Dr Kellie Vincent: Challenges and opportunities for urban employees

Dr Kellie Vincent

London features as one of the Rough Guide‘s top five cities to visit; however, according to Expert Market’s The best and worst cities for commuting report, published in June 2018, it is one of the 10 worst cities in the world. In the same survey, Leicester made the top 10; the cost and duration of the daily commute was the key difference between these two UK cities, and cannot be underestimated as a factor influencing employee wellbeing.

As the third largest city in Europe, London is also linked to expensive housing and fierce competition in the job market. These challenges, together with commuting issues, are constantly affecting those who work in the capital.

These problems are not directly reflected across all UK cities, however, and the challenges for London-based employees can be differentiated from those of other urban workforces. Ironically, Slough and Milton Keynes, often the butt of ‘ugly city’ jokes, tend to perform well as places to work. In 2017 and 2018, for example, job website Glassdoor listed Slough as the best place to work in the UK, due to the number of vacancies and the presence of affordable housing.

Although London faces its own, unique set of challenges when it comes to factors such as employee happiness and financial wellbeing, this is not to say that other urban areas are ideal. The UK’s industrial strategy overtly states that the UK has greater disparities in regional productivity than other European countries, and that this affects pay, work opportunities and life chances.

Cities outside of the south east are highlighted by the Centre for Cities’ City outlook 2018, published in January 2018, to be more likely to lose a greater proportion of jobs as a result of automation and globalisation by 2030. They are equally viewed as being less productive, with Leicester specifically cited as one of the least productive in Europe.

Some things, meanwhile, are universal. Regardless of location, the most common issues those in cities face are related to housing, regeneration, transport, infrastructure and skills, according to the December 2018 report, Urban voices: UK city leaders’ survey 2018.

The future of work will be dominated by technological developments, while re-skilling is becoming the norm and flexible approaches, such as shared and digital workspaces, are gaining traction; these developments are no longer just the preserve of London-based employees. The commute versus future job prospect balance may, on the surface, appear to be a difficult choice for urban workers, but hopefully changes to the nature of work, and the growth in urban infrastructure nationwide, will enable more positive future opportunities.

Dr Kellie Vincent is head of department, strategy and management at the University of Bedfordshire Business School