From education to employment

What lies beyond Employability Day?

Elizabeth Taylor

As organisations across the country celebrate Employability Day – Friday 30 June – Elizabeth Taylor, ERSA Chief Executive, discusses the employment support landscape and what we may, or may not, be celebrating this time next year. #EmpDay23 #WorkingForBetterWork

Today is my favourite workday. A frontline celebration for anyone supporting people to enter and progress in work, Employability Day radiates the hard work, expertise, and success of our sector. 

Coordinated by the Employment Related Services Association (ERSA), today will see employment support organisations and employers open their doors – both actual and virtual – to key stakeholders, agencies, networks and other businesses to demonstrate their incredible impact. The day drives understanding of our collective mission, Working for Better Work, and proudly displays the brilliant activities delivered by ERSA members to offer great value, innovative employment support and build a fairer labour market. It is a masterclass in how we freely share our expertise and good practice.

Over the past twenty years, the sector has developed its offer alongside huge changes in society and the economy. I’ve been there within it and became ERSA’s Chief Executive in 2019. It is staggering to reflect on the seismic shifts we’ve experienced and adapted to in that time. 

The UK’s withdrawal from the EU has presented years of ongoing funding uncertainty, while the Covid pandemic simply changed everything! Government responses have certainly kept us busy, and guessing at times, as we adeptly navigated the ebbs and flows of ESF, UKSPF, Local Investment Plans, Building Better Opportunities, New Enterprise Allowance, Kickstart, JETS, the Restart Scheme…and many more.

My role generally places me and ERSA membership around the policy making table. The work we have all done over the past decade has kept long-term unemployment down and supported millions of people to overcome their barriers to work – and that is recognised across the political parties. 

Yet, as I consider what’s next on the agenda, and what I may be reflecting on next Employability Day, I find myself wading into somewhat mirky waters.

There is a distinct lack of discussion around national employability provision and I feel a growing sense of unease as the Restart Scheme and Work and Health Programme current cessation dates loom on the 2025 horizon. Add a general election before January 2025 into the mix and we have the potential for no national, coherent employability programmes at a time when the number of people out of work due to long-term ill health is at its highest ever point. 

ERSA is calling for an extension to the Restart Scheme, incorporating evidence-based updates from the ReAct Partnership. We also want to drive discussions on future national employment policy. We must avoid at all costs a devolved postcode lottery of support – or not – determined by local investment plans, many already under fire for not utilisingaccessible funding.

As Henry Ford said, ‘If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got’. Progress is impossible without change and that change needs careful planning, sector consultation, innovative service design, partnership planning, and time to commission and mobilise effectively.

The UK labour market is transforming in front of us, as are the social aspects that shape it. Poor mental health, economic inactivity, the flight of older people from the labour market, NEET numbers rising, labour shortages, flexing and emerging sectors. Now is the time for fresh thinking. 

The sector, with our partners and stakeholders, are ready to prepare for tomorrow’s jobs today!

What won’t change however, is the need for the employability sector to holistically support people into good jobs and careers, met employers’ needs and reach into communities. We are here to tackle the labour market challenges of the present and the future – whatever it may hold.

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