Employability > Backr

The welfare state was primarily designed to get people into work. Today the labour market has changed and current services fail too many people. Today a job is not for life, it is harder to move up the skills curve and more and more jobs are never advertised. Through the lens of Beveridge 4.0 we could see a very different approach is needed.

During our first phase of research in 2011 we worked in depth with 140 people: people in work, out of work, cycling in and out of work, students, local employers, providers and those involved in economic policy. We wanted to develop a new narrative about work, one that looks beyond the welfare lens and opens people up to a wider range of relationships and develops a broader story of community economic development.

We asked: What would a relationships based approach to employability for everyone, those in and out of work, look like?

We used our transformational design process to shape our work. Activities included mapping networks of people and small businesses, advertising a ‘way out’ of the Job Centre and prototyping networking events. Key insights include:

For some unemployed we saw a lack of urgency and momentum- horizons and aspirations shrank and people became defined by their unemployment status.

A lack of connections 
Those unemployed often lacked the social connections of a working life further compounded by lack of resources to take part in social activities. ‘Social confidence’ is reduced and people are cut off from work opportunities found through networks open to those in work.

Dependence on ‘the system’ 
A culture of dependency and a lack of autonomy is one of the biggest barriers to a more self directed solution. The degree to which people have internalised the narrative of ‘the system’ – that they should rely on professionals and formal channels, comply, look for the minimum, don’t take risks, was striking.

A binary division between employment and unemployment 
The conception remains binary – you are either employed or unemployed. The two states are pushed further apart by the structures surrounding the employment system; complex benefit rules that make it hard for people to move in and out of work.

We co-designed a relationships focused approach to employability through a service called Backr. True to our design process and lean start up methodologies we have iterated this service as it was delivered, learning on the job.

Backr supported people through a combination of different formats over this period – group workshops, networking events and opportunities, one to one coaching, coaching in groups, telephone support and an online network.

The learning from this work has resulted in tools and methodologies that support people into work.

The approach included supporting people to:
- Understand the value of networks and connections to their employability
- Build a new narrative to develop positive ways to talk about themselves, their experiences, values and aspirations
- Create positive interactions and relationships to have good conversations and make meaningful relationships – ones that help people progress
- Practice networking skills and build networks in real life situations
- Reflect on their progress and take ownership of it

We know that how this content is delivered is as important as the content itself. We have developed methods of delivering this content so people own it for themselves, practice it, contribute to others progress and can reflect on what is helpful to them. We shared this with others.

We have worked within the region of 1,400 people, many people recruited through partnerships with Job Centres. Backr was evaluated over a two-year period by PWC and it concluded:  

Backr has delivered an improvement to tangible employment outcomes for its participants, with 53% moving into work.

Backr has improved the capabilities of its members: 74% state that Backr contributed to their ability to connect with people who may be able to help them make progress, 82% state that Backr contributed to their motivation to find work.

  • Backr has significantly improved the confidence of its members, core in the journey towards employment – particularly amongst the long term unemployed. 78% of long-term unemployed stated it helped them build their confidence.
  • Backr members are positive about the support they have received: 92% recommending to a friend.

“The way in which Participle have delivered Backr has been excellent. I’ve been particularly struck by their focus on relational working supported by a robust evidence base. They understand claimant groups and have a programme unlike anything else we’ve seen.”
- Evaluation External Stakeholder