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Wednesday, 14 March, 2001, 09:11 GMT
The changing face of UK jobs
Worker at a One2One call centre
Call centres: A fast-growing part of the UK labour market
There was a time when one in four of the world's big ships was built on the Clyde and more than one million of the UK's workers were coal miners.

As figures show unemployment has dipped to less than one million, the UK labour market could not be more different.
A UK coal miner
Face of the past: The UK now has just 10,000 coal miners

UK shipbuilding accounts for less than 1% of the world's commercial shipping market while miners are outnumbered 100 to one by finance sector workers.

Even the BBC has a headcount three times that of the entire UK coal industry.

More and more people are employed in the service sector, as the manufacturers that once dominated the British economy have been squeezed by cheaper global competitors or relocated to countries where production is cheaper.

Service sector shift

In 1975, when unemployment last stood at less than one million, manufacturing and mining loomed much larger in the labour market although a shift to the services sector was already well established.

More than 200,000 coal miners worked at more than 200 collieries while upwards of 150,000 were employed in steel making.
Distribution of UK workforce by industry, 1978

The savage cutbacks later to hit other industries of long standing such as shipbuilding, textiles and car making had also yet to be fully imagined.

By 1978 - the earliest year for which the Office for National Statistics has comparable figures - manufacturing and mining accounted for 35% of all jobs.

Distribution of UK workforce by industry, 2000
The services sector - including industries such as hotels, retailing and financial services - accounted for almost 60% of the UK's workforce.

Numbers in agriculture, fishing and forestry had declined to about 400,000, or 1.75% of the workforce - down from about one million 30 years earlier.

Today, the trend away from manufacturing towards the services sector is even more pronounced.

Coal mining to golf courses

In the past year alone, workers in the "big five" traditional industries - coal, steel, car making, textiles and shipbuilding - have experienced severe setbacks, with tens of thousands of jobs lost and the future of many remaining plants appearing seriously in doubt.

Aid-dependent RJB Mining - owner of the remains of the English coal industry - is thought to be looking for a buyer, as production drops and losses mount.

It has even been reported to be considering turning some of its land into golf courses.
A golf course
Is this the future of English coal mining?

The Anglo-Dutch firm Corus - which includes the old British Steel - earlier this year announced the loss of about 6,000 jobs, mostly in south Wales, in what appeared to be no more than a stay of execution for UK steel.

And in Luton last December, car workers at Vauxhall - previously thought to have some of the securest jobs in the industry - were shocked to learn that 2,000 of them would be laid off.

On one day last December a total of 3,500 job losses were announced across car manufacturing, textiles and shipbuilding in what GMB union secretary general John Edmonds described as "UK manufacturing's blackest week".

All told, about 100,000 jobs were lost in UK manufacturing last year.

Rise of the call centre

The decline of manufacturing has, of course, been offset by expansions elsewhere in the economy, principally in services.

Finance sector workers alone number one million - an increase of 280,000 in the past 20 years, according to finance workers union Unifi.

Mobile phone user outside a Vodafone store
Mobile telecoms has seen huge growth in the past few years
One reason for this is the prominence of London as a global financial centre.

Economic growth and development has also increased demand for financial services, with more UK adults having bank accounts, insurance policies and savings and pensions schemes than ever before.

Recent years have seen the emergence of call centres as major employers.

'Coalmines of the 21st century'

These remote service centres, which some damn as "the coalmines of the 21st century", employ about 420,000 workers, Unifi says.

From barely existing 10 years ago, they provide jobs for considerably more workers than coal, steel and car making put together.

Scotland alone has at least 40,000 call centre workers - more than the traditional local industries of oil and gas and fishing combined.

Some analysts are predicting another 100,000-plus call centre jobs will be created UK-wide in the next three years.

The rise in overall finance and service sector employment does, though, disguise some intra-sector changes.

Consolidation and increased competition among the main High Street banks and mortgage providers has led to substantial reductions in branch networks, with the loss of thousands of jobs.

Unifi, which traditionally drew the bulk of its members from bank branches, is now focusing recruitment on call centres.

Mobile telecoms revolution

Some of the biggest call centre employers have been mobile phone companies, which have themselves provided some of the most extraordinary business success stories of recent years.

Industries associated with information technology, software and computing have also expanded rapidly, providing many new jobs.

The outsourcing of call centres to developing countries - a phenomenon of the past two years - might limit any future growth in the UK in this area.

The government's goal of "full employment" could also be knocked off course by a range of other, more important, economic considerations.

But the transformation of the economy from traditional manufacturing to services is virtually complete.

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See also:

19 Aug 99 | The Economy
Boom-time for call centres
06 Dec 99 | Business
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07 Dec 99 | Business
Steel's proud tradition
06 Dec 99 | Business
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The fall of King Coal
06 Dec 99 | Business
Yards staying afloat
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