Three words could transform the employment and skills system

Monday 8th July 2019 by Caroline Masundire
outline of gears and silhouettes of people

Yes, just three words could transform the employment and skills system. 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. Changes will be at a faster pace than we could ever have imagined so our responses 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. 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 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. This 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 unaware of. This in a borough where there was already little investment in comparison to other places in London.  Imagine what this picture would look like if you added all the funding in a borough and multiplied 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 these programmes are 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 to. 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 6 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. 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, 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 STANDARD. A 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. I.E. 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. This would 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  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.