UK’s first major innovation partnership focused on using new technologies to improve workers’ pay, prospects and power .
The Resolution Foundation has brought together leading charitable foundations and social investors to launch The Workertech Partnership – the UK’s first-ever innovation programme to support social entrepreneurs and start-ups focused on improving conditions and career paths for workers stuck in low-paid and precarious employment.
The £1.3 million partnership opens today (Tuesday) for applications from those with plans to build worker-focused platforms, apps and online tools – from accessing training, to amplifying workers’ voices and assessing whether work sites are covid-secure.
Workertech is backed by Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Friends Provident Foundation, Accenture, Ufi VocTech Trust and Trust for London.
The Foundation says that finding ways of using new technology to improve working conditions has never been more important. While technology is already transforming the world of work – from app-based firms to the roll-out of remote workplaces – these technologies often end up pushing risk onto insecure workers, or targeting only higher-paid white collar roles.
However, the Covid-induced jobs crisis has exposed major problems at the lower-paid and insecure end of the UK labour market.
Resolution Foundation research has shown that around three-in-ten 18-24 year olds, low paid workers and people on insecure contracts who were employed pre-crisis are either out of work, furloughed or have had their pay or hours cut due to coronavirus – compared one-in-six workers across the workforce as a whole.
The Foundation says that Government policy must play a key role in addressing these problems – whether through a higher minimum wage, investment in training, or stronger enforcement of labour market regulations.
However, it is equally important that workers themselves feel empowered to secure changes – whether through better information about pay and conditions, creating innovative ways of accessing skills that help them secure a career path into higher paid work, or via new ways of getting their collective voice heard. Workertech will back innovative ideas that help achieve these aims.
Workertech – the first partnership of its kind in the UK – will provide seed funding and access to the networks and labour market knowledge of both the Resolution Foundation and its partners, including Bethnal Green Ventures’ successful Tech for Good accelerator programme.
In addition, the programme will build a broad coalition of organisations supporting worker-based innovation in the UK – the kind of which is already growing fast in the US – spanning unions, social investors, charities and businesses.
The new programme builds on a successful pilot scheme, led by Resolution Foundation, which has already supported ventures that have helped hundreds of thousands of workers.
These include Organise – an online petitioning platform that has won multiple improvements to pay, rights and conditions at work – and Earwig – a new online venture aimed at improving conditions for construction workers.
Louise Marston, Director of Ventures at Resolution Foundation, said:
Technology is changing the world of work rapidly. But too often that change is being driven with only the needs of firms in mind, and sometimes to the detriment of workers at the sharp end of the labour market.
If the Covid crisis has taught us anything it’s the urgent need to find new ways of supporting insecure workers. That’s why we have brought together this pioneering coalition of leading charitable foundations and social investors to launch workertech – the UK’s first worker-focused innovation fund.
We are backing those focused on building workers’ skills and employability, improving their pay and conditions, and raising their collective voice. We want to work with civil society – including unions, businesses and charities – to shape a fairer post-Covid labour market with higher wages, better working conditions, and more routes out of low-paid work.