Covid, Coffee and Catchup – join in the conversation!

Covid, Coffee and Catchup – join in the conversation!

Over the past month, we have been holding informal discussions with employment leads in Local Authorities, providers and funders to think about what employment support responses are needed as we move from crisis to recovery.  We have done some thinking about the need for greater coherence locally and the role local authorities can play as well as re-thinking what employment services need to look like.

We have produced a guide for local authorities on what they should be looking out for and their planning over the next six to twelve months and produced a note of our last discussions which you can access here.

 

We are here to help and facilitate conversations and sharing ideas. 

If you want to join in contact [email protected]

The next session is on the 6th May 2020 at 11.00 and every other Wednesday at the same time.

Look forward to meeting you!

 

Caroline is an Associate Director at Rocket Science based in our London office.  You can check out her profile here.
What is the new normal for labour markets?

What is the new normal for labour markets?

In the employability world we like to be temperate in our language, but Covid-19 makes a mockery of this.  The impact on employment will be huge and long-lasting and many lives will be blighted and scarred – some of them forever. So the impact of Covid-19 will dominate the work we do for the foreseeable future. The DWP has done a remarkable job in managing the demand for UC registration, but as we emerge from the emergency planning phase, what lies in store?

What it is possible and appropriate to do locally will depend on the national response, and there are big national differences here.  In Scotland Fair Start Scotland is a major source of support in every area and the Scottish Government is using it to explore how to create more locally appropriate and collaborative approaches, drawing on the skills, expertise and capacity of a range of local partners – in effect it has become a local programme.  In England the Work and Health Programme has become peripheral – important to its clients but marginal in terms of money, and lacking any ability to influence more collaborative local approaches – so local partners have needed to step into this breach.  

If there is to be a scaled up national approach it is vital that it is sensitive to local differences and finds a way to build on and support local assets and collaborative approaches.  If this isn’t done there is a real risk that carefully nurtured local approaches, resources and capacity could be damaged. This will help neither clients nor the Government.

Ironically, we entered this extraordinary period with perhaps the healthiest ratio between local service capacity and need that we have had for a long time – resources have been shrinking but at a slower pace than unemployment.  Now it is all change, and it will be important for local partnerships to find ways to make the best use of the capacity of the whole structure of local employability support in an organised way.

It is possible to envisage a number of stages as the situation unfolds:

  • In the short term there will be a need to provide a transformed scale of support locally with a focus on resilience, mental health, and tackling money management and debt issues. Responding to a massive increase in demand will require services which can respond to the very different profile of this demand – in other words there will be a need for substantial and rapid triage and referral to the full range of existing support in an agreed and organised way.
  • There are jobs available in the short term – through turnover and the specific demands in logistics/delivery, health and social care and large scale retail and many will find these appealing as at least a stop gap (with health and social care in particular offering a range of longer term careers).
  • We need to identify those more vulnerable to long term unemployment, with a particular focus on young people emerging from school and college. The DWP’s own research has identified a range of indicators which help to pinpoint those at greater risk of long-term unemployment – while this it is not perfect, it is good enough for times like these.
  • In putting in place a short term response it will be important not to dilute the value of services which are currently targeted on those further from work, those with disabilities and health conditions. These will remain priority clients and they are likely to find it even harder to find or stay in work. We don’t want to overwhelm these services with those who are newly redundant.
  • We are facing a much looser labour market for a long period, so it will be important to help people maintain work-like routines and engagement, and use the time to enhance their skillsor to retrain into areas that are likely to emerge strongly from the recession.
  • Employers will be able to take the pick of the bunch, and if the last recession provides a model many skilled and experienced people will take jobs well below the level they would normally work at, so squeezing out more appropriate recruits – and exacerbating the availability of jobs for less qualified people. Local approaches can help 

 

employers to take on a more balanced workforce which will include those who will find it harder to find work and are at risk of very long-term unemployment. This will bring significant benefits in terms of loyalty and sustainable workforces.

  • In the medium term, in each area we will need to reconfigure the whole infrastructure of support, so that it can respond to the different needs of specific client groups and make effective connections with different employment sectors as they recover at different speeds.
  • The depth of the recession and the scale of business failure may create opportunities for significant business start-up – perhaps associated with rapid growth. Our work with the FSB has revealed the extent to which small businesses tend to under-recruit, so there is real scope to ensure that they don’t and that they feel comfortable to grow through recruitment, mainly by putting skilled HR specialists alongside the business development process.

Out of this assessment emerge five touchstones for success:

  • The futures of those who are unemployed are intertwined with the futures of employers as they emerge from the recession. There is a need to align business growth support and employability support to ensure that growing businesses are not under-recruiting, and that people have the right skills at the right time
  • It is important to take a whole system approach in each area – what is our joint capacity, who has the specialist skills for particular groups and needs, how can we collaborate on a system wide triage and referral approach to reduce the load on JCP and make the best use of the capacity we have?
  • Related to this, national investment needs to support strongly collaborative local approaches – aligned to local issues and employment profiles. The way that national investment is played out can ensure that it builds on this and creates a local infrastructure that will stand us in good stead for many years – or severely damage it by overwhelming it with a large national programme.
  • There is a need to ensure that services are carefully disaggregated in terms of their provision of specialist help – for young people, for people with disabilities, for those most at risk of long term unemployment, and for those with health conditions – and it will be important to ensure that eligibility for these is not relaxed.
  • These approaches will need to be underpinned by much more accurate and sensitive local labour market intelligence. This needs to draw on the army of those engaged with employers to understand current and emerging needs, and the wide range of insights emerging about the most affected sectors and business types and how they may emerge during the recovery phase, and ensure that this information is transformed into useful intelligence for local training providers and employability organisations.

There is no reason why we can’t do this. There is a huge reservoir of knowledge, insight and skills around employability across the UK. A carefully phased, disaggregated approach, built on high quality intelligence and integrated business development and employability approaches – locally designed and implemented – will help to accelerate the route out of recession. The impact of Covid-19 may not lend itself to temperate language, but we can put in place a carefully planned and balanced response that can create a world class infrastructure for the future. 

Richard is a Founder and Director at Rocket Science based in our Edinburgh office.  You can check out his profile here.

Youth in the time of COVID-19: How is the pandemic impacting under 25s?

Youth in the time of COVID-19: How is the pandemic impacting under 25s?

Rocket Science’s training and support for young peer researchers has been an effective method for exploring this cohort’s needs. As the current pandemic causes fundamental shifts in day-to-day life across society, Dina Papamichael examines the current and potential impacts of COVID-19 for those under 25.

Rocket Science’s engagement with young people has shown the unique pressures they face relating to career success, mental health and social media. COVID-19 has disrupted day-to-day life for young people who must now access education and training online; are confronted with insecurity in future employment; and face an indefinite period indoors without their usual connections or routines.

Young people face uncertainty about their education and career prospects

Rocket Science’s pre-COVID-19 research with over 200 young people in one London borough showed that ‘doing well in school or exams’ and ‘getting a job or having a successful career’ were the most frequent areas of worry for 16-25 year olds. The current pandemic is likely to have increased these worries as education provision is shut down (or moved online), workplaces are closed, and recruitment is frozen across sectors. Beyond these immediate impacts, young people face uncertain futures while headlines warn of global recession resulting from COVID-19. Seven in ten 18 to 24 year olds now worry that the coronavirus will harm the job market and cause higher unemployment for a long time [1].

An April 2020 IFS study has highlighted that the current lockdown will hit young workers the hardest:  Employees aged under 25 are about two and a half times more likely to work in a sector that has now shut down (such as non-food retail or hotels) when compared to other employees, with young people who are not living with parents left particularly vulnerable through lost employment. Some at school or college are concerned that their hard work will go to waste as they are not able to sit exams, while others may experience relief from being able to avoid a stressful exam period [2]. There will be disruptions to graduate employment with many employers now reporting that they will be recruiting fewer entry-level employees as a result of COVID-19 [3].

Social distancing has disrupted regular social engagement and routines

Young people are being asked to stay at home for the foreseeable future, and while 83% of over 65s feel positive about their living situation at this time, only 56% of 18-24 year olds feel this way [4]. In an open letter to the Government, several youth organisations have outlined concern that despite the best efforts of youth organisations, young people at present do not have access to the range of sports, arts and social activities that they would usually have through youth services [5]. While many young people are staying connected through social media and video calling apps, not all youth have digital access, and this can leave the most vulnerable further isolated [6].

Rocket Science’s recent youth consultation demonstrated that 16-25 year olds do not generally see social media as having a negative impact on their lives. They described growing up with social media and feelings of knowing how to safely navigate online spaces. Despite this, over half of young people stated that they would want to spend less time on social mediaWhile social distancing measures are enforced, young people face unlimited screen time as their phones become their primary method of staying connected. In this context, young people are being advised to limit time spent checking the news and ensure that they are following positive online content to prevent low mood [7].

Existing mental health needs will likely be exacerbated in the current climate, but support is available

Mental health issues amongst young people are prevalent: one in 10 primary school children, one in seven 11-16 year olds, and one in six 17 to 19 year olds experience mental health difficulties in the UK [8]. Many young people with existing mental health issues including (but not limited to) anxiety, depression, a panic disorder or eating disorder are likely to find the current pandemic particularly challenging. While access to face-to-face mental health support is limited, a range of online chat or text support services are available including The Mix, Shout and Beat Eating Disorders.

Young people are well equipped to navigate online spaces; however, it will be essential that services extend their offer to those who have previously relied on in-person support. Boosted funding to online support services will be important in light of increasing demand – for example, Beat Eating Disorders has reported a 30% increase in use of their services during the current crisis. Charities and funders have been quick to collaborate and respond to the crisis – for example, UK Youth have released a range of resources, #iwill are inviting organisations to share information about their responses to the pandemic and the London Community Response Fund has been made available to support organisations responding to the needs of communities affected by the current crisis.

How can youth organisations successfully adapt during the current pandemic?

Youth organisations can adopt a range of approaches to best meet the needs of under 25s during and after COVID-19 including:

  • Moving face-to-face services online utilising the apps and software that young people are comfortable accessing, ensuring appropriate safeguarding arrangements are in place
  • Promoting and facilitating peer support (particularly in light of increased demand for services and limits to youth worker staff capacity)
  • Collating and sharing updated resources as they become available (for example, government guidelines or advice on wellbeing)
  • Engaging directly with and empowering young people to co-design adapted youth services and content
  • Providing additional support in translating policies that will impact young people into language that is easy to understand, for example benefit changes and legislation relating to housing
  • Encouraging the use of this time for skills development, for example promoting online learning opportunities and providing templates for young people to plan their next career steps
  • Gathering feedback and recording learning points throughout this period to support post-COVID-19 service improvements, for example around the types of online content most frequently sought by young people and the extent to which face-to-face services can be effectively provided online.

Dina is a Senior Consultant at Rocket Science. For more info about our research with young people, please get in touch at [email protected]

Sources (linked):

 

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. 

Three words that could transform the employment and skills system

Three words that could transform the employment and skills system

Yes, just three words but you’ll have to read on to find out why.

 

My interest in employment and skills spans three decades. I have seen policies and programmes come and go, employment go up and down and the provider market wax and wane in response. 

The issues we are facing today are the same issues we faced twenty years ago – apprenticeship take-up, long-term youth unemployment, lack of access to quality careers advice and guidance for all ages.   The difference is that the economic and operating context is constantly changing and will continue do so, and at a faster pace than we could ever have imagined, meaning our responses need also need to keep pace.

Reflecting on our experience of reviewing employment and skills programmes, designing local plans and consulting on future need, I have returned to the conclusion I made a long time ago, that we need to reboot the employment and skills system.  Easier said than done? Well, maybe, but I think it could be done a lot easier now than five or ten years ago.

What is out there?

One of the main tasks of any employment and skills review is understanding ‘what is out there’.  All the clients I have worked with have found the complexity and messiness of employment and skills provision in their area impossible to understand.  There is so much ‘out there’, commissioned in different ways, funded by different organisations and aiming to work with different groups of people and employers in different ways. You could waste a whole year trying to understand who is delivering what to whom, when, where and why in a local place and still not have a complete picture.  

To help a client understand their place in the employment and skills ecology, we mapped European Social Fund (ESF) funded provision in a London borough and created what has become fondly known as the ‘map of messiness’

Tracing information through various sites including Department of Work and Pensions, Skills Funding Agency, Building Better Opportunities Fund and through provider and tender announcements, we were able to identify what was being provided where and for whom.  We tracked which provider held different contracts in the borough and the Contract Package Area as a whole.  But it was not easy and took a long time.

Although the client knew what had been commissioned within its own boundaries, we identified that over £2 million of funding through 12 programmes, had been commissioned to deliver employment and skills services in the borough that they were not aware of. This in a borough where there was already little investment in comparison to other places in London.  Imagine what this picture would like if you added all the various programmes and funding in a borough and multiplied this by 32 to try and get a picture of London-wide investment?

 

 

This lack of knowledge of what is being delivered locally I believe, is the major factor in the duplication of services, time and effort and waste of resources in the employment and skills system. It is so difficult for professionals to navigate, never mind a Londoner!

Is it making any difference?

The second challenge clients face is understanding ‘what impact are all these programmes having?’ are they really helping people get into sustainable employment or giving people of any age the skills and qualifications needed to thrive in the labour market? The answer is a definite ‘who knows’!  Individual programmes are evaluated (sometimes) yet this complex picture of different investment and approaches makes it impossible to understand if the provision is being used in the first place, the quality of what is being offered and if it is reaching the people it was intending too – never mind the collective impact of funding in improving the employment opportunities in places.  How can we tell if £2 million of funding commissioned by six different funders in 12 different programmes is making a difference?

Rocket Science is currently working with the Greater London Authority to consult on the development of the Skills and Employment Knowledge Hub, an ambition set out in the Mayor of London’s Skills for Londoners’ Strategy.

We are coming to the end of our initial scoping and consultation phase and what is clear is the overwhelming need for data and intelligence on what is already out there.

Transformation needs to start by democratising data and information about what is out there by compelling commissioners to publish accessible and usable data on what they have commissioned.   

Three words?

The three words that I believe can start to transform the employment and skills system? OPEN DATA STANDARDA standard that is within the gift of commissioners to sign up to and provide transparent, usable data and intelligence on what they are funding.

Just five years ago 360 Giving was formed. in response to improving the transparency of funding information ie who was being funded, by whom, where and for what purpose to reduce duplication and better target the needs of communities.  Using an Open Data Standard,360 Giving now have 109 Funders signed up  providing information on over 300,000 grants. 

I believe we need a 360Giving equivalent for employment and skills to help us understand what is out there, reduce duplication and better target need. Otherwise how can we possibly transform what we do not know into an employment and skills system fit for the future?

For more information about the consultation contact [email protected].  There are still places for our final consultation workshop on the 10th July 2019 in SE1 – get in touch if you would like to book a place!

 

 

Caroline is an Associate Director at Rocket Science based in our London office.  You can check out her profile here.
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]