The “most important Employability Day ever” on 17 June 2022 is a crucial opportunity for the employment support sector to flex its muscles. Getting back to basics with a theme of ‘We Fill Vacancies’, the sector is poised to sell itself to commissioners, employers, learners and jobseekers at a critical time for many providers.
Elizabeth Taylor, CEO of the Employment Related Services Association (ERSA) explains in her Just the Job series for FE News why this annual showcase is so much more than just a positive PR exercise.
EMPLOYABILITY DAY: WHAT’S HAPPENING ON 17 JUNE
Showcasing services; applauding individuals progressing in life; recognising dedicated employability staff… Employability Day celebrates the success of the past year in all its forms. But above and beyond that, in this year of all years, it tells employers that We Fill Vacancies.
At a national level, Employability Day will demonstrate the success of DWP-commissioned provisions such as Job Entry Targeted Support (JETS), Job Finding Support, the Work and Health Programme, the Restart Scheme, and Fair Start Scotland. In partnership with Jobcentre Plus, these programmes squarely faced and responded to the pandemic with providers developing new and innovative delivery models, while keeping their doors open when Covid allowed to the often vulnerable people who need our sectors’ services the most.
These national provisions rely on specialist local knowledge: of the labour market, the employers that drive it, and the workers needed to make it tick. It’s this perfectly modelled local delivery, and its thousands of community-based third sector partners, that fill vacancies and meet employers’ needs.
This Employability Day will therefore be packed with employer engagement events, highlighting to recruiters the range of support available to them and the people they hope to employ.
Thankfully for the first time in two years, providers large and small can safely open their doors, offices, premises, and outreach centres to provide an event CV of what the employability sector has to offer – and achieves time and again.
Participants will be flooding to job fairs and recruitment events and attending workshops, training, and familiarisation sessions all destined to increase their motivation and ability to secure work. All under the watchful eyes of local MPs, Ministers, stakeholders and commissioners invited to see employability in action.
WHY IT’S IMPORTANT
Many voluntary sector organisations delivering frontline services to disadvantaged communities are facing huge operational challenges as the ramifications of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund hit.
Employability Day allows local providers currently funded through European monies to demonstrate their capabilities, that should and must be continued through UK Shared Prosperity Funding.
Local authorities should now be engaging with these specialist organisations in preparation for the UKSPF investment plan submission window, which opens on 30 June. With UKSPF funding for people and skills largely inaccessible until 2024-5, the very-welcome voluntary sector consideration means that local authorities need to know the groups currently supported in their communities, the employment and skills packages offered, and most of all, their successful outcomes.
However, ERSA members are reporting a very mixed landscape of proactiveness and preparation across the lead authorities they are keen to share word of their vital services to.
The next couple of weeks will therefore be crucial to hundreds of voluntary sector organisations and their specialist staff; some facing a funding cliff-edge. Employability Day is the day to shout out, show what is delivered and what is at risk when current provision ends.
THE REAL LEVEL OF UNEMPLOYMENT
Protecting the sectors’ specialist organisations nods of course to the bigger picture… why they’re so desperately needed.
Despite record levels of employment and vacancies, the number of economically inactive people, particularly older workers, is growing.
Vacancies in February to April 2022 rose to a new record of 1,295,000. Yet we’re facing a participation crisis unparalleled in recent decades. Recent research indicates that the real level of unemployment due to these silent masses of economically inactive adults stands significantly higher than official statistics indicate.
Those people disengaged from the labour market – the very people ERSA members are specialist at supporting – need experienced, quality provision like no time before.
Employment support providers are embedded in communities, engaging people outside of the Jobcentre Plus cohort. This outreach and community focussed work is needed more than ever to drive participation in the labour market. European funding has delivered provisions outside the mainstream for decades, including for the over 50s; women returners; people with care responsibilities; young people not in education, employment and training; prison leavers; and people who are homeless or in vulnerable housing. Long may UKSPF support these initiatives!
And of course, this isn’t a binary equation; getting someone out of work into work.
The focus of employment support is progression. Getting someone closer to or into the right job at the right time, supporting them to progress in work, helping the individual and employer access in-work skills training, and when the individual progresses and a vacancy is created, helping the employer fill that vacancy with the right person again. That requires consistent knowledge, expertise and long-term funding.
THERE’S MUCH TO CELEBRATE – AND MUCH TO LOSE
So, this Employability Day, please join ERSA in championing the work of employment support providers. They #HelpFillVacancies and are well placed to tackle the current participation crisis.
Whether through national government contracts or more local, European-funded projects, organisations have supported people, often the most vulnerable, into jobs. Every single vacancy that our sector fills, helps to transform the lives of individuals and their communities. This Employability Day, we need to celebrate these achievements with each other and the wider public.
There’s much to celebrate – and much to lose. Let’s make Employability Day 2022 the best yet.
By Elizabeth Taylor, CEO, ERSA