What’s the holy grail of employment support in Scotland?  Well, there isn’t just one, but early action with jobseekers who are most likely to become long term unemployed must be high amongst them.

Sounds simple doesn’t it? The benefits are obvious.  First, we know that one of the main barriers to employment is, in itself, having been long term unemployed. Indeed, one study has shown that once a jobseeker has passed the six month unemployed mark, they’re around 80% less likely to find work. Why?  Well, long term unemployment hurts jobseeker morale, whilst long gaps on CVs inevitably increase questions in potential employers’ minds.

Earlier action would also bring benefits to the wider public in Scotland. First, the financial costs of long term unemployment are huge.  Not only are we talking benefit costs and lost tax take, but we also know that there is a correlation between long term unemployment and use of public services, particularly health. And that’s before we consider the cost, financial or otherwise, to individuals, families and communities. 

It would therefore make sense for employment support in Scotland to intervene earlier. However, the question then arises as to how do we identify those jobseekers who need that support – after all 90% of jobseekers find work under their own steam and money is thin on the ground.

Many Scottish providers operate sophisticated systems of assessment, correlating a range of factors, including educational and skills levels, length of time unemployed and reported health conditions.  Put together, this can build a good profile of needs and therefore the support people require. However, it can miss things.  First, mental ill health, which can be a huge issue in preventing people working, often isn’t disclosed or even self-acknowledged early on in the journey. It can take long term relationships and trust with an adviser for a truer picture to be achieved.

Even, if there isn’t a specific mental health condition, we know that mental attitude and emotional health are hugely important factors in the journey into work.  Many service providers tell me that a big part of their job is helping the jobseeker believe in their ability to find and sustain work.  But how do we assess that state of mind with any certainty? 

Well, there are some interesting models out there. One I came across recently as part of an international Behavioural Insights (think ‘Nudge Unit’) conference.  Developed in Australia by Esher House, this drew on data from other research, including psychological studies related to smoking cessation in the States.  An assessment model was then developed based on ascertaining state of mind which was tested in partnership with the Australian government.  Crucially this wasn’t about making any value judgements about jobseekers’ mental state, but about better appreciating where emotionally they were at and marrying that with support that matched their state of mind.

It’s interesting stuff.  It’s probably not quite the magic bullet, but it’s important that we build on this sort of learning.  

Kirsty McHugh
Chief Executive, Employment Related Services Association