Lessons learnt: moving toward delivering national services, locally

This piece of writing is part of a series of blogs designed to stimulate discussion around the five key elements of the ERSA Manifesto: commissioning, complex needs, skills, employer needs, youth employment. Any opinions represented within this blog are the authors and do not represent the views of ERSA.

As we move into the election period and beyond, the role of localism in commissioning employment and skills services will be at the forefront for all the major political parties. With the debates on the extent of devolution needed, and discussions on what service delivery should look like, it’s critical that governments and stakeholders build from best practice and consider lessons learnt from previous programmes.
Thinking about a more devolved employment and skills system, let us consider what we have already learnt from the current major national services?

Every 24 minutes, Prospects’ advisers help a jobseeker find employment through the Work Programme. Moving forward, employment programmes should build from the successes of what worked and consider how localism can raise outcomes.

One of the major lessons coming from the Work Programme is the current segmentation payment model, based on claimant group, does not accurately reflect the needs and support required to help each individual successfully into employment. Looking toward a more devolved system, there is room for local authorities and stakeholders to come together to tailor finance by identifying key barriers customers face. By matching to local need, we can ensure that every customer has access to the individualised and tailored support needed to successfully tackle often complex multiple barriers.

Importantly, a significant proportion of people who join the Work Programme identify health and disability as a key barrier to employment. Almost half of customers who undertake a Work Capability Assessment identify that they have a mental health issue. Integration of health and future employment services will support those with health issues and disabilities.

While localism has a role to play in integrating services to best meet the need of customers, we also need to ask how can localism play a greater role in innovation? At a national level, job outcomes are measurable. At a local level, what other outcomes could shape best practice and influence service delivery?

We know that after spending two years on the Work Programme, while too few of those with the most complex needs achieve a job outcome, that many have made huge accomplishments moving closer toward the employment. Our customers achieve significant personal outcomes including overcoming isolation, financial worries, developing healthier lifestyles, and increased confidence. For the customer who was previously unable able to leave the house to be able to confidently travel and attend job interviews, this represents overwhelming hard work and progress. While not a job outcome, these progress outcomes represent significant strides to tackling barriers and moving individuals closer to the labour market.

While measuring progress outcomes may prove challenging to implement at a national level, at a local level, we have the opportunity to reconsider what defines a successfully integrated employment support service and what the ‘outcomes’ of this service may be.  Delivery models that consider progress on top of job outcomes will allow providers, local authorities, LEPs and stakeholders to identify these softer but critical outcomes to map successful customer journeys.

By increasing capacity for innovation and local understanding, we have greater opportunity to increase our evidence base of ‘what works’ locally to tackling complex barriers and meet these needs. As the new government begins to develop their thinking on the future of employment and skills services, these programmes should build from the successes of what worked and consider how local flexibility can raise outcomes of different sorts.

Annie Kohanek, Policy Officer, @akohanek