From education to employment

Working for better work: Prioritising employers

Elizabeth Taylor

In this article, Elizabeth Taylor shares her takeaways from recent analysis of employers navigating Universal Credit. Supporting, challenging and protecting employers is critical to the success of the sector and supporting people on Universal credit to gain and sustain good work.

We place a lot of emphasis in our sector on individually tailored programmes, people-centric support, holistic packages to help people at every stage in their employment journey. And quite rightly so; participants sit at the heart of every good employability programme.

Then set this against Universal Credit’s dogma of work first, moving people into any job – then bettering it.

Deep in this conundrum it’s easy to see where employers wants and worries can fall through the cracks.

Yet employers sit at the centre of everything ERSA members deliver. Put simply, they offer the jobs that the people we support are trying to access.

So is the sector doing enough to help employers recruit and keep the people they need? Helping them navigate the intricacies of the Universal Credit system for both their existing and potential employees, and importantly, encouraging them to offer good work – not just any work – to participants?

This was the question discussed at the recent ERSA Employer Engagement Forum; a community of good practice comprising practitioners, commissioners, and employers intent on joining up labour market needs with employment support. At the cornerstone of discussions were new research findings from Manchester Metropolitan University, examining how the UK’s active labour market policies, including Universal Credit, affect employers’ recruitment and progression strategies. Currently being reviewed, and gathering significant pace at DWP, I wholeheartedly echo Dr Katy Jones’ three recommendations for employability professionals:


Employers are largely critical of a work first approach, understandably wanting a more sustainable model, integrating skills development, recruitment, and retention support. Involving employers in service design early-doors will lessen, if not eliminate, many barriers in recruiting and managing people furthest from the labour market, or those with additional support needs.

We heard excellent examples from the Growth Company’s Fern Goddard of employer forums giving direct feedback on the people issues they face. Direct responses are then masterminded, from delivering workshops on priority group participants, upskilling the engagement team on all-things-Universal-Credit, to referrals to other expert sector partners. 


Is any job really OK? Or should we be encouraging employers to go further?

For the majority of participants I would say that employability professionals have a definite role to play in encouraging employers to go above and beyond minimum scheme requirements. From simply questioning why a different approach couldn’t work, different hours, different pay grades; to suggesting recognised charters and frameworks to employ, we have the knowledge and best practice to share.

While employers must ultimately take responsibility for the quality of their workers’ experiences, our encouragement and proactive challenges can help shape more inclusive employer practices. And if an employer doesn’t have their team’s best interests at heart, that job entry simply isn’t worth chasing.


Drop the acronyms, bury the bureaucracy, and ‘hide the wiring’ – a perfect analogy for shielding employers from the unnecessary complexities of our fragmented employability landscape. Employers are looking to push at an open door, not face a brick wall of process. As employability practitioners we largely understand programme nuances and interconnectivities, but does your employer really need to do so? Being a gateway to access schemes simply and unlock the plethora of additional support available will build a mutually beneficial partnership.

Sounds simple? Yet these themes are not new, they’re the essence of effective employer engagement, both during recruitment and in-work support phases.

What of course has changed are the requirements of Universal Credit; a post-pandemic landscape of economic inactivity and labour shortages; and vitally, fluctuating funding sources to resource these three simple staples.

So, we continue to network, share ideas, and influence policy on these fronts, while working closely with employers to shape a fairer labour market. ERSA is keen to hear from employers – we want to know what they need and expect from employment support providers. As an employer or provider, we welcome your future input to the ERSA Employer Engagement Forum.

By Elizabeth Taylor from the Employment Related Services Association (ERSA)

With thanks to @Dr_KatyJones, Dr Callum Carson, Tony Carr, Deven Ghelani, Raj Grewal, and members of the ERSA Employer Engagement Forum.

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