Elizabeth Taylor, ERSA

The Employability Sector 

The Employment Related Services Association (ERSA) is the representative body for the employment support sector. Poor mental health is a significant and all-too-common barrier to finding employment. Our members see at first-hand the impact poor mental health has in preventing people accessing employment.

The employability sector encompasses a huge range of specialist providers delivering skills provision, wellbeing services, self-employment advice, offender and youth support, and employability programmes. They deliver services to people at every stage of their employability journey, from those ready and able to start work, to the hardest to reach learners and jobseekers. Spanning the private, voluntary and public sectors, this diversity sparks innovation and its strength should be recognised.

Upskilling, reskilling, digital accessibility, numeracy, literacy, and mental health interventions play a crucial part in equipping future jobseekers with the tools to progress. Now more than ever, people disengaged from the labour market need a positive focus; interventions to help them move forward in an uncertain time.

When getting people into work is far from straightforward or even possible, commissioners should not be driven by the holy grail of job starts. As thoughts turn to the Government’s next large scale commissioning rounds, funding for mental health support and skills development in its many guises must be given its rightful focus. A ‘rich tapestry of provision’ is often quoted. Let’s hope the market is appropriately funded in the future to deliver it.

Service Design for Unemployed People

The DWP’s Plan for Jobs has an understandable emphasis on job creation. RESTART, which is currently open to bids, has a single, job outcome measure.

Mental health can deteriorate rapidly once a person is out of work, often overtaking other barriers a person faces in their employability.

Providers have a golden opportunity now to build robust provision into their bids. With RESTART offering a more generous package of funding per participant, working with people to build resilience and improve mental wellbeing is eminently achievable – and will pay dividends in achieving that sustained job outcome.

With up to 14 providers set to ultimately deliver RESTART contracts, mental health support within programmes will inevitably vary but we hope to see an improved emphasis on: mental health training for employability staff; social prescribing activity with local mental health partners; and strengthened links with Jobcentre Plus to ensure participants are signposted to the most appropriate programme.

Support for the Working Population

Poor mental health is not the sole preserve of unemployed people: one in three of the UK workforce have been diagnosed with a mental health condition at some point in their lives. Normalising discussions about mental health in the workplace is an ongoing challenge. Whether you’re a programme participant adjusting to returning to work, or one of the millions of workers juggling changes in working practices with the impact of the pandemic at home, times can be tough.

Support for Employability Professionals

Let’s also count amongst those workers the thousands of employability professionals working harder and smarter than ever before. Massively increased workload, new delivery methods, and a client population with undoubtedly growing mental health concerns; they give it their all. In an industry which prides itself on the empathy and lived experiences of many of its professionals, it can be physically and emotionally draining work.

Current Provision

Recognising symptoms, knowing what help is available, and building the confidence to speak out in any workplace needn’t be onerous or costly. MHFA England offers resources, and the Five Ways to Wellbeing are simple, yet highly effective. The Access to Work mental health support service also offers free mental health support to employers and any of their employees. Employers should encourage emotional intelligence in the workplace – seemingly small interventions can make a huge difference.


Awareness, awareness, awareness – and the power of three should be the mantra.

Recommendation 1

Commissioners of employability provision should embed mental health awareness, support and training into future strategies. For some, it’s a marathon not a sprint, and the sector should be shaped accordingly.

Recommendation 2

Providers should seize the opportunity to build mental health provision into their services and give appropriate training to staff. Getting participants jobs, and maintaining them, will depend on it.

Recommendation 3

Employers should embrace their duty to protect the mental health of employees. There’s a firm business case for it too.

By Elizabeth Taylor, ERSA and Richard Brooks, SETAS

Understanding and Overcoming a Mental Health Crisis in 2021

This article is from the new publication Understanding and Overcoming a Mental Health Crisis in 2021: issues for post-16 education, employment, the world of work and retirement’. 

Some of the issues and concerns for mental health discussed existed prior to the pandemic, but Covid-19 has caused additional pressures on young people and adults. 

The authors make specific recommendations to support apprentices and students at colleges, university and in adult learning, as well as people in and out of work.

The important role of education, lifelong learning and good work in promoting mental wellbeing and reducing mental health problems is also addressed. 

Published by the Campaign for Learning, it brings together sixteen specialists from mental health and post-16 education and employment to set out what needs to be done to prevent or limit a mental health crisis in 2021. 


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