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]

    There is more to gain from employment than income

    There is more to gain from employment than income

    In the final of a three-part blog series on employability and mental health, Max Lohnert looks at what mental health services gain from integrating employability into their service provision

    Employment can have a positive impact on people’s mental health and wellbeing. A recent study has found that people’s wellbeing is higher if they have a job than not – even if controlled for their increased income. In the past two blogs, we have discussed mental health in the context of employability, now we explore employability in the context of mental health services.

    So, what can mental health services gain from integrating employability into their service provision? And what has been happening in this area?

    Many mental health services are now conceptualising their services using a recovery journey, similar to the concept that underpins many alcohol and drug services. Recognising the role that work can play in people’s recovery, Glasgow’s Health and Social Care Partnership funds a range of employability services for those with health and social care barriers to employment, including mental health. These services see employability as part of a recovery journey.

    During our evaluation of their employability services, we got to know Mental Health Employability Services across all stages of the employability pipeline. These started with pre-employability services providing clients who are not job-ready with the opportunity for “meaningful activity”.

    At the other end of the journey was the provision of Individual Placement and Support (IPS) schemes where people receive individualised support to gain competitive employment. IPS schemes challenge the assumption that competitive employment is too stressful for people with mental health problems. Instead, building on the insight that someone’s desire to work is a strong predictor of success in achieving and sustaining employment, they work with everyone that is motivated and committed to move into work. Access to IPS support is now available as part of the national Fair Start Scotland service.

     Bringing people into positive destinations, volunteering or employment, was also the goal of a recovery service of the Scottish Association for Mental Health which we evaluated recently.

    During our research, participants of the programme emphasised how important it was for their recovery, and for managing their mental health, to fill the void that their addiction has left behind. For many of these participants, working towards employment, no matter how far away employment was, played an important role in filling this void.

    While moving into employment can itself be stressful, there is more to gain from employment than income: a structure to their everyday life, meaningful activities as well as social connections and support. The extent to which this works of course depends on the quality of work that people move into.

    There is a considerable evidence of the negative effects of social isolation on people’s physical and mental health, for example, social isolation increasing the likelihood of depression. The importance for everyone to have meaningful connections is now high on the political agenda: in December last year Scotland published its first national strategy – “A Connected Scotland” – on tackling social isolation and loneliness and building stronger social connections. The Strategy outlines the importance of empowering communities, tackling stigma, and of supporting an infrastructure and providing opportunities for people to connect.

    Our work has shown that for people in recovery – for example previous drug users who had to leave their previous networks of active users – work or volunteering can be an opportunity to re-build their social networks. Employment can make a meaningful contribution to keeping people’s social isolation in check and can play a vital role in their recovery.

    While we have seen employability services integrating mental health support elements into their programmes and mental health services employability elements, there is still more scope for organisations to align their service offer, share resources, and provide coordinated care. We are excited to be working alongside our clients to help them ensure that both mental health and employability clients receive the right type of support at the right time.

     

     

    Max Lohnert is a Consultant in Rocket Science’s Edinburgh Office.

    This blog is part of a wider series of blogs on the intersection between employability and mental health.

    There is more to gain from employment than income

    How employability providers are adapting to the mental health challenge

    In this second of a three-part blog series on employability and mental health, Max Lohnert talks through four lessons of how employability providers are adapting to the mental health challenge 

    With a growing focus on mental health within employability services, how have providers adapted their service offer? What options do they have for developing their services, ensuring that they are sensitive and responsive to the needs of people experiencing mental health problems?

    We have identified four lessons from our recent work with employability programmes.

    Lesson One: Success comes when mental health and employability issues are addressed together

    The importance of people with (mental) health problems receiving additional support when moving into work is part and parcel of No One Left Behind, Scotland’s latest employability strategy. The Strategy emphasises how crucial an inter-agency approach is to enabling people with multiple barriers, including mental health, move into employment.

    EmployabiliTAY, one of the Scottish Government’s Employability Innovation and Integration Fund’s pilots which we have been evaluating, has done exactly that: integrating their employability service with housing, criminal justice, money advice and mental health services. One session of the three-week programme is led by an NHS Mental Health Nurse – here, the focus is not on treating clients’ mental health problems per se, but on making clients aware about how their lifestyle choices, such as their sleep or eating habits, affect their mental health and wellbeing. The programme also has Growth Mindset specialists delivering a session focusing on changing clients’ negative self-image and growing their confidence.

    Lesson Two: Staff roles and skills need to be broader than they were in the past 

    For services to support mental health and employability together, the traditional skills found in employability staff need to widen. Many services are addressing this by having mental health experts and employability experts work side by side. However, even where this is occurring, there is an increasing recognition of the need for all employability service staff (and their volunteers) to have a core set of skills in relation to mental health. This means that, while not all staff are treating mental health issues, they are all able to identify issues, signpost, and tailor their support to their particular needs.

    The importance of this was recognised by NHS Education Scotland who launched the National Trauma Training Framework in 2017. This recognised the need for all public services to be ‘trauma informed’: that is, recognising the impact of trauma on their service users and adapting their practices accordingly by establishing trusting relationships with clients and resist re-traumatisation.

     

    Our training needs assessment for NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde showed that staff members across a range of services feel that they have a good understanding of what trauma is but would value more training to build their confidence in using trauma informed practice as a core part of their services.

    A youth employability programme we are currently evaluating recognised the high prevalence of mental health issues among their young participants. In response, mentors have received a one-day training on how to work with and support young people experiencing mental health problems. This ensures that they can identify mental health problems early on and engage with young people sensitively.

    Lesson Three: Supporting someone into employment is only part of the job – ongoing support to manage mental health is required to ensure retention and progression in work

    Our work has shown that moving into work is only a first step. Sustaining work can be at least as challenging as moving into employment. EmployabiliTAY ensures that mental health support continues when clients move into work. Participants are able to continue to meet with the NHS Mental Health Nurse if moving into work leads, for example, to increased stress and a resurgence in their anxiety.

    Lesson Four: Mental health is a key reason why individuals leave employment. They need quick access to support to prevent them from falling out of work in the first place

    Health problems, including mental health problems, are one of the major reasons for people dropping out of work. This has long been recognised through programmes such as Healthy Working Lives in Scotland. Recently steps have been taken to try to make it easier to know where to go for help for those struggling in work.

    The Scottish Government’s Health and Work Support Pilot is an example of this. It focuses on providing quick access to support for clients who are at risk of losing their job or have recently left their job due to ill health. The Pilot aims to streamline the service landscape by bringing together work- and health-related services and providing clients with a single-entry point to access the support that they need, preventing people from falling out of work and becoming long-term unemployed.

    There are a growing number of programmes across the UK working at this intersection between mental health and work, and it is exciting to see this spread and lessons being learnt and applied.

    Stay tuned for the next blog in this series where we explore how mental health services have sought to include employability as part of the recovery journey.

     

    Max Lohnert is a Consultant in Rocket Science’s Edinburgh Office.

    This blog is part of a wider series of blogs on the intersection between employability and mental health.

    News: Consultation opens for new GLA Skills & Employment Knowledge Hub

    London and the UK are experiencing a serious skills-to-jobs mismatch, and the gap is getting wider. In the last year, nearly 90% of UK employers struggled to recruit staff with the right skills. London in particular faces a rapidly ageing population, EU workers leaving – or not coming – and barriers to learning and employment amongst vulnerable groups.

    The jobs do exist; as noted above, many go unfilled while other employers are having to hire people not ready or suited for the work, causing instability for employer and employee. In many cases, the mismatch is about understanding which skills are – and will be – needed, and about access to relevant courses and in-work training.

    Local services across all sectors are best placed to connect employers and jobseekers, but London needs a city-wide pool of information on skills and workforce trends, on how to access training and on how to find – and develop – a ready-for-work labour force.

    To help, the Mayor of London’s Skills for Londoners Strategy and ensuing Framework proposed a new Skills and Employment Knowledge Hub, which would draw on the world-class data in the London Datastore, connect to relevant networks, and learn from previous efforts. The Hub’s aim is to provide information in an accessible form to help policymakers, skills providers, employers and learners make informed decisions about employment, skills and the economy.

    User input is key to making the new service work well. To gather views on how the Hub can be most useful for policymakers, employers, training providers and learners, the GLA is partnering with consultancy Rocket Science, cross-sector network Future of London and the Employment Related Services Association.

    In May and June, Future of London, ERSA and Rocket Science are running workshops and online consultations to seek input from stakeholders across Greater London, exploring likely connections, alternatives in and beyond the UK, and ways to make the Knowledge Hub sustainable.

    Questions will include experience of current skills and services information; what key groups need from a city-wide hub and how they want it to work. The hub is not designed to be a recruiting or jobseeker service, but should help learners and employers come together with better skills matches and training and employment signposting.

    For more information, please download the attached briefing note.

    If you or your organisation would like to contribute to the online consultation, please click this link. Your answers will be anonymised.

    If you would like to register for one of the consultation workshops, please email [email protected] 

    The dates and locations are listed below:

    Providers 
    Career guidance, Weds 22 May, Old St
    Training, Thurs 23 May, Old St

     Local Authorities

    West sub-region, Tues 18 June, Wembley Central sub-region, Mon 3 June, Southwark South sub-region, Tues 4 June, Croydon
    East sub-region, Fri 14 June, Stratford

    Employers and Trade Bodies 

    Fri 21 June, Waterloo

    —————————————————————————-

    GLA Skills & Employment The Greater London Authority (GLA), also known as City Hall, is the devolved regional governance body of London, with jurisdiction over both counties of Greater London and the City of London.

    Rocket Science is an independent research and consultancy company working across England and Scotland, with particular specialism and experience in employment and skills. We are committed to making a difference to the lives of people and communities across the UK by supporting national and local government, its agencies, charities and the voluntary sector to deliver and improve their services.

    Future of London helps build better cities through knowledge, networks and leadership – across disciplines, organisations and sectors. We are the capital’s independent network for regeneration, housing, infrastructure and economic development practitioners, with 3,800+ professionals using FoL as a hub for sector intelligence, connection and professional development, and a mandate to prepare the next wave of cross-sector city leaders.

    ERSA The Employment Related Services Association (ERSA) is the membership body for the employment support sector. Established in 2005, we campaign for and support the delivery of ever better services for the nation’s jobseekers and learners.

     

    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