The labour market is rapidly changing once again, with vacancies surging, as the latest Keep Britain Working job index report reveals.
But for people without a car and living in a rural or poorly-connected urban area, labour market choices are drastically restricted by poor, expensive or non-existent public transport options.
Vacancies in sectors that currently need people, such as hospitality, retail or logistics, are more likely to have non-standard hours of work. Where there is a rural bus service, timetables and shift times rarely match.
Perhaps the most typical story heard by Reed in Partnership employment advisers is of someone who is offered a job but cannot take it, because the first of two (expensive) buses needed to reach work departs two hours after their proposed 7am start time. When we surveyed advisers on this topic, the vast majority (92%) said that a participant they were supporting in a rural area had been unable to apply for or accept a job because of transport difficulties.
Disadvantaged jobseekers are penalised the most. Disabled people, young people, single parents and low earners find that poor transport interacts with other issues, such as a childcare drop-off, to shut off opportunities further.
Rural research from Reed in Partnership
A new research report from Reed in Partnership looks at this and other issues that specifically affect rural jobseekers. Some of the findings include:
- Cities and towns have clearly been hit the hardest by the pandemic, but some rural areas stick out, particularly coastal places like Tendring in Essex, East Lindsey on the Lincolnshire Coast, the Isle of Wight or Swale in Kent. Our analysis found that others, such as County Durham or Northumberland, have rural pockets with a high claimant count.
- While men have been more likely to have been furloughed in towns, women have been more likely to have been furloughed in rural areas.
- In addition to transport, other rural barriers to jobs include digital exclusion, as much about people affording devices as poor broadband.
Time for action
Rural campaigners have long drawn attention to the decline of rural public transport. The Government is seeking to address it through its National Bus Strategy, while promising projects are being piloted through the Rural Mobility Fund. Local and Combined Authorities, employers and rural communities themselves are working hard to address this barrier to growth in their local labour markets.
But as the labour market recovers now is the time to move at pace and for employers to get more involved, as we accelerate the place-based collaboration we have seen during the pandemic. Our report suggests that we need to:
- Put labour market concerns at the heart of transport planning. More buses are welcome, but they need to be at the right times, and go to the right places, to get workers to their jobs on time. With smaller population numbers in rural areas, we need to come up with imaginative, cost-effective and flexible solutions.
- Encourage employers to play a greater role in supporting employee transport in rural areas. Funding minibuses or other demand-led transport services can be expensive, but for employers who struggle to recruit and are poorly served by public transport the benefit may outweigh the cost. Other options include getting involved in transport planning or supporting car share schemes for employees.
- Fully exploit the potential of remote support for rural residents. Face-to-face employment support is essential, but we should continue to innovate and use remote support to widen options for rural jobseekers to help them access training and support.
- Consider whether there are more entry-level jobs that can be done from home in rural areas. Most key worker roles that Reed in Partnership participants tend to enter (such as those in retail, logistics or care) cannot be done from home. But working at home should not be the preserve of professional roles: there may be lower-skilled roles that employers have not considered for homeworking. There is also a need to widen the availability of flexible working in rural areas, especially to improve labour market prospects for disabled people and parents.
You can read the full report on the Reed in Partnership website.