Localised employability programmes will be just as important as technology in the UK’s return to work. However, to succeed ‘for the people’, they absolutely must be ‘by the people’.
Now, possibly more than ever, the UK needs a diverse and localised network of employability practitioners if our communities are to recover from the social and economic impacts of the pandemic. Moreover, embedding employability professionals within their own communities is paramount as we collectively tackle the UK’s impending spike in unemployment.
I recently sat down with Scott Parkin - a UK employability expert, long-term associate and personal friend, to discuss the role of employability professionals. Scott is Chief Executive of the Institute of Employability Professionals (IEP), and few in the industry appreciate the need for local approaches to local issues more than he. Our conversation was as enjoyable as it was enlightening, and I wanted to share some of our thoughts and takeaways.
Employability is, of course, about career development and coaching people into and through work, but it’s also deeply associated with personal development and reskilling. Employability is the only sector focused exclusively on enabling others to get back to work and will therefore be especially attractive to people who wish to create something meaningful for and with others.
From his extensive career in employability, Scott has witnessed a significant shift in what it means to work in the sector. The old-school theory that employability is something that people ‘fall into rather than choose’ is quickly evaporating. The sector is now recognised as full of brilliant and professional individuals and teams driven by the unrivalled sense of achievement and satisfaction from genuinely changing peoples’ lives and enhancing societies.
Local expertise is undoubtedly the foundation for any successful employability programme, and if local practitioners are to earn trust and generate meaningful engagement, it’s crucial that they are representative of the communities they support. With the number of UK long-term unemployed set to reach one million by Summer 2021, we agreed that ambitious, innovative and even unprecedented approaches are urgently required to achieve the dramatic turnaround we so desperately need.
There is also a requirement to normalise the process of reskilling and upskilling jobseekers, enabling them to switch careers and match their evolving skills to industries and jobs that may traditionally have been considered out of scope or reach. Covid-19 has accelerated this shift. It has of course profoundly (and negatively) changed the world of work, but one positive outcome has been the largescale removal of geography as a barrier to employment, with jobseekers and workers now much more comfortable and confident applying for roles and locations they simply would not have considered prior to the pandemic.
Overcoming unconscious bias among employers via strategies such as anonymous skills matching is also paramount, as is simplifying the employability message to businesses. Focusing on these areas and making the necessary changes will ensure they can better understand high-value employability programmes and gain maximum benefit from them.
Technology and data solutions will continue to play a major role in the process of rejuvenating the UK jobs market. However, Scott and I agreed that local networks featuring highly skilled employability practitioners will prove just as, if not even more, significant in the post-pandemic recovery.
Local knowledge is unquestionably one of the key factors that makes an employability service successful. Modern employability programmes often include complex processes, digital responses and innovative algorithms, but we must not forget that unemployment is first and foremost a human challenge. As such, only localised, diverse and above all, human relationships are what will make the difference. Labour market data and trends are undoubtably valuable and forever will be. However, Scott rightly pointed out that this information can only generate actionable insights when viewed through the prism of granular local knowledge.
Transport links are a prime example of the need for regionalised considerations. Take jobseekers in South Wales, which has a cyclical economy dependent on tourism. Only a local employability practitioner would appreciate and be able to solve the challenge of filling roles in a factory five miles out of town, on an industrial estate which isn’t served by a bus route during the winter. With communities across the UK facing a myriad of different and localised challenges, the only logical answer is a network of local employability professionals who can build individual strategic responses, rather than relying on - and inevitably failing - with a one-size-fits-all approach.
Scott and I also discussed that while granular localised experience and expertise are key to unlocking the jobs market for geographic communities, a similar approach is needed to fully engage disadvantaged groups, wherever they are located. If you are supporting people from disadvantaged groups back into work, then the employability practitioners supporting those participants must be representative. If they’re not, and Scott knows this from first-hand experience, it’s borderline impossible to build trust and generate meaningful engagement.
From an employer’s perspective, moreover, it only makes commercial sense to ensure customers from all groups and communities are supported by staff that also reflect them. Ensuring diverse and fully inclusive staff bodies must no longer be seen as a ‘nice to have’ or CSR box-ticking exercise, but an essential way of a business engaging with huge swathes of the community.
Capita’s extensive network across public and private sectors brings a unique breadth and depth of insights to employability programmes. This is largely because of our understanding of how to genuinely make positive differences for jobseekers in the only place where it really matters to them – in their communities and at their local level. With a huge network of suppliers and over 44,000 staff across every corner of the UK, Capita is a national organisation that is proud to think, exist and operate locally.
Without any doubt the employability landscape is changing fast, and this evolution will only continue to accelerate. A diverse workforce – among both employability professionals and clients – is a sure-fire way to nurture a greater diversity of perspectives, ideas and innovation, all of which will be required to overcome the challenges ahead.