Future Services
You're viewing an individual post in Future Services

« back to Future Services posts

Employability - the Bev 4.0 Way

First posted at 13:37GMT on 26/10/09 by katebagley

The economy is never static, so why is our approach to unemployment? Take Bernard: he cooks a mean fishcake and has great entrepreneurial skills but he cannot read and write and is low in confidence.  To enter the labour market he needs an approach that helps him translate his skills.  This takes time, and works better over a cup of tea in his kitchen, than in a job centre office.  Working in a domestic setting we have been able to view the challenge Bernard and others like him face and translate this into employable skills, with considerable early success.

This month the number of people unemployed made a worse than expected jump, to a new total of 2.38 million, with job vacancies reaching an all time low of 429,000.  In response the DWP are scrambling to expand their network of job centres and the numbers who are employed within them – but to offer what exactly?  Perhaps tea and sympathy sweetened with the £60.50 per week job seekers allowance.

The problem we face is huge and expensive.  In addition to those currently losing their jobs, there remains the so-called ‘stock’ of long term unemployed, people like Bernard.  There are also a significant proportion of British workers, for whom the cycle will be a continual one between low skilled, vulnerable jobs and periods of unemployment.

The human cost in terms of misery is high.  So are the financial costs.  David Freud, previously advisor to the government and to the opposition, recently estimated that it would be rational to spend up to £62,000 per person on getting people back to work because the cost of unemployment is so high.

It is time for a radical re-think.  We need a system that makes new vertical connections between British people and emerging areas of employment growth – for example green jobs, the caring professions, nano-tech, social enterprise.  And new horizontal connections between soft skills, apprenticeships, learning and work.

In other words we need an approach that brings together soft and hard skills, geography and industrial policy; that integrates and greatly reduces the £40bn cost of unemployment; that starts from people’s front rooms and has the capacity for continued evolution.

Searching for work is a dispiriting process.  Despite a physical re-design, job centres remain more suited to the bygone era in which the welfare state was founded. Searching for a job online, as I did last week, is no different.  The electronic journey is long-winded and grey.  I was a nameless cog, identified only by my postcode, viewing jobs which rarely had a real description or salary attached.  The chasm between this and the compelling description of a job in the Times, or alternatively the way I might advertise my full range of skills on could not be wider.

At Participle we work with young people, so called ‘chaotic’ families and those over 60 in communities across Britain developing 21st century public services.  It has taught us a lot about work and how to move into it. 

In the eyes of the local job centre many of the families we work with have few if any of the skills that are needed to work in a modern service economy even in an upswing. In all cases however we have seen the power of meeting individuals and families where they are, visualising (literally) where they want to be, and working alongside them to get there.  Some of the best providers of welfare to work services already go some way to this approach but all are currently hampered by the silos in which their service has to be delivered.

In another strand of our work we have developed the concept of the ‘slip road job’: one that supports older people back into work either part time or in a different capacity.  The BMW worker made redundant earlier this year is a different case.  Here connections can be made between proven skills and job opportunities but new support systems are also needed to turn a potential crisis into a re-skilling opportunity, to keep motivated and think laterally about what is possible.

There are four fatal flaws in the current system and these will continue in the new contracts currently being handed out across Britain to those responsible for getting people back into work. 

One, the system is over specialised – like vast areas of our public services too much time and money is spent on sorting people into ‘pathways’ and ‘customer’ types.  Such an approach wastes more money on designing new entry points to what remains an old fashioned linear system.  What is needed instead is an open network that can support people in multiple ways and continue to move them up the skills curve.  Most of us find jobs through connections and you can’t do this if you are held in a queue with others whose barriers are too close to your own.

Secondly, service providers are currently competing for the £1bn market of welfare to work.  The real market however is approximately £40 bn when Further Education and so called ‘passported’ benefits to which the unemployed have access, are taken into account.  There is a clear opportunity to develop a service that starts with the individual and wraps a full service around them, stripping out a significant percentage of the £40bn resulting from service overlaps.

Thirdly, there needs to be a new approach to risk sharing.  It is accepted that most work is found locally but there is currently little incentive to innovate locally since the returns and risks are held by central government.  Again the result is a static, rigid system when what we need is a approach that addresses the constantly shifting needs of individuals based on a living, breathing, changing economy.

Fourthly – it’s personal.  Being unemployed is a deeply personal thing – whether you are the skilled but newly unemployed worker from BMW or the returning to work mum lacking in confidence – you need someone to work along side you.

Despite the rhetoric providers do not currently work with people they do things for and to them, too often perpetuating a workless culture.  Treat people like children and they will behave like them.  Current service frameworks do not make it possible to take a whole life approach with an individual.  Technology does, front line staff can and yes, the unemployed really want this type of approach.

A reformed, modern welfare state would offer something completely different.  The core would be a universal, locally rooted and highly personalised offer.  Not a job centre at all, but a network of facilitators, linked to a powerful system of job vacancies, training opportunities, seed enterprise funding linked to the benefit system, mentors and coaches to keep your pecker up, peers you can speak to during the weeks ahead.  Replicating the support networks that most people reading would automatically draw on, would cost less and more importantly, would work.


chronic unemployment is a symptom of a dysfunctional system which focusses on investing in welfare rather than developing people and enterprise. The welfare system, instead of functioning as a sprinboard back to work, sucks confidence and hope out of people, crush the spirit of man, creating long term dependency as opposed to acting as a short term safety net, a restoration center. A bit like the NHS whose primary purpose is managing the sick as opposed to encouraging people to stay healthy. Governmental systems should seek to empower individuals and harness the creativity and energy that lies dormant, release potential through self belief and transform that self belief into life enhancing habits that lead to maturity and character through positive life experiences.

kamal bengougam, 30/10/09, 12:55GMT

Having provided some consultancy in this and related areas of government, I agree with most of the points you make here. A key part of the problem is that the provision of services for the unemployed is seen very much as a case of just “getting people off benefit”, rather than providing a holistic service to improve people’s life chances.

This is supported by a system of management that primarily measures statistics, and rarely uses qualitative measures of success. For example, if you wish to claim JSA as a newly unemployed person, you call a “contact centre” to apply. If you are unsure which benefit you should claim, they are not qualified to offer advice but will simply take a claim for JSA anyway. This is because the contact centres are measured primarily on the number of claims they take in a given period of time.

Until the government use proper research to ascertain a.) what the problem is and b.) the best way to solve it, these are always going to be problems.

Lee McIvor, 24/11/09, 11:50GMT

Employabality is a very personal thing indeed and when someone feels rejected or thwarted in their attempts to earn a living for whatever reason it impacts on the whole of the quality of life often creating a generational impact too. I believe that a massive cultural shift for the better of us all can occur if “Governmental systems to empower individuals and harness the creativity and energy that lies dormant, release potential through self belief and transform that self belief into life enhancing habits that lead to maturity and character through positive life experiences”. We have a massive skills pool available that can offer precisely what is prescribed if only there was not so much bureaucracy. I choose to work independently as a Life Skills Consultant for that very reason. Life Skills embody authentic wellness, fulfillment and success strategies that are actually easy and enjoyable to sprinkle into daily living to give new perceptions and potential. If they were more widely accessible many more would benefit, unemployment would not be an issue and people would be healthier. So although a keen prospective project partner I do not have a spare 250k!

frances Barrone, 7/12/09, 17:41GMT

In broad terms I agree with your thoughts, but I have some observations/questions I’d like to raise in order to more fully understand the proposition:

1.    your concept isn’t costed
2.    the infrastucture and ‘reach’ isn’t described
3.    how did you arrive at your four point critique ? (there are many other fatal failings in the system).
4.    are there any trials that can support your approach?
5.    how effective has your thinking been? (feedback, endorsement, credibility)
6.    how and over what period would this change (and change management) occur?
7.    social and cultural change is a complex and multi-levelled process, how is the intellectual engineering sustained over such a large-scale project?
8.    how do you propose to convincingly market the idea, by whom, by which media mix, over what period and at what cost? (both internal and external)
9.    are there sufficient resources to do this? (financial, skills, training, availability of appropriate mentors/supporters, IT, inter-government links, IR, DWP networks, employer organisations and strategic goodwill)
10.  what happens if there is significant non-compliance or non take-up?
11.    do you wish to gain, or, how do you avoid party political buy-in?
12.    you don’t explain a specific strategy or how it would be managed.
13.    how would the holistic concept be monitored and evaluated - and over what
  period to retain strong funding?

However, well done for challenging what is demonstrably an inept system.

Mike Rigby. 22.01.10

Mike Rigby, 21/1/10, 18:38GMT

Our thoughts on employability seem to have struck a chord.

As I wrote last year, we see the current approach to unemployment as a complex, transactional service that responds to market failure. The services available do succeed in getting some people into work for some time.  They do not however support those in work to move up the skills curve.  Nor do they effectively reach particular population groups. Three groups in particular are failed by the current system: the young, the long-term unemployed and the older 50 + generation.  These failings are multiplied in geographic areas and neighbourhoods where there is a spatial and historic concentration of unemployment.  Vast swathes of Britain are being left behind.

Working on the ground since my last post, we have been developing an alternative approach.  We start from people and culture.  At the heart of our proposition is an idea for a new social organisation – a sort of 21C trades union – that would be rooted in the local community and support individuals and families to acquire the aptitudes, relationships, confidence, soft and hard skills that make for employability.  Once in work, this organisation would continue to support its members to move up the skills curve.

Our model draws on our existing work with young people, families in crisis and the 50 plus generation.  We have learnt how to address the wider issues around employability, support very micro enterprises and open people up to thinking differently about themselves and their futures.  We have also seen how new forms of social organisation can lead to radical new solutions and the generation of resources.

As with all our projects, we cannot at this stage describe exactly what our solutions would look like.  If we had all the answers, the project would not be necessary.  With the support of central government and the opposition we are therefore looking for a local authority partner to invest in creating this new approach with us.  At the moment we are in close discussions with three potential partner authorities in very different parts of Britain

Hilary Cottam, 3/2/10, 22:50GMT

How would this social network be regulated to ensure it does what people want it to do? Are you proposing a truly horizontal back to work system? Because that sounds unrealistic.

If you could draw a diagram of how this system would work, including all vertical and horizontal relationships, that would really help. At the moment it all sounds very abstract and hard to conceptualize.

Nonetheless, it all sounds very interesting.

David Smith, 17/3/10, 19:26GMT

Perhaps giving every citizen ‘an employability network account’ where they can have a list of contacts within the network, that they can draw upon at any time, for support in all areas from soft skills, training, employment offers and enterprise seeding. They could access this account online. Participatory GIS mapping software would allow them to see where his/her employability contacts are within his area and add other people to the network. Users could rate contacts within the network and leave comments of advice. Job centres, NGOs, social enterprises, training providers, micro-mutuals for individualized budgets, financial institutions, other social networks and individuals could all be included in the network. The contacts/nodes within the network would have the post-fordist flexibilities to network with each other and form and break new clusters, in order to keep up with a post-fordist labour market and economy.

In building a social network, you need to design it from the point of view of the person using it.

David Smith, 17/3/10, 19:51GMT

I really wonder how many people contributing to this debate are currently unemployed. I am. My perspective is that, however well-intentioned; this project lacks hands-on awareness to the reality of the financial, emotional and intellectual frustrations delivered by multi-layered systems. I observe a smug debate published from the comfort of stability, lacking any awareness that every day you’re unemployed counts against you.

Mike Rigby, 22/3/10, 12:45GMT

Very Interesting Post! Thank You For Thi Information!

fatburnetw, 15/11/10, 19:16GMT

You certainly deserve a round of applause for your post and more specifically, your blog in general. Very high quality material

feesehaw, 18/11/10, 05:51GMT

You certainly have some agreeable opinions and views. Your blog provides a fresh look at the subject.

cleanpcvpyhe, 18/11/10, 09:27GMT

Have your say

Remember my personal information
Notify me of follow-up comments?

(* required field)

twitter facebook vimeo LinkedIn