Will more Government money be enough to help disadvantaged people into work?

By Katerina Rudiger, Chief Community Officer

Last week the Department for State and Communities and Local Government announced an allocation of £28 million for six schemes designed to provide specialist tailored support to help over 18,000 disadvantaged people (disabled, lone parents, 50+, low qualified, those living in deprived areas) into work.

On the face of it, the £28 million funding seems a lot, but if we combine tax losses, benefits and health payments the cost of unemployment to the individual, society and our economy is much higher. Furthermore, labour market access and progression are real issues for those groups who have consistently much lower employment figures than the average. With Brexit and restrictions around access to foreign labour looming on the horizon, tapping into wider, more local talent pools has never seemed more pressing.

It’s striking how quickly a jobseeker can face multiple barriers – take John for example, a 54 year old former engineer who found himself signing on after being made redundant and having had to look after an ill family member. His confidence dropped rapidly within just a few months as his job search led no-where and he contemplated changing sectors and taking an admin job in order to get back into the labour market.

So is government right to ‘throw money at the problem’ of tackling barriers into work?

At CIPD we have long advocated for a more targeted approach to help disadvantaged people into work – more than that, we’ve asked you all to roll up your sleeves and use your unique HR skills and experiences to tackle the problem by mentoring jobseekers on our Steps Ahead programme. The programme has been immensely effective, showing that targeted, face-to-face interventions can make a real difference. Indeed, what started out as a small pilot only young jobseekers could access, has grown over the past five years into a programme that has recently reached 5,000 mentees and now supports parent and carer returners and 50+ jobseekers, as we recognise that these groups grow in importance as youth unemployment figures ease off. Based on our experience, any efforts focusing on specialised support for these groups, who often face multiple barriers into work, is a good idea.

It’s also worth noting the funding is aimed at communities and has a very local approach – as opposed to central funding. Again, with our work in particular around the parent and carer returners, we have seen how crucial a local approach is. In order to reach those that benefit the most from our targeted mentoring intervention, we need to work with on the ground referral partners as most of the people we are trying to target would have dropped out of the labour market. Also, the DCLG’s focus on up-skilling and business-led training is commendable. As our mentee cohort show, even short periods out of the labour market have a detrimental impact on jobseekers skills – or at least on the perception of their skills.

And yet – despite all these good points it would be a mistake to conclude that government spending alone in this area will fix the problem. As we know there are still significant barriers on the employer side. Outcomes from our parent and carer returner Steps Ahead programme show that even with direct support from a HR professional, there are still barriers that are hard to overcome in order for this group to access work and in particular, availability of suitable work options that can fit around their other commitments.

We are pleased to report that our mentee John recently found a job as a software engineer, thanks to his mentor Maria, who helped him with his CV and prepped him for interviews. But just as important as providing jobseekers with tailored support and helping them to up-skill or sell their skills, is focused work with employers - who are notably absent from the proposed schemes - around changing employer mind-sets and behaviours on what people who traditionally struggle with labour market access, have to offer.

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