Renaisi’s Business Development lead, Rebecca Simpson, attended The Institute of Employment Professionals (IEP) Summit to hear expert opinions on the future of work.

The Institute of Employment Professionals (IEP) Summit was a chance to hear about themes that will shape employment work in the years to come. We heard from a range of academics and experienced professionals who brought a range of perspectives from mental health, human resource management, to global lessons from comparative studies.

The main theme of the day was that this is a time of change  and that change brings uncertainty and risk, but also opportunity. The challenges  discussed  were:

  • Too many people are ‘locked out’ of the labour market due to long-term illnesses or disability
  • Too many people are stuck in low pay with few routes to progress out
  • Living costs have risen and social security has been cut, resulting in a rise in in-work poverty and destitution.
  • All of the above is happening in an era of tighter, less certain and more fragmented public funding.

How do we modernise our employment services to address emerging challenges?

As the development lead for Renaisi’s employment services, I think about this question all the time. I came away from the Summit with three takeaways…

1. Addressing the challenges above will require a significant shift in how the sector delivers employment support.  

The majority of people who remain unemployed are economically inactive due to long-term ill health or disability or caring responsibilities. Deloitte’s 2017 report, At a tipping point? suggests that one in two people who are long-term unemployed have a mental health illness. This means that at the very least, frontline workers will have to be prepared to address the rising incidence of mental ill health in job seekers and it is likely that psychological intervention will play an increasing role in the employment journey.

In response to the growth of in-work poverty, there will also likely be a demand for employment support for those in low paid and/or insecure work. Although some commissioners are starting to recognise the need in this area, individuals already in work would not qualify for most existing employment programmes. In-work support is also a relatively new area of work, and little is known about what ‘good’ looks like.

Alongside these changes we will need to start thinking about what new skills and capabilities are needed to support job seekers, how we train and develop existing staff, and there will need to be more cooperation and integration of services at the local level.  This cooperation mustgo beyond making referrals and signposting, to sharing of information between agencies, co-locating, and working in genuine partnership with other services. 

2. There is a strong case for a more localised employment services system.

Figures from the Institute of Employability Studies show that with national employment levels at a record high, worklessness is now concentrated in specific areas, making unemployment a local issue. Some people at the Summit argued  that national employment programmes are too “blunt” for tackling the problem. Should local government, employers, and other local stakeholders work together to design and commission services for local people?

There are signs that the UK is  moving in this direction – the devolved Work and Health programme in London and Working Well in Manchester are good examples.  Local skills and employment schemes in London could be joined up with other devolved schemes such as the adult education budget and welfare benefits (through discretionary welfare schemes) to create an integrated local service. Whether the commitment and leadership to make it happen in London will depend on the results of the mayoral election in May,  local authorities have a role to play here too. I think it’s time for local areas  to seize the agenda rather than wait for central government. 

3. There is a need for more evidence of what works.

At this major transformational period for the employment services sector, building the evidence base is important. I was surprised by how little evidence there is in many areas of our work. To date there has been very little research into the demand-side of employment programmes (ie employer engagement) so we have very little evidence to help inform programme design and practice. The need to support  people who in work but on low pay is likely to increase, but we have only scratched the surface of what good practice looks like for these people.

As we venture into new ways of commissioning,funding and deliveringemployment support, it will be important to reach beyond our competitive boundaries to share learning and build evidence. 

How will we apply this to Renaisi’s employment services?

As the context around us shifts, we are rethinking how our servicesn that support job seekers “work”, how we can do thatt better, and what role we can take in shaping the employment services system so that it is more suitable for  the needs of the economy and most importantly for the individuals we support.

The main questions that we will be exploring over the next few months are:

  1. What more can we offer employers beyond a recruitment channel?
  2. How do we adapt our service provision to better accommodate the health needs of the people we support?
  3. What skills and capabilities do we need in our team and how do we upskill our existing staff to meet the emerging needs of job seekers?
  4. Where can we add to the evidence and learning of what works? Renaisi is unique in that we combine two things in one social enterprise: we deliver employment support to individuals and we help charities and funders to deliver greater impact through our consultancy services. We want to make the most of this unique combination and share the evidence  we capture through learning and delivering.

These are big questions and it will be difficult to answer these alone. If any of these questions resonate with you and you would like to explore them with us, please get in touch.

Rebecca Simpson