From education to employment

Ideas for UKSPF People and Skills programmes

The Twin Group CEO argues that local UKSPF programme commissioners don’t have to copy and paste old ESF provision in brought-forward People and Skills programmes.

It was somewhat of a welcome surprise when the government informed combined and local authorities recently that they could bring forward their plans to roll out People and Skills programmes from April 2023 instead of 2024 as part of the UKSPF.  

Given that the planning process and related procurements take time, it is unclear how much of a difference Michael Gove’s announcement will make. It has not for example prevented providers from having to wind down their ESF provision resulting in a gap in communities being supported by ESF funded employability and skills programmes and providers having to let go expert staff.

Evaluations of ESF programmes

Evaluations of ESF programmes have been taking place by commissioners around the country and one question is how much we will see them replicated as People and Skills provision under the UKSPF or whether the local authorities will use the opportunity to try something different. It is worth bearing in mind that local commissioners are not encumbered by the national DfE/DWP divide and therefore there is more scope to roll out more integrated employability and skills provision.

Another question is whether the 38 Local Skills Improvement Plans (LSIPs) will influence programme design. This might be an unrealistic expectation even though the drafting of most LSIPs is well advanced because it relies on the UKSPF commissioners and the LSIP employer representative bodies working in tandem with each other. We should really allow time for these relationships to develop.

Recent contracts

Twin Group has been a contractor for ESF programmes and the UK Community Renewal Fund while it also delivers employability and skills programmes for the DfE, DWP and devolved authorities. Our recent contract wins include Skills Bootcamps, Multiply and Neurodiversity Strategy Coaching Support for the Probation Service, which complement more traditional offerings such as apprenticeships and ESOL provision under the Adult Education Budget.

Twin was also part of a financial and digital competence improvement programme in Leicestershire last year designed to support local people to move towards employment, job search, education or training. For ESF, we are proud of our track-record in several regions including the South East, South West and East Midlands in delivering Skills Support for the Unemployed and collaborating with community and voluntary sector organisations to support economically inactive people into employment. Therefore we have broad experience and a wide viewpoint to advocate where a fresh approach under the UKSPF could make a very positive impact.

What should People and Skills programme designers be considering?

Right now we believe that while recognising local needs may vary, People and Skills programme designers should be considering addressing the following three priorities:

  1. Improving low digital skills
  2. Increasing workforce participation among the over 50s
  3. Teaching English to those whose English is not their first language.

All of these would be responding to current employer demand with vacancies running at record highs. In one area where Twin delivers programmes, an evaluation revealed that nearly half (45%) of businesses were concerned about their employees’ digital skills. This includes use of Zoom, Teams and social media. As 74% of the same employers want to grow the use of digital technology, it is easy to understand the concern. Furthermore the need to support SMEs in this regard is very apparent.

Digital skills are not the only skills priority. We see demand for improved skills in communications, management, customer service and sales. With the arrival of ChatGPT, employers and skills providers must adapt more quickly to the benefits and challenges which artificial intelligence brings, particularly in respect of accurate assessment of a learner’s competence and progression.

The challenge in reducing the number of people economically inactive, whether they are young or aged over 50, is that many of them are not looking for a job. But when Twin’s staff gear up programmes to reach out to those furthest from the labour market, such as providing highly focused individual monitoring of clients, the outcomes can be very encouraging.


A judgement probably needs to be made on the balance of provision which addresses the needs of local communities some distance from the labour market and upskilling individuals already in work. For the latter, it is easier to make a positive business case which is well-aligned with government policy. Commissioners will want to make provision which is compatible with changes in working lives, such as more part-time working happening in sectors such as retail and hospitality since the pandemic.

 A further challenge for commissioners and providers is to ensure that local provision is synergistic with national programmes rather than acting in a duplicate manner. Local needs must be satisfied efficiently while making contracts sufficiently attractive to quality bidders. This includes recognition that efficient delivery may involve blended delivery of learning as well as the power of face-to-face support.

What’s next?

Our input to local commissioners on the UKSPF is to resist uniform copy and paste of past programmes whilst not throwing out what works. Different challenges, such as large-scale vacancies and the absence of mass unemployment in an economic slowdown, require fresh approaches and therefore we should be braver about mixing things up in People and Skills delivery.

For instance, why not try a combined programme of ESOL and digital skills inclusion? Our experience that the combination would help meet employer demand and fill vacancies. From the community perspective, digital poverty in households is addressed and both 16 to 24 year olds and the over 50s can benefit. Providers like us are ready to rise to the task.

By Caroline Fox, CEO of Twin Group  

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