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Workforce Skills, Performance and Job Quality

This research explores the relationships between skills and performance for nations, organisations and individuals. It takes into account skills supply, demand and usage, and the linkages between education and training system, the labour market and employment. There is a strong focus on political economy and the way institutions and social actors interact to shape outcomes at the level of the nation, sector and organisation.Current projects have explored the impact of national and sectoral institutions on work organisation and performance through a comparative study of service sector occupations in selected European countries.

Other projects have interrogated the potential impact of qualifications on the performance of managers in the UK café sector, the nature of “managerial work” and the progression opportunities for those lower down the occupational hierarchy. The linkages between the education system and the labour market, and vice-versa, have been explored through projects seeking to uncover the experience of students in higher education who undertake part-time work.

This is a new area of research within the department, and there exists strong links with external research networks, in particular the research network on skills, knowledge and organisational performance (SKOPE).

Research Highlight

The research project, “Work organisation and skills in the service sector: a comparative study of three European countries”, led by Caroline Lloyd (Cardiff University) and Jonathan Payne (DMU), has compared three service occupations (vocational teacher, fitness instructor and cafe worker) across three European countries (France, Norway and the UK). The aim has been to explore the impact of institutions on skills, work organisation and job quality in service occupations that have been under-researched. Do institutionalist explanations, derived largely from research on manufacturing, apply to these occupations, and what can they tell us about the challenges policy makers confront in an era where education and skills are widely viewed as key to social and economic well-being? The researchers are currently pulling their research findings together into an overarching research monograph for Oxford University Press.

Key highlights include;

- The same service sector job can be developed in very different ways in relation to education and training requirements and levels of autonomy and discretion depending on the country.

- Strong social partnership based institutions, supportive regulatory structures and trade union activism in the workplace are crucial in developing jobs with higher levels of skill, discretion and autonomy.

- A significant number of service sector jobs cannot be substantially upgraded in their skill demands.  All countries therefore will have to face up to an endemic problem of over-qualification. Questions of who does what, for how much and under what conditions, need to become part of a wider public and policy debate, as does the very purpose of education itself in an ‘age of over-qualification’.

Selected outputs

Lloyd, C. and Payne, J. (2014) ‘It’s all hands-on even for management’: Managerial work in the UK cafe sector, Human Relations.

Lloyd, C. and Payne, J. (2013) Changing job roles in the Norwegian and UK fitness industry – in search of national institutional effects, Work, Employment and Society, 27, 1, 3-20.

Lloyd, C. and Payne, J. (2012) ‘Flat whites – who gets progression in the UK café sector?’, Industrial Relations Journal, 43, 1, 38-52.

Lloyd, C, and Payne, J. (2012) Delivering better forms of work organization: Comparing vocational teachers in England, Wales and Norway, Economic and Industrial Democracy, 33, 1, 27-47.

Payne, J. (2013) Measure for Measure: Towards a measurement and evaluation framework for skills utilisation, Journal of Education and Work, 26, 2, 143-161.

Robotham, D. (2012) Student part-time employment: characteristics and consequences, Education + Training, 54 (1) pp. 66-75.


Jonathan Payne (

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