work reflects on what is already known, reviewing the literature to identify relevant developments and interventions from other policy areas, and exploring the perspective of policy makers and employers through qualitative depth interviews. The work will link evidence-based theory to practice, and engage policy makers and employers with the productivity puzzle. This project aims to encourage consideration of how existing policy foci do (or could) relate to broader issues of productivity.
Real Journey Time – Real City Size
By tracking every bus in The West Midlands for a year we have calculated how long journeys really take in the city at peak time. Using this data we are calculating the real population of the city, as defined by the number of people who could access a central event within an hour at peak time. Using the well-established relationship that, due to agglomeration benefits, larger cities are more productive we are estimating the productivity in the UK’s large cities that is sacrificed by poor transport infrastructure.
The Divergence of Productivity and Pay?
This project will investigate a fundamental assumption about productivity – that increased productivity results in higher compensation for workers. This project will deliver UK/Scotland based empirical analysis of the links between pay, pay inequality, economic growth and productivity. It will frame this exploration within a broader interdisciplinary framework by considering the implications of the pay-productivity link for achieving inclusive growth and societal well-being. The project links directly to key gaps in theory and data evidence identified by PIN by addressing by delivering new evidence on the assumptions of a positive relationship between productivity growth and compensation and the possible ameliorating factors of globalisation, weakening trade unions, income inequality and technology.
The Industrial Strategy identifies that the UK’s productivity lags that of comparable countries, and seeks to realise improvements across all regions and types of localities, with a strong emphasis on small businesses and entrepreneurship. Evidence suggests that productivity is significantly lower outside of London and the south-east, with the Northern Powerhouse (NP) and Midlands Engine (ME) initiatives seeking to address this productivity gap. Productivity in rural areas also lags urban areas, at the UK aggregate level. These findings pose the question as to what extent are they the result of structural issues (e.g. too many firms in low productivity sectors in particular localities) or whether after controlling for sector, age and other profile variables, does the productivity of firms in the NP, ME and rural locations continue to lag the Rest of England (RoE) and urban areas. To address this, we undertake the 3 phases of research, analysing:
• Variations in small business productivity between NP, ME and RoE regions;
• Urban-rural variations in productivity;
• Determinants of variations in small business productivity.
The UK Futures Programme: a longer-term evaluation
This project seeks to advance understanding of productivity by conducting follow-up research with selected business and government co-investment projects run by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) up to 2016 to address specific productivity challenges. The projects were part of the ‘UK Futures Programme’ which trialled a series of ‘hooks’ to engage businesses in the productivity debate and test different means of tackling low productivity proposed and developed by business and intermediaries.
This longer-term evaluation with selected projects focused on engaging (mainly small) businesses in low productivity sectors/regions explores sustainability of the networks/products which the projects developed; the productivity impact on participating businesses and how this is measured; and contributors and barriers to success. It informs policy on:
• what ‘hooks’ are effective in engaging business in productivity
• what interventions enhance productivity and associated practices;
• the sustainability of different approaches; and
• ways of trialling possible improvements to workplace productivity.
The aim of this small research project is to co-design innovative solutions to enhance the wellbeing of the workforce in SMEs (Small to Medium Enterprises). It is well recognised that health and wellbeing in the workplace is central to the enhancement of productivity – in that a high level of health and wellbeing promotes productivity and reduces absences from work. SMEs are under-researched in relation to health and well-being and therefore little is known about how to enhance health and well-being in SMEs. The idea for the research emerged from public engagement with SMEs who have identified the need for knowledge and innovative solutions to enhance health and wellbeing in SMEs. A qualitative and co-design approach will facilitate the co-creation of practical solutions to enhancing health and wellbeing that will be tailored to SMEs and can work across the SME sector.
Performance Measurement, Productivity and Management Practices in Smaller Firms.
We examine links between measures driving management practices in smaller firms (<50 employees) and productivity. We posit that smaller firm managers use a variety of key indicators other than productivity, and that a better understanding of any connection between the two will inform analysis of the long-tail productivity problem. We use 10 interviews to collect insights into (a) if management measure performance in ways consistent with conventional definitions of productivity e.g. GVA/labour hour (b) understand the connection, if any, between the key indicators they use in their decision-making, management practices and productivity (c) whether they can impute productivity measures from their management accounts. We use the interview insights to develop a survey instrument which we pilot as part of the project with a target achieved sample of 50 manufacturing and service firms which could be used in further work to generate a wider knowledge base of these critical issues.
Advanced Manufacturing Management (with AMRC)
Effectively managed organisations can achieve increased productivity with the resources already at their disposal. For talent-intensive businesses, the effective acquisition, development and retention of value-creating staff is essential to success. This project explores the realisation of productivity through effective talent management in high-value advanced-manufacturing SMEs.The project challenges the assumption that SMEs should adopt practices from large organisations. Instead, practices should be tailored to SME workplace characteristics, with the potential for sustainability and scalability. The project advances understanding of productivity in SMEs by generating valuable insights into effective leadership and talent management in SMEs to enhance productivity and business growth.