Fran Parry is a highly respected leader and strategist with 30 years experience across private, voluntary and public sector organisations – since 1998 in the employability, skills and education sectors. She is a very effective networker and project director and is recognised by senior stakeholders for her astute policy recommendations., “hands-on” approach to projects, networking skills, sound judgment and innovative ideas. Until Dec 2015 Fran was a Board and Executive Director at CESI, the pre-eminent research and policy organisation working in employability and skills, where she led on communications, new business and partnerships (now merged with NIACE as the Learning & Work Institute) and where she remains an Associate Director. She has made a major contribution to the creation of, and has also led, the leading membership organisations in the sector including ERSA (the Employment Related Services Association) and the IEP (Institute of Employability Professionals). Fran is the owner and Managing Director of Bright Sparks Consultancy Ltd.
It is with considerable frustration that I am adding to the mountain of words written to plead with the Department for Work and Pensions for a pause and a rethink about the extent and the impact of Universal Credit on numerous client groups.
As I write it is a year since the UK voted by a slim margin to leave the EU; the Conservative government has pledged £1b to the DUP to support a confidence and supply deal that may or may not keep it in power for 5 years; Brexit negotiations have started in a faltering way with a “Could do Better” response from Brussels to the UK’s preliminary offer; there are more questions than answers about the Grenfell Tower fire and the safety of citizens living in social housing throughout the country and to top it all there’s a fear of continuing terrorist attacks. People are feeling isolated from, and misunderstood by, their elected leaders.
If we doubted that we lived in “uncertain times” I doubt we doubt that now! So far 2017 has been a year to either stay under the duvet or to put your head firmly above the parapet. There are no half measures. Abroad President Trump’s first fortnight has signalled his clear projection towards deep conservatism and protectionism (and a lot of other “isms” better discussed elsewhere); in the UK Article 50 is on its way and Brexit will now commence at some speed; in our sector we now know what the “umbrella framework” for the Work & Health programme looks like and which providers have been given a shot at prime status and which haven’t.
DWP has a brand new ministerial team with only Lord Freud staying on from the previous incumbency. New ministers at Minister of State grade for Employment and for Disability, Work and Health with a downgrading of the Pensions portfolio suggests where the new Secretary of State’s priorities lie.
Last week I was asked to respond to a first wave of research findings around welfare conditionality. It’s a fascinating project over several years bringing together academics from the universities of York, Glasgow, Heriot Watt, Salford, Sheffield Hallam, Sheffield and the Economic and Social Research Council to research whether conditionality, sanctions and support create behavioural change amongst job seekers. See the report here - http://www.welfareconditionality.ac.uk/2016/05/effects-of-welfare-sanctions-and-conditional-support-profoundly-negative-our-first-wave-findings/
If, like me, you have worked for some time in the Education, Employment and Skills sector you'll appreciate the frustration I feel when I see wheels being reinvented (again) and lessons failing to be learned (or forgotten) from past experience and practice. In circumstances where the funding to support interventions is becoming increasingly difficult to attract my grievance is getting incrementally greater! We talk about "innovation" but we can rarely define what we mean. We are often wasting limited resources on activities that aren't evidenced to work, don't have sufficient impact and might even be doing more harm than good. The flip side of this is that good stuff is going on but we don't have a sufficiently robust mechanism to know where this is, what this is and how best to share it.
I have really enjoyed watching "The Autistic Gardener" on Channel 4. I picked it up late and intend to catch the rest on 4OD and I highly recommend you do too.A fortnight ago I wrote about my reflections on the key messages emerging from the IntoWork Convention and the absolute priority for really personalised programmes for individuals with challenging and sometimes multiple issues in their lives. This programme proved to be a beautifully executed and highly practical example of exactly what I was driving at.The Autistic Gardener is Alan Gardner a highly talented horticulturalist (he's a Chelsea Silver Medal winner), an inspired trainer and autistic himself, so he lives and breathes the condition and understands its impact upon employability at first hand. Alan's approach is exciting, not least for his shocking pink hair and vivid tattoos, but the more so because he is a genuinely empathetic trainer and thoroughly grounded (no pun intended) in his approach to working with people on the autism spectrum.
One of the more sobering elements of the Youth Employment Convention in London last week was Will Hutton's exhortation that we should be "very angry" and for a few uncomfortable minutes we were. We felt guilt, responsibility, failure. We felt the pain of the financial mess that is resulting in a whole generation of young adults enduring a recession the likes of which none of us have experienced before. We felt anger and we undertook to ensure that we followed up on the wise words of an invigorating two days with some tangible actions. Now it's important that we do so and build upon the momentum of the event.The Convention sought to listen to young people and to understand how it feels to be unemployed and cast adrift at the time of your life when you are at your most optimistic, and at your most vulnerable. We heard from young job seekers about where they think the shortfalls in the education, employment and skills systems lie and what actions they think would might address these shortcomings most effectively. A Youth Panel kicking off the event was impressive - ten young people, from diverse backgrounds, helping us understand things from their perspective – eloquently, thoughtfully and with passion. Here's just a flavour of what they, and young people contributing throughout the event, said would assist young people to transition more successfully in to the world of work:
At last, we're off! The Work Programme is out of the traps. The tenders are won, contracts signed, programme launched and it has all started "for real" from this week. Real people with real lives with real challenges will be presenting themselves at provider premises with the expectation of substantial support to assist them in to sustained employment.The Work Programme cannot fail. Minister for Employment Chris Grayling and his officials have stated on several occasions there is no "Plan B". However, there is a possibility that some provision may fall at the hurdles. The Ministerial team has said as much (IDS as recently as last Friday in the FT) and the discounts that have been offered to secure business are eye-watering and so it's a distinct possibility. DWP will have to act swiftly to ensure that, if that happens, there is provision available to swiftly "parachute" in and ensure seamless coverage.More fundamentally, in order to succeed, providers will have to achieve performance the like of which has not been seen consistently in any previous programme, and never experienced in a time of economically slow growth such as we are in now.An enormous amount of responsibility will lie upon the shoulders of the front line workers who will be the first line contact with job seekers - the Personal Advisers (PAs). This generic description covers a variety of functions including job brokerage, coaching and training. In all its guises the PA holds the key to the success of the job seeker, and by extension the performance of the contract on which they work. Contract success will only be possible if the PA has the ability, devolved authority, flexibility and tools they need to work effectively with longer term unemployed people.Rumours are circulating of some extremely basic recruitment interviews for PAs which we hope are ill-founded. Filling a PA role successfully necessitates in depth analysis of the skills set the individual has and even more importantly, their aptitude for the job. This is not a profession for the feint-hearted. With an estimated attrition rate of 50% each year (we think – no-one has ever undertaken a comprehensive survey) it's clearly a demanding role. If we are to attract the best and retain them we need to create a sector that the right people want to become a part of and to grow within.The industry has been working hard together over the last couple of years to create a framework of qualifications which will be launched at the Welfare to Work Convention at the end of the month. This will enable front line workers to achieve L3 qualifications in Employment Related Services at Award, Certificate and Diploma level and there will be management qualifications at L4/5 as well as an apprenticeship. Read more here.All well and good to have really relevant qualifications for PAs, it's long overdue but we need to provide a support structure too and our next step will be to create an umbrella organisation to protect the integrity of the sector and be the "guardian" of the qualifications. Thinking is at an early stage but the Institute of Employability Professionals is more than a pipe dream and funding is being actively sought.Giving PAs the opportunity to study remotely at their own desks in short, immediately applicable, enjoyable tranches of activity will be a pre-requisite to ensuring they have the level of understanding they need to perform to their best, and hit the ground running. Inclusion has joined up with Duality Training to create AdvanceW2W an e-learning platform which will deliver exactly that, directly to PAs' desks. Advance W2W will launch at W2W 2011.PAs need their tools to work efficiently and effectively. This means ensuring that the data they are working with is as accurate as possible. The onus is on DWP and Jobcentre Plus to ensure that information that is passed from Jobcentre Plus to providers is relevant, correct and timely.Inclusion's recent report 'Opening up employment for all: the role of assessment in the Work Programme', focuses on the vital role that assessment of new entrants on to the Work Programme will play in ensuring employment is really opened up for all. While the Work Capability Assessment can identify those who are 'fit for work', in many cases it will not give personal advisers the information they need to support everyone into employment. The report puts forward practical ideas on how the assessment of jobseekers needs to evolve to ensure this happens.The report highlights that many people entering onto the Work Programme will have health conditions and distinctive needs that will need to be understood and addressed if they are to be supported into work.We recommend that assessment needs to be performed early, thoroughly and by skilled professional staff. The report argues doing this will provide a framework for evaluating the success of different support interventions, as provided by different suppliers. Moreover, integrating assessment into the Work Programme will mean public and private providers can learn more about what works for different people. You can read the full report here.