From education to employment

Decent work, inclusion and sustainability

Dr Deirdre Hughes OBE, Director, dmh associates

The concepts of decent work, inclusion and supporting individuals to find pathways to learning and work opportunities present new opportunities and real challenges. Job security, roles and labour markets are changing rapidly. The UK careers support landscape in each of the four home nations is changing in response to the pandemic. In England, a quasi-market, experimental approach to careers provision has significantly weakened young people’s access to professionally-trained advisers.  There is need for focus more on identifying ‘spaces and places’ for all-age careers support in transformative ways. Research findings from a new compartive report show fragmented policies in England which will not create the level of support needed by individuals, particularly those most vulnerable in the aftermath of Covid-19, to build better futures for themselves.

Decent work is connected to poverty reduction and reducing inequality in developing countries in the context of globalisation and sustainable economic development. By 2030, the UN as part of its Sustainable Development Goal 8, aims to achieve decent work for men and women. 

The urgent need for the right kind of ‘spaces and places’ was illustrated in England last year. The Office for National Statistics figures (ONS, June 2020), showed the fastest increase in claimant unemployment since the winter of 1947, and the increase month on month was five times greater than witnessed in the 2008–09 recession. There were growing concerns about rising youth unemployment, particularly in certain disadvantaged areas. There were few spaces for young people aged between 16 and 19 to access specialist, one-to-one or group-based careers or employability support beyond the local public employment service (DWP), which was overwhelmed with unemployment claimants.

The “spaces and places-paradigm” is vital to help understand the pace of change and reframe the Covid-19 crisis in transformative ways. For example, earlier lessons from Connexions services in England (Hogarth & Smith, 2004 highlighted the importance of young people having a local place to go outside of school. This may include a multi-agency response to an individuals’ needs, a one-stop-shop approach with cyber-café facilities, welcoming community “pods”, or mobile provision where a bus or van can provide an outlet in a rural area or an urban setting to reach those most in need. More recently, digital self-service facilities are expanding as part of a client/customer experience. 

The impact of job losses and lives upended by the Covid-19 pandemic have yet to be fully realised in local households and communities. Those lowest paid have been badly affected, not least because forecasts before the downturn were suggesting a sharp decline in demand for “low skilled” work over the next decade. Women have been more adversely affected than men. People with disabilities, who have lower employment rates than the people with no disabilities, often face greater barriers to moving into work or changing jobs. Older people are also likely to be particularly at risk – because they are unlikely to go back to work once they are unemployed. Central to the government’s Skills Bill reforms are the creation of local skills improvement plans, led by employers and in collaboration with colleges and training providers. This needs to be expanded to form a ‘knowledge hexagon’  of education, businesses, training providers, trade unions, careers and employability professionals should be strengthened as a condition for jobs, skills and growth 2021–2031.

Inclusive growth is about enabling more people and geographical areas to contribute to and benefit from economic success. There is a strong belief in work as a key enabler and supply-side interventions in education and training as key levers. An element often overlooked by policymakers in England is the work of professionally-trained careers advisers bridging together the worlds of education, training and employment. Simultaneously, the public employment service (DWP) is rapidly expanding its portfolio of work coaches. 

In July 2020, the government’s Plan for Jobs (HM Treasury, 2020) announced a further £32 m investment in the National Careers Service (over 18 months). This policy statement affirmed its intention to support an all-age careers service and to revitalise the professional status of career guidance. But this has been recently undermined by difficulties resolving tensions within government policies e.g. separate and competing careers and employability initiatives funded by the Department for Education and Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). Lessons learned from other parts of the UK and futher afield can be useful in reframing careers support for young people and adults. 

International contributors in this new Special Issue of the British Journal of Guidance and Counselling bring complementary theoretical and practical perspectives from their own research and analysis of decent work, inclusion and/or sustainability issues in Brazil, Canada, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Singapore, the UK, US and West Africa. A free webinar on Friday 28th May 2021 from 14.00 -15.00. will discuss and explore good and interesting UK, European and international policies and practices.

Dr Deirdre Hughes OBE, Director, dmh associates

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