From education to employment

The evolution of terminology: Moving beyond ‘welfare to work’ in global employability services

Scott Parkin

Does terminology such as ‘welfare to work’ still reflect the values of modern employability services, or is it outdated? Exploring how language moulds perceptions and the evolution of employability services.

The term ‘welfare to work’ originated to describe programs aimed at transitioning individuals from government assistance to employment. However, in my opinion, this term has become outdated, potentially derisory, and no longer reflects the values, professionalism, and inclusiveness of modern employability services. I want to explore the evolution of employability services and the importance of language in shaping perceptions and experiences.

Historical overview of ‘welfare to work’

Origins and context – ‘Welfare to work’ was conceptualised in a different socioeconomic landscape, primarily focusing on reducing government welfare expenditure and addressing perceived welfare dependency.

Implications and limitations – The term implies a simplistic transition from unemployment to employment, neglecting the complexities and barriers faced by individuals, and could contribute to the stigmatisation and marginalisation of service users.

Modern employability services

Holistic approaches – Contemporary services focus on a holistic, individualised approach, addressing barriers such as education, skills and mental health, to facilitate the movement towards sustainable employment.

Empowerment and inclusion – Modern services utilise empowering language and methodologies, emphasising respect, dignity and the diverse needs of jobseekers, promoting inclusivity and equality.

The significance of language and the impact on perception and experience – Language shapes societal attitudes, individual self-perception and experience. Potentially derogatory terms reinforce negative stereotypes and hinder the progress of service users.

Empowering terminology – The deliberate adoption of respectful and empowering language in professional employability services reflects their commitment to positive change, promoting self-esteem, motivation, and resilience among jobseekers.

Global perspectives on employability services

Cultural sensitivity and adaptation – Global employability services recognise and respect cultural diversity, adapting their approaches to meet varied needs and challenges, ensuring relevancy and effectiveness in diverse contexts.

Collaboration and innovation – International partnerships enhance the effectiveness of employability services through knowledge exchange, shared learning and collaborative innovations, driving continuous improvement and advancement in the field.

The way forward

Advocacy and Systemic Change – Employability services play a crucial role in advocating for systemic changes to address barriers to employment and to promote social justice, equality and inclusive growth.

Continuous evolution – This field of professional practice is committed to ongoing learning and adaptation, ensuring that methodologies, practices and language evolve to meet the changing needs and aspirations of jobseekers.

In conclusion

The term ‘welfare to work’ is antiquated and does not represent the professionalism, values and diversity of modern employability services. The shift to more respectful and empowering language is crucial in fostering positive perceptions, experiences and outcomes for jobseekers globally. Employability services are at the forefront of advocating for positive social change, working collaboratively to innovate, adapt and improve, ensuring the dignity, respect and success of every individual they support.

Please share your views.

By Scott Parkin FIEP, Group Chief Executive, Institute of Employability Professionals (IEP)

Scott Parkin is Group CEO of the Institute of Employability Professionals (IEP), the international membership body for employability professionals. The IEP is dedicated to supporting the people who support others gain work, progress in work and retain work. Scott is passionate about the development of people across the public services sector and has spent nearly 30 years in the Employment, Skills, Social Care, Housing, Justice and Health-related service sectors within a number of private, public and voluntary sector organisations, from large national employers to SMEs.

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  1. Words are important and the right words can change the way people think and feel about different issues. The move from describing women with a baby, but not married, from “unmarried mothers” to “single parents” was, I believe, one of the most powerful examples.
    It is time to say goodbye to “Welfare to Work” and perhaps, hello and welcome to ” Employability Advancement Services”.