Meeting the employability challenge in the age of Covid-19

Date Published

25/02/2021

Reading time

5 mins read

Author

Huw Williams

In a time when figures and statistics have become a disheartening staple of daily life, the numbers relating to unemployment in the UK make for even more difficult and disturbing reading.

The Office of Budget Responsibility has predicted that there will be 2.6 million citizens (equating to 7.5% of our working population) out of work by the middle of 2021. Although the science shows that young people are less likely to suffer significant health consequences at the hands of the coronavirus, they are by far the most at risk of losing their jobs and suffering the devastating consequences this can often bring.

For millennials (or those aged between 25 and 34), the rate of redundancy has risen fivefold in less than a year – signalling five times the number of mortgages and homes at risk, five times as many young families under unprecedented pressure, and a potential mental health pandemic rise of 500% - all ravaging through an age group wherein careers should be establishing, homes and families developing, and taxes supporting our communities. Other disparities – regional and demographic – are emerging too, with recent figures highlighting that 33% of black men in London (one of the UK’s worst affected areas) are currently unemployed, compared to 15% of white men in the capital.

Getting people back to work as we slowly step out of the pandemic is unquestionably an era-defining challenge.

This is no ordinary employability crisis. A government committed to a levelling-up agenda is having to confront the uncertainty of an economy inhibited by pandemic-enforced lockdowns. Some of the lessons from previous crises apply, but many others don’t. Who would envy policy makers charting a way forward?

It is in this context that Capita has created an expert Health & Welfare panel, the first meeting of which I joined recently. Its goal is to inform our work, ensure our employability efforts are developed with the needs of job seekers and employers at heart, and to align us even more closely with government policy and strategic direction.

Capita is a proud and long-term advocate of inclusive employment – helping young people to flourish – for example, through apprenticeships - not only in our own organisation, but in many others across the UK, and we continuously analyse and assess how to place participants at the epicentre of the employability design process. Only recently we established our first Youth Council, and have already taken in our first cohort of Kickstarters. In the face of ongoing economic volatility and the continued threat from Covid-19, we all must evolve our services to ensure they remain appropriate and relevant for the future of work. Our advisory panel includes experts from various backgrounds across industries and disciplines, and is helping Capita to further prioritise the right issues and make the maximum impact.

In February’s session, we spoke about four key requirements of successful delivery models:

  1. Personalisation and engagemen
  2. Data & diagnostics
  3. Rapid action
  4. Progress & feedback

Let’s take each in turn. 

Engagement

Our primary objective is to raise awareness and change perceptions for disadvantaged groups like some young people, those with disabilities, members of the BAME community and ex-offenders, who often feel excluded from meaningful employment services at all levels. Capturing their interest and maintaining motivation levels throughout any organised programme is the first hurdle to cross.

Our recently-renewed partnership with the British Army bears witness to this, with applications to join having recently hit a five-year high. Similarly, behavioural change initiatives driven by Government Social Research unearth new citizen engagement pathways.

Data & diagnostics

Much of our employability development will leverage our own consolidated data. However, success at local levels often relies upon the integration of raw data where fresh insights into skills, traits and experiences can help skills-match candidates faster, and put people into the right jobs first time around. Ongoing monitoring and reporting will further help us iterate and improve our services to add consistent and continuous value.

Using data to drive better engagement and improved outcomes was discussed at length by the panel, with Toni Fazaeli (35-year background in further and adult education, Vice-Chair of the Bell Foundation, and a former senior civil servant policy maker) reminding us of the need to not only capture the right data, but to use it to refine, enhance and constantly evolve our services. “Through the measurement of success, it will be possible to detect classic points of dip where people typically become disillusioned. We need to ensure we identify these and fix them.” Fellow panel member Lynne Green – Chief Clinical Officer at online mental wellbeing community Kooth – agreed. “One of the main indicators of success is a sense of hope and control. Data is critical to enhancing this.”

Rapid action

Through Capita’s work with Jack Parsons, CEO of The Youth Group, we’ve adapted our programmes to provide reward and reconigition for progress early on. “For young people I call it the duvet flip – what gets you out of bed in the morning, to flip that duvet and be passionate about something, and everything else will come,” explained Jack. It is this mentality that we’ll be taking into solution design and communications.

Progress & feedback

As raised by leadership consultant Paul Nanson (who in his previous 34-year Army career ran its recruiting, training and development programmes), Capita’s class-leading recruitment experience with the British Army has demonstrated that innovation, sector-specific knowledge and a unique partner ecosystem are ultimately focused on giving participants a sense of optimism and control. Undoubtedly, both are particularly scarce in today’s job market and throughout the pandemic in general.

Continuous feedback loops are thus critical to success, not just in placing jobs, but for access to practical resources that provide long-term opportunities for learning and confidence-building. It’s hugely important to avoid a “scattergun mentality”, said panel member Scott Parkin, CEO of the Institute of Employability Professionals. Participants in back-to-work schemes will be incredibly mixed because of the Covid-19 impact, Parkin said. It’s a cohort likely to include someone who has worked for 30 years for the same company. “How we deal with demand must be even more professional and co-ordinated than in normal years.”

Ultimately, the value of the panel is outcomes-based. At a top level, our KPIs include the quality and consistency of our employability services; best-in-class engagement experiences; effective collaboration between local partners and interest groups; and success stories that can feed into future programme development for years to come.

The economic and societal effects of Covid-19 risk fuelling an unprecedented crisis in employability, and to confront it requires genuinely new ways of thinking. Thanks to our panel of experts, our ways of thinking are being challenged, sharpened, and harnessed to ensure we benefit from a huge range of perspectives and deliver the best possible solutions for government and citizens.

Written by

Huw Williams - Capita

Huw Williams

Managing Director, Welfare and Employment Services

Huw is Capita’s Managing Director of our welfare and employment contracts, working alongside our Civil Service colleagues to deliver better outcomes for some of society’s must vulnerable people. With over 30 years’ experience in delivering complex and vital operational programmes, Huw believes strongly in working with all stakeholders to ensure we deliver the right service, at the right time to the right people.

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