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Our world has certainly changed recently with COVID-19 and that makes our recent blog on the future of employment and support have more resonance and perhaps more acceleration behind it.

Roger Chapman, matrix Head of Services, writes about the IEP Summit 2020

I was extremely proud to represent the matrix Standard at the IEP inaugural summit, fittingly held at the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufacturers and Commerce), the intellectual home of some of the greatest thinkers and social activists over the past 260 years.

The sell-out event was opened by Pat Russell, Chair of the IEP, and her introduction set the tone for the expert opinion formers who introduced and discussed the themes that will shape our work, as employability practitioners, in the year to come. The seminars explored the need for reviewing challenges in the marketplace, the support we offer clients around mental health, the likely changes in commissioning structures and how we need to engage effectively with future employers amongst others.

The opening speaker was Tony Wilson, Director of the Institute of Employment Studies, who challenged delegates to reflect on the miracle of high-level employment and why this does not feel like a miracle to those locked out of employment due to health, circumstances or where they live and to those 4.7 million that have been trapped in low paid work for a decade or longer.

What do we do about this crisis? Our profession needs to address both market and state failures, by better supporting young people into employment and those in employment to develop their career with advisers using the latest technology. Crucially, this requires both Government and industry to work together with the focus being on collaboration to break the cycle of inequality and to level up society by ‘poverty proofing’ work.

Dr Kylie Henderson, our second speaker, reviewed the lessons learnt from science to drive workplace wellbeing. An Australian, so by far the speaker who travelled the furthest, brought lessons about what works down under. As a Mental Health Frist Aid Instructor, this was of particular interest as my experience shows Australia are leading the way in this area. Dr Henderson invited us to look around the room and reflect on the fact that 1 in 3 of us will, in our life-time, have mental health challenges – perhaps as you are reading this you could reflect in the same way. Her current area of study looks at the integration of IT based solutions to support wellbeing and the evidence points towards the success of a blended approach i.e. the integration of wellbeing IT platforms and digital support alongside traditional work coaches and other wellbeing professionals.

Currently, the UK spends £12 billion on mental health which is nowhere near enough given the long-lasting impact it can have on work and life. When people have been un-employed for a sustained period of time the toll on their mental health begins to show with 1 in 2 people experiencing difficulties on a daily basis. What can we do about this? Research by Marie Jahoda shows that mental health is the most important factor in employability and evidence suggests advisers need to support the unemployed to structure their day, maintain social contact, engage in collective effort, maintain a social identity and engage in regular exercise. With the current system being weighted toward employment outcomes, advisers often overlook the need to encourage the unemployed to volunteer which can fulfil many of these needs, lead to rehabilitation and act as a stepping-stone in getting back to employment.

Another useful evidence-based approach discussed was Work-based Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT). Whilst I was aware of CBT, I was not aware of how it had been adapted to support people with mental health challenges back into employment. I learnt that its use has accelerated people back into employment, by an average of 65 days, saving over £3,000 per individual supported. Group and individual sessions have been equally effective and group sessions enable economies of scale without reducing outcomes – a fantastic success.

Our third speaker, Professor Dan Finn, University of Portsmouth, is an international thought leader who has worked around the world, IEP joked that it was more difficult to identify countries he had not been involved with than those he had! Together, delegates looked at the international landscape which demonstrated that partnerships between private organisations and public services is a trend growing across the globe. China is investing hugely with employment adviser numbers of 200,000 in stark contrast to the reductions made in the UK.    I also discovered that India is adopting a similar model to our own National Career Service Structure which existed in the past.

What does the next 10 years hold? Delegates discussed the move from austerity to levelling up, the impact of Universal Credit, the changes to Job Centres, integration of health-related services and the devolution/localisation agenda – a packed agenda!

Over the next 10 years policy will shift from austerity to levelling up, the introduction of Universal Credit will impact both positively and negatively on society; our job centres reduced in number will need to work closely with other health related services and increasingly focus on local needs.  The case for devolution was well made as the UK is the most centralised of all the G7 countries.  Living in Manchester myself, it was interesting to hear others talk about devolution with focus on our “Working Well” programme.  It has been successful in meeting local needs but has also faced the challenge of integrating services when faced with the competing interests of different local authorities and providers.  It reminded me that partnership working is tough but equally as rewarding.  If devolution is going to be successful, it was explained, then we must accept that there will be differences from area to area and to avoid accusations that policy makers are creating a postcode lottery we must create minimum national standards across the country. 

Finally, improving employer engagement was discussed by Dr Jo Ingold. This is another area close to my heart as I was part of the TEC movement that strived for employer engagement and because I recently delivered workshops for training providers on this topic.  From Leeds University School, Dr Ingold evidenced, from the UK and Australia, employer engagement in the field of employability: in the UK there is a split between employers – a third who are not engaged, a third who are instrumentally engaged as a one-off activity and the final third who are relationally engaged at a deeper level.

How do we get dis-engaged employers to become engaged? The evidence clearly points to the need for stronger relationships between employability practitioners and employers that lead to mutual trust which in turn enables both employment and development opportunities for in employment looking to further their career as well as returners and the unemployed. Dr Ingold emphasised the relationships with employers must not be underestimated. Policy makers need to understand that the competitive structures that currently exist undermine co-operation.  This leads to too many products; a focus is on short term results and a lack of minimum standards - all of which undermines the working relationships between employability professionals and industry.

We need to influence policy makers to see employers as central to the whole process, facilitating co-opetition (a new introduction to our vocabulary – working with the competition to learn, strengthen and collaborate) between providers and move from being information givers to client match makers. It seems obvious and yet there is enormous work to be done.

The summit was a most fruitful day which brought about insights for the future development of the matrix Standard. Pat Russell, Chair, Summarised – our next big steps are to be more evidence based, collaborate, seize the agenda to influence employers and policy makers, support people to make transitions with careers and lead by example, especially in areas such as mental health.

I look forward to the IEP Summit 2021. If we can take on what we learnt from 2020 I am sure our working landscape will be much improved and the business and employment situation enhanced.


About the author

The Growth Company

The Growth Company

The Growth Company is contracted by the Department for Education to administer and manage the matrix Standard starting on 11th January 2020.