Measuring Job Quality: The ‘Better Jobs Index’

May 1, 2019

Share this story

By Dr Lisa Wilson, Economist at NERI

In 2018, the Carnegie UK Trust published Measuring Good Work, which sets out a framework for measuring quality of work in UK national statistics and making this a part of our national debate. In this new guest blog, Lisa Wilson considers the recommendations of the report and what they might mean in the context of Northern Ireland.

The increased concern over job quality in the UK was initially formalised by Prime Minister Theresa May when she commissioned Matthew Taylor, Chief Executive of the RSA to undertake a review of modern working practices. Since then, the Carnegie UK Trust’s and RSA’s Measuring Good Work report sought to advance one of Taylor’s key recommendations: that the UK Government should identify a set of metrics against which it will measure success in improving work, and report annually on the quality of work on offer in the UK. In December 2018, the UK Government welcomed the practical framework for measuring job quality proposed in the Carnegie report, and asked the Industrial Strategy Council to consider how they might implement it.

Better Jobs in Northern Ireland

Prior to this, the importance of job quality had also been recognised separately in Northern Ireland. Specifically, the draft Programme for Government published just prior to the collapse of the Assembly in 2016 had included a commitment to increase the number of people working in ‘better jobs’ and to track the quality of work in Northern Ireland via a ‘Better Jobs Index’. Such a measure does not currently exist, although a commitment remains for its development – and indeed work to this end is ongoing in the Department for the Economy.

There has, however, been little information to date as to what might be included in the final ‘Better Jobs Index’, how it will be presented or the steps being taken to reach a consensus on the metric that will be used. This is made all of the more complicated by the fact that there is no commonly agreed set of metrics used to describe job quality, track it over time, compare it between different contexts or groups of people and analyse whether the quality of jobs is improving or worsening.

Considerations for the Better Jobs Index

That said the Carnegie-RSA Measuring Good Work report provides, from a Northern Ireland point of view, a particularly useful summary of existing measures of job quality and also gives policy pointers for the development of a measure of job quality. In terms of the development of the ‘Better Jobs Index’ it is a very timely publication. Specifically, there are two recommendations made in the Measuring Good Work report that are of particular pertinence to the ‘Better Jobs Index’ and which should be seriously reflected upon by those involved in its development:

  • The first relates to the conclusion that an accurate assessment of job quality cannot be achieved through a single metric such as that proposed in Northern Ireland. The point is made that because job quality is a complex, and multi-faceted concept and so may require varied policy interventions, the different aspects of job quality need to be understood, measured and reported on separately. To this end the report recommends that seven dimensions should be used to assess quality of work annually by the UK Government, and presented via a dashboard. These include pay and benefits; job design and the nature of employment including job security; health and safety at work; work-life balance; social support and cohesion; voice and representation. Previous research conducted on job quality by the NERI leads us to share this view, as it becomes clear when a number of measures of job quality are collapsed together not only is the nuance lost and variations in particular indicators masked behind an average, but also as a result it is more difficult to determine the correct policy levers to improve particular aspects of job quality.
  • Secondly, the Measuring Good Work report recommends that consideration needs to be given to the concept of a minimum baseline of job quality. This recommendation is particularly important in Northern Ireland given that the proposed measure is called a ‘Better Jobs Index’. The immediate follow-on from this from a policy point of view needs to be – ‘Better than what?’ Will a ‘better job’ be one that has seen small improvements across many aspects of job quality? Or will a ‘better job’ be defined as one that has seen big improvements across one aspect of job quality? Or will there be some threshold or description given as to what is a poor-quality job with only growth in jobs above some agreed upon threshold being counted as demonstrating an increase in better jobs?

The NERI has been following very closely the developments in relation to the measurement of job quality both in the UK and in Northern Ireland, and are specifically engaged in the issue of how the RSA and Carnegie UK Trust’s recommendations relates to the ‘Better Jobs Index’ in Northern Ireland.

Dr Lisa Wilson is an Economist at the Nevin Economic Research Institution (NERI), which has offices in Dublin and Belfast. NERI promotes research for new economic purposes and the achievement of a better, fairer society. This blog first appeared on