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Change is coming to employability services – so what does it mean for their workforce?

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As the UK emerges from the COVID-19 crisis, employability services are on the frontline of economic recovery, working alongside jobseekers and employers to help people back into rewarding and sustainable employment.

Right now, much of the sector is focused on launching the Restart Scheme, a flagship £2.9 billion programme commissioned by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to support long-term unemployed jobseekers. Soon attention will shift to the day-to-day concerns of mobilisation, delivery and performance.

Amid this urgent activity, there is an opportunity to consider a broader question: How can we use current momentum and investment to put the employability sector onto a sustainable footing, beyond the traditional boom and bust cycle?

Nous Group and the Institute for Employability Professionals (IEP) have worked with leaders across the sector to explore this question over the past year. The result was a report, Building Sustainable Employability Services, released in October 2021. Here are the highlights.

Leaders responded to four scenarios

Using scenario planning, the participating leaders developed detailed visions of potential futures, used these to identify possible ways to improve the sustainability of the sector, and then identified the workforce implications for the sector.

There were four scenarios presented to the leaders:

  1. A bumpy ride: Economic growth is shaky, with periods of rapid expansion followed by steep contractions. Governments return to a Thatcher-era approach of cutting taxes and reducing spending.
  2. A bullish free market: Vaccines see the economy roar back over 2021-22. Persistently high GDP growth brings with it inflationary pressures that affect the cost of living. As governments cut taxes, wealth and income inequality worsen.
  3. State-cushioned volatility: Economic volatility persists for an extended period. Governments adopt a significant role in trying to address this through new monetary, fiscal and social policy measures such as a government-led skills programme.
  4. A very big brother: Governments grow in size and in share of economic activity, with increased spending on social services and heightened economic direction for businesses.

Nine big sector ideas emerged

From these scenarios, nine big sector ideas emerged:

  1. Strengthen the sector’s voice in adjacent areas that support its mission.
  2. Sector-wide investment pools to support core activities throughout the economic cycle.
  3. Develop better sources of labour market insight to respond with greater agility and sensitivity to changing economic conditions.
  4. Enhance strategic planning efforts when investment in the sector and risk appetite is highest.
  5. Vertically integrate providers to create genuine customer journeys.
  6. Drive employers to improve equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) in their organisations.
  7. Adopt flexible funding arrangements.
  8. Better, shared information across all parts of the sector to support providers to plan more effectively over the long term.
  9. Unify employability and skills once and for all.

There are five essential employability workforce implications

These ideas highlight the need for a smartly skilled employability workforce, equipped to excel in the current operating environment and also able to push forward the changes needed for a sustainable sector.

The employability workforce implications include:

  1. Improving sector collaboration skills, including greater leveraging of forums set up by the IEP and others.
  2. Enhancing sector-wide lobbying and influencing skills, not just with commissioners but also with adjacent sectors.
  3. Deepening skills in strategic planning individually and as a sector, including use of modern innovation techniques to push boundaries and current paradigm thinking.
  4. Improving sector depth in digital skills and its implications for future service design, and getting the balance right with automation, self-service, data analysis and complex service system design.
  5. Creating a platform or environment for employability professionals to port their skills across sectors and jobs, thus better managing the hollowing out of the sector during different phases of the economic cycle.

The upshot of the report is that a shared quality improvement agenda will be central for individual providers and the whole sector.

Read the full report, Building Sustainable Employability Services, on the website of the Institute for Employability Professionals.

Get in touch to discuss how we can support your employability organisation prepare for the future.

Connect with Zac Ashkanasy and Daniel Benwell on LinkedIn.

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