Shifting to “employerability”

Shifting to “employerability”

Clara Mascaro and Hamish Linehan discuss good work, health and “employerability”

Our work commonly sits within the intersections of different areas including health, employability, housing, and poverty. Considering issues at the point that they intersect with others can often shed light into ways to approach some of the more intractable challenges in policy and service provision. In the spirit of intersection, we have teamed up with Clara Mascaro, a former Rocket Scientist and current PhD student at the University of Edinburgh, to explore how considering employment and health alongside each other makes it clear that the quality of the job is paramount.

For me, this interest stems from our work with those who are unemployed and the services that offer support to them. People I’ve talked to have often commented on how their unemployment has contributed to their poor health, reduced life satisfaction and feelings of social exclusion. Their experiences are supported by an increasing body of literature that demonstrates how being in good employment can improve individual health and wellbeing and a growing understanding of ill health’s hidden economic cost.

In 2019, the UK government reported that 131 million working days were lost to sickness absences, and it was estimated that sickness and worklessness costs the UK economy approximately £100 billion annually. These findings are pertinent given that nearly a third (31%) of all working age people in the UK report a long-term health condition.

In addition, there is currently a significant gap between employment rates for those with disabilities (51.7%) and those without (81.7%).

As people live and work for longer, the number of those with a long-term health condition or disability both in and out of work is likely to increase. 

Helping people with long-term conditions and disabilities stay in work for longer or find employment can have a significant positive impact on both individuals and the wider economy. So far, the challenge seems simple: “there are a number of people who aren’t in work who would benefit from employment, so let’s get them into jobs!”.

However, we see the challenge as more nuanced than this. Evidence has shown that “bad work”  (low-paid, insecure, with low autonomy over tasks, resulting in low satisfaction) can actually have negative effects on a person’s health. This stands in contrast to the positive effects that good work (work that is well paid, secure, autonomous, with a good work life balance and opportunities to directly participate in organisational decisions) can have.

So, moving those with health conditions and disabilities into any job won’t guarantee individual and economic benefits – it may even exacerbate the problem. With this in mind we can reframe the challenge from: “How do we help those who are disabled or have long term health conditions stay in or find employment?” to “what can we do to make sure that the work that’s on offer is good quality?”.

When thought of in this way, we can see that both employers and employability services have a part to play in ensuring this challenge is met.

What can employers do?

The social model of disability states that people are disabled not by their impairments or health conditions, but by structural, environmental and attitudinal barriers in society. Adopting this perspective with regards to work and health puts more of an onus on employers to make workspaces more inclusive. Examples include making reasonable adjustments, job carving (tailoring jobs to make them suitable to specific workers), promoting flexible working practices and implementing accessible recruitment processes. However, employers – particularly smaller employers – often lack the knowledge or capacity to make these changes and need help to improve their ‘employerability’.

 A number of projects we work with are aiming to change this. We are currently working with the Department for Work and Pensions on their Challenge Fund– a multi-million pound fund that is looking at different approaches to keeping people in employment with MSK and mental health conditions through 19 test to learn initiatives. A number of these initiatives focus on the views, sense of responsibility, knowledge, skills and confidence of employers to increase their employerability. Traditionally, employers have been only passively involved in employability support programmes as the recipients of job seekers. These projects illustrate a welcome shift in the expectations placed on employers.

What can Employability Services do?

For employability services, adopting this perspective implies that it is crucial that services support jobseekers with a disability and/or health need to find a ‘good’ job that matches their skills and meets their health needs in a sustainable way. This requires flexible, personalised employability services and a shift away from what is referred to as a  “Work First” approach – ie aiming to place people into any employment as quickly as possible.

We have recently worked with a number of services who are doing just this – offering individualised support that is intended to move people with long-term health conditions into good work.  Through working with these services, we have been able to identify a number of key lessons that have contributed to their success. These include:

Service users’ needs and ambitions need to guide support. Good work will look different for everyone. In order to ensure that service users are moving towards what they feel is good work services need to align employment outcomes with their ambitions, skills, and health requirements. We have seen this be particularly effective when service staff work in collaboration with participants to identify and source a variety of different training and employment opportunities.

Health often intersects with other issues. We have found longstanding health problems can be both a cause and consequence of issues in other areas. Specifically, we have found that poor physical health and mental health can often intersect with issues such as insecure housing, poverty, and social isolation. Services can help respond to these intersecting issues by having well-trained specialist staff and strong referral links with relevant organisations.

Moving someone into employment is a first step. Often, moving someone into work is just the first step. When in work individuals may need to continually manage their health and, as discussed previously, workplaces made need to make active adjustments to accommodate individual need. Services need to provide users and employers with the skills and knowledge to manage their health conditions and adapt their work environment. In some instances, this will require that services provide ongoing support to help service users transition into work.

Managing expectations

While there are many steps that employers and employability services can take to ensure that good work is provided for those with disabilities and long-term conditions, it is also important to note that providing good work will not guarantee economic and individual benefits in all cases. There are, for instance, some health conditions and disabilities that will mean employment is not a feasible option for some people, a reality which employability services must navigate carefully.

Clara is a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh researching work-disability and social security in Germany and the UK, find out more about her work here: https://bit.ly/35qsj1z. Hamish is a consultant based in our Edinburgh office. For more information about anything discussed in this blog, please get in touch on 0131 226 4949. 

No one is hard to reach if we are doing it right – effective community engagement

No one is hard to reach if we are doing it right – effective community engagement

Clare Hammond explores the lessons we have learned at Rocket Science about what works when it comes to community engagement.

Government strategies, funders’ focus, and community need is all going in one direction – a growing emphasis on helping those who most need it. These groups come with a myriad of ‘titles’ such as multiple and complex needs, furthest from the labour market, and the hard to reach.

The typical service model goes – people turn up, you support them, they are better off for it. Sounds simple right? Perhaps not. As any staff involved in frontline delivery will tell you, engaging the right groups in the right numbers and in the right ways is extremely difficult. There are a wide range of complex and nuanced drivers for a lack of engagement that services need to navigate.

We recently completed a review of a Scottish Government fund that supported community-based programmes to take a new and more dignified approach to food poverty. We went in looking for evidence about whether the support provided by these projects was helping alleviate hunger, increase nutrition and reduce the stigma and indignity associated with food banks.

What we didn’t expect to find was how much these projects could teach all sectors about engaging people in services and support. The firm community development underpinning to these organisations created a wave of engagement and interest that projects were often struggling to keep up with. Many had even taken the next step and turned this engagement into extra capacity through volunteering and in-kind support, further building their services.

So, what were these projects doing so well? Based on this research and other projects we have worked on recently, we boiled it down to the following.

Their approach to targeting was not to target

Seems counterintuitive right? But projects that didn’t explicitly target the group they were seeking to reach often ended up doing a better job at reaching exactly that group.

Explicit targeting tends to single out and label individuals, usually negatively. Such labels are understandably unappealing and off-putting; driving away a lot of people in most need of support.

I can already hear commissioners and funders screaming – but what about additionally – won’t we end up helping those who didn’t really need it in the first place as well? Broadly, yes. Careful planning for how to do this is important here for this to be remotely sustainable. We suggest considering the following:

  • Will diversity help achieve better outcomes? Providing a space where people meet, who would otherwise not, can have positive repercussions on local community cohesion, and can create mutually beneficial relationships between people from different walks of life.
  • Can a non-targeted service or support act as a gateway into other more targeted support by building trusted relationships increasing the likelihood that those who need it go on to access other services?

     

    Blur the line between the helping and the helped

    This is based on the assets-based approach where everyone has something to offer. In addition, individuals usually want to offer something. No one wants to feel like a ‘charity case’. Too often well-intentioned programmes can alienate those they are trying to help, making them feel indebted to the service, and stripping away any dignity in being given support.

    It is easy for people to feel that there is a clear hierarchy of power within a project, where their role is firmly cemented as the ‘helped’, creating a feeling that they are different than the ‘helpers’. This tends to prevent people from feeling empowered and can entrench issues of negative self-image. Ultimately this makes the likelihood of sustained, long-term change slim.

    Creating more equitable power dynamics and opportunities for participants to help one another, particularly through informal volunteering opportunities, can reduce this feeling, and can even free up the capacity of busy staff. It can also combat mistrust issues that participants may have had previously with figures of authority.

    Enable disengagement and reengagement without fear of consequences

    Life can be unpredictable and chaotic, particularly for people dealing with complex, interconnected issues, such as mental ill-health, homelessness, unemployment and alcohol and drug use. This means that participants may fluctuate in their ability to engage with a service, or how useful that service can be to them. However, disengagement with a service does not mean that engagement up until that point has not been useful, or that they won’t be ready to benefit from it again in the future. The option of reengaging can give people a safety net, and help them to feel that, following a setback, all is not lost. It also enables participants to only be part of a project when they are able to really get something out of it, which may actually produce savings to a project in the long run.

    Provide meaningful activities with skills learning

    A key to effective community engagement is for people to see the value in it. No one wants to be a part of something that they feel is a waste of their time. Any community project needs to think very carefully about the activities and approaches used, and how to label them in a way that makes them appealing to be a part of. Understanding the local context, including the local service landscape and where there are gaps, as well as specific local issues, is an essential part of this. It is important not to make assumptions about what it is people want or need, but to instead ask them what they would like.

    Understand that establishing reputation takes time and investment

    Community engagement does not happen overnight. It is likely to take time and sustained effort to establish trust within a community and is an ongoing process. Even well-established projects are at constant risk of becoming out of touch with communities or suffering from a lack of promotion.

    Clare is an Associate Director in our Edinburgh Office. For more information on our community engagement and evaluation work get in touch on 0131 226 4949 or [email protected]

    What makes a good outcomes framework?

    What makes a good outcomes framework?

    Cristiana Orlando and Clare Hammond reflect on what makes an outcomes framework work

    A fundamental must do across public and third sector organisations is to be able to understand and evidence the change you are creating. Measuring outcomes is the bread and butter of organisations, and certainly the area of focus of a large portion of our work here at Rocket Science.

    There is a huge range of complexities to bear in mind when measuring your outcomes for example:

    • Making sure you are measuring the right things – as you tend to do what you measure
    • Trying to articulate impact on soft and often intangible changes you are seeing in those you work with
    • Tracking long term impact so that you can report on impacts achieved after your work with an individual or community finishes.

    However, the complexity we want to focus on in today’s blog is around how to coordinate impact measurement. For example, where Scotland-wide reporting is required, but activity and impact is occurring across 32 local organisations or partnerships. Scotland’s (and many other jurisdictions’) answer to this is to have a national outcomes’ framework. There are frameworks for community justice, mental health, alcohol and drug, social care etc – all seeking to build a comprehensive picture of impact at a national scale.

    A framework has to let partners do their own thing but measure impact with consistency

    The purpose of these frameworks is to enable a range of partners to do their own thing, but track progress, change and impact in a way that enables success to be aggregated, and in some situations compared.

    An unused framework is a pointless framework

    For a framework to be useful it has to be consistently applied and applicable for the vast majority of partners. More importantly a framework has to be used to be helpful.

    We are all very good at creating amazing and theoretically perfect frameworks that are:

    • Impossible to lower onto delivery on the ground – if it doesn’t enable local partners to tell a story that makes sense to them it is difficult to use the framework in practice.
    • Not useful to those completing the data – if it isn’t useful to them then why divert already stretched staff time using it?

       

      In our experience of reviewing and developing outcomes framework across the social care, health, employability, community justice, and housing and homelessness we have learned that there are several good practice elements that make a framework work:

      • A good outcomes framework is concise, clear, and consistent in structure and content. Keep outcome titles short but with clear instructions on how to interpret and measure them. Keep the number of outcomes to the minimum needed. Be clear about the aim of the framework, how outcomes link together and be open about the strengths and challenges of the framework
      • Avoid obsolescence through being too vague. There is a tendency to keep outcomes very high level to ensure it is flexible and applicable for partners doing very different things. Being too vague runs the risk that the information becomes meaningless as it tries to be all things to all people
      • Create a framework that is easy to collect data Conducting feasibility testing beforehand, ensuring the framework is co-produced involving all partners, and providing guidance on the use of proxy data are three ways to mitigate the risk of including unfeasible outcomes or indicators.
      • When an outcomes framework is used across localities, it is important to balance national and local priorities. Create a clear link between national objectives and local needs by providing a breakdown of the framework’s aims at both levels. This helps partners have clarity around how they fit into the bigger picture and facilitates the collection of meaningful data locally.
      • Lastly, good frameworks are closely aligned to the way business is done already. The closer the alignment the easier it is to integrate into day to day activities and greater chance of staff buying into its value

      Outcomes frameworks are a powerful tool, but striking the balance between comprehensiveness, consistency and simplicity can be a tricky process.

       

      Clare Hammond is an Associate Director and Cristiana is a consultant in our Edinburgh Office. For more information on our outcomes frameworks and evaluation work please get in touch with the Edinburgh Office on 0131 226 4949 or [email protected]

      When is a distance travelled tool a bad idea?

      When is a distance travelled tool a bad idea?

      When is a distance travelled tool a bad idea? Clare Hammond explores when and how to use distance travelled tools

      Distance travelled tools are a popular way of understanding the progression someone has made through a service. They are almost a standard part of any funder or commissioner’s monitoring ask and certainly feature heavily in evaluations and impact measurement.

      But when is using a distance travelled tool a really bad idea?

      The issue is that needs assessment and distance travelled tools can be seen as the same thing by funders, commissioners, service managers and others.

      So, what is the difference?

      • Distance travelled tools are ways of understanding the progress an individual has made. They are particularly useful when assessing the growth in an individual’s knowledge or tracking a single outcome
      • Needs assessment tools are used by practitioners to identify needs and target interventions as part of their case management role.

      Needs assessment tools are a vital part of providing holistic and person-centred support as they allow the practitioner to work through with the participant the various elements of their lives and identify the participant’s worries and needs. They tend to consider a wide variety of aspects of an individual’s life such as health, housing, relationships, employment and addiction.

      It is common for practitioners to use these tools regularly throughout their engagement with a participant in order to understand the changing priorities for support.

      For this reason, it can be easy to see how they could also be used to track an individual’s progression. If housing was scoring as a high area of concern and then after six weeks the concern level is significantly lower, then it could be reasonable to expect that this could be an impact of the programme.

      However, needs assessment tools make terrible measures of distance travelled. They can provide a distorted and confused picture of progression for two main reasons:

      1. Progression is not a linear pathway – particularly for participants with chaotic lives – and can be distorted by how individual’s feel on a particular day. Recovery or improvement is never linear and variations in scores can be misleading when considering overall progress

       

      2. Needs assessment tools can ask individuals how they feel (on a scale) on a wide range of broad issues such as employability, housing, and relationships. Practitioners quite rightly expect to see the figures on the scale to increase and decrease for reasons other than progress or regression. For example:

      • An individual may be focused on managing their addiction, so housing and relationship issues are likely to score low. Once the addiction is better managed, the focus of the individual may turn to their relationships and housing.
      • Initial scores may appear ok when individuals do not yet trust the practitioner they are working with. As the trust and relationship builds between the practitioner and participant, the individual may feel more comfortable expressing unhappiness with parts of their lives.
      • Not knowing what you don’t know can distort initial results. A participant may be happy with their housing situation initially, but as they build their self-esteem they can start to feel they deserve better. Or they can gain a better insight into  their rights when it comes to housing and they can recognise that their housing situation is unhealthy and not good enough.

      In all these situations, it would be reasonable to expect to see scores worsen over time as the individual has the space to think about these areas, the trust in the practitioner to open up about what is concerning them, and the knowledge and self-esteem to know they deserve better.

      There are two key differences between distance travelled tools and needs assessments to consider when working out how to measure impact:

      • Distance travelled tools should be used to test knowledge, understanding and confidence rather than feelings to avoid being distorted by a client’s feelings on a particular day
      • Distance travelled tools need to be focused and specific in what they are asking – broad questions like, ‘How are you feeling about your housing situation?’ should be reserved for needs assessment tools as they are useful questions to open up conversations about need.

      So, when working out how to measure progress – beware!  What can appear to be a distance travelled tool may not provide you want you are looking for.

       

      Until next time, Clare 

      Clare is an Associate Director at Rocket Science who specialises in health and social care with expertise in understanding impact and conducting evaluations. To discuss anything further please get in touch at [email protected] of 0131 226 4949

      Three Rocket Scientists talk about what it’s like to work at Rocket Science

      Three Rocket Scientists talk about what it’s like to work at Rocket Science

      Three Rocket Scientists give an insight into their day-to-day work 

      Cristiana Orlando, Research Intern

      Looking back to when I first started as an Research Intern in September 2018, it’s incredible how much I have learned in the span of six short months. I had just graduated from the University of Oxford with an MSc in Comparative Social Policy and I applied to the internship thinking it would be a great opportunity to dip my toes in the worlds of public policy and social justice. I can now say it’s been a lot more than that – from day one I have been working on tasks ranging from interviews with service managers and directors of health boards, to presenting to clients and writing our final reports. I have had the opportunity to work on a variety of projects including health and social care, criminal justice, and employability. During my time at Rocket Science, I have not only developed a wide set of skills, but I have also felt valued and that my work was having a genuine impact on both services and people.

      Max Lohnert, Consultant

      Much of what I do now as a Consultant was uncharted territory for me when I joined the Rocket Science team in Edinburgh as Research Intern in October 2017 after completing my MSc in the Psychology of Mental at the University of Edinburgh. Since then, every week has been filled with different activities for a range of projects across different sectors: ranging from doing fieldwork with vulnerable young people on employability programmes, large-scale survey analyses, all the way to conducting workshops with health service providers. Not only have I been supported through training and mentoring to develop a wide range skills, but our culturally flat structure means that there is much room for me bring my own ideas to the table and to develop my own areas of interest.

      Charlotte Wu, Senior Consultant

      I can honestly say that no day at Rocket Science is the same – we are always working on a revolving range of projects for a wide range of clients, which means we’re always getting to learn about new social issues and meet new people! There also isn’t a typical ‘Rocket Scientist’ – we have people from both humanities and sciences backgrounds (my BA was in English and MPhil in Gender Studies) and that variety helps us bring an interesting array of skills, interests and perspectives to any project. The thing that we all have in common is a commitment to supporting social change and fairness, and helping organisations to strengthen and demonstrate their impact.

      I also appreciate that while it’s a busy and fast-paced working environment, Rocket Science is encouraging of us pursuing development (both professionally and outside the company) and work-life balance. I actually started at the organisation back in 2013 as a Consultant and decided I wanted to go back to studying, so went away and did a PhD in Global Health Humanities, freelancing for Rocket Science part-time, and then joined again full time in November 2018 as a Senior Consultant. The different ways that I’ve worked for Rocket Science over the years, which have changed with my own circumstances, is an example of the willingness to be flexible around individual staff members’ needs that I really appreciate and value.

       

      See for more information about the open positions in Edinburgh or contact Clare Hammond for an informal chat on 0131 226 4949 or [email protected].