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ERSA Annual Conference 2018

Employment Futures: Opportunities for People and Place

The conference was held on 5 December 2018 in London and was attended by over 200 senior decision-makers from across the employment support sector and included contributions from government, employment providers, charities and housing associations. The conference focused on the changing employment support landscape alongside the spectre of Brexit. Thank you to all our sponsors and supporters who attended the conference with special thanks to key sponsor, Shaw Trust.

Ministerial address: Sarah Newton MP, Minister of State for Disabled People, Health and Work 
The Disabilities Minister, Sarah Newton MP, opened proceedings with an emphatic address focussing on the strength of the economy and the Government's work on social injustices. She highlighted her Department's drive to improve the evidence base for employment support though Randomised Control Trials and innovation funds, such as the Work and Health Unit’s Challenge Fund - aimed at supporting people with MSK or mental health conditions to remain in work. She also praised Disability Confident, the principle of Universal Credit and the importance of the European Social Fund for her constituents. 

Plenary One: Uncertain Waters Ahead? Navigating economic and political uncertainties
Phillip Blond, Director, ResPublica
Neil Carberry, Chief Executive, The Recruitment & Employment Confederation
Kayley Hignell, Head of Policy, Citizens Advice
Richard Clifton, Chief Commercial Officer, Shaw Trust

Phillip Blond, Director of ResPublica, made a characteristically thought-provoking contribution. He highlighted rapid transformational change in the UK since 1945 and lamented liberalism as a vehicle of insecurity, arguing it places particular pressures on the working and middle classes. He suggested that white collar workers would be placed under more economic pressure by automaton and pressed the need on solidarity between classes to force tangible change.

Neil Carberry, Chief Executive of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, defended the UK’s liberal market economy but said we were experiencing an age of insecurity. He expressed concern that people were less likely to move jobs because of economic uncertainty and rallied companies to move quickly to adapt to technological and labour market changes. He called for more workforce planning, more thinking in partnership and improved mental health and wellbeing support at work.

Kayley Hignell, Director of Policy at Citizens Advice, spoke about how political and economic uncertainty is playing out in people’s lives right now. She expressed concerns about welfare reform and how this is worsening the debt crisis, with people often overwhelmed by ever increasing financial pressures. She was, however, optimistic about recent investment in Universal Credit.

Richard Clifton, Chief Commercial Officer, at Shaw Trust spoke about the importance of the European Social Fund for his organisation to deliver services for vulnerable people. He said the UK Shared Prosperity Fund – its proposed successor – is in danger of being be too focussed on industrial growth, rather than inclusive growth and challenged stakeholders to ensure sure it was properly aligned.

Breakout One: Enterprise & self-employment: Building the UK’s entrepreneurial future
Mike Brook, Director, National Enterprise Network (chair)
Matt Dooley, Enterprise Director, PeoplePlus
Jordan Marshall, Policy Development Manager, Association of Independent Professionals and the Self Employed

In this breakout, Matt Dooley of PeoplePlus talked about the positive impact of the New Enterprise Allowance, the DWP's flagship business start-up programme. PeoplePlus has three prime contracts in Greater Manchester and Cheshire, West Midlands and Scotland and with the huge rise in self-employment (15% of the current population), Matt said he would welcome the expansion of the programme to ensure more jobseekers are eligible.

Jordan Marshall of IPSE then talked about the diffculties faced by the self-employed and how some unscrupulous employers are pushing their staff into self-employment. With the advancement of technology and automation, self-employment will continue to rise. 20% of self-employed individuals have no savings and over a third do not contribute to a pension plan. With this in mind, IPSE has called for the enforcement of good payment practices and is pushingf for a -'mid-life MOT', where the self-employed are financially assessed.

Breakout Two: Race, Ethnicity and Employment
Kenny Boyle, Director of Marketing and Business Development, PeoplePlus (chair)
Jeremy Crook, Chief Executive, Black Training & Enterprise Group

Kenny Boyle, Director of Marketing and Development from PeoplePlus opened the session by talking about the work they had done with ERSA, to release their report on Race and Ethnicity. He said that a multi ethnic democracy was a source of great pride in this country.

Jeremy Crook, Chief Executive, Black Training & Enterprise Group, reiterated this by saying that if someone has a desire and aspiration to work, yet a different ethnicity, this shouldn’t be a barrier for them to work. A few key considerations for employment providers, in closing the ethnicity gap include: the need to address ethnic disparities; have an ethnic champion; focus on BAME talent with employers, and support employers to achieve their ethnic recruitment aspirations; collect ethnicity performance data and set out what you are going to do to close any gaps; and to look at your own organisations workforce in relation to recruitment, progression and retention.

To conclude the session, Kenny Boyle, stated that to improve and close the gaps, of Race and Ethnicity employment, a systematic and continued approach to changing the culture of organisations is needed, which starts at the top.

Breakout Three: Young People – is the Youth Obligation Working?
Sam Windett, Director of Policy, Impetus-PEF (chair)
Jessica Paddock, Further Education Funding, Department for Education
Nicole Dulieu, Research and Evaluation Manager, Young Women's Trust

Sam Windett Director of Impetus PEF chaired an important session on the Youth Obligation debating the effectiveness of the programme and its lack of outcome data. Jessica Paddock of the Department for Education gave an overview of the programme and discussed the link to the European Social Fund and apprenticeships. Nicole Dulieu of Young Women’s Trust highlighted findings in her latest report, including the lack of transparency on referrals, outcomes and value for money and the disparities in quality across areas. Sam Windett suggested the Government may be looking beyond the Youth Obligation before its next Spending Review and encouraged providers to engage with ERSA to discuss how to influence its plans.

Breakout Four: No One Left Behind: The Future of Prison Education
Bryony Tedder, Bid Director, G4S – Employment Support Services (chair)
Asi Panditharatna, Director of Employment Services, Forward Trust
Simon Thornhill, Prison Education, Offender Reform and Commissioning Group, Ministry of Justice

Asi Panditharatna, Director of Employment Services at Forward Trust, spoke of his organisation's experience of working in prisons supporting hundreds of learners with vocational training and how they are aligning their training with community provision such as JCP DPS provision. He spoke on how important it is to get the mix right for prison education through several factors including targeting prisoners with the right offer for them, embedding employability skills early and making sure employers are consulted.

Simon Thornhill from the Ministry of Justice confirmed the intention to empower governors as well as implement almost all the recommendations from the Coates Review. Consistency and quality in the courses offered will be maintained by awarding bodies which ensure prisoners will be able to pick up their learning if moved between prisons in key curriculum topics. He expected an initial trickle of courses to increase dramatically in time.

Breakout Five: What Works in Supporting In-Work Progression
Richard Brooks, Director, SETAS (chair)
Sarah Horner, Head of Policy and Communications, Learning and Work Institute
Andrew Moore, Senior Operations Manager, Prospects Services

Sarah Horner, Head of Policy and Communications, Learning and Work Institute, pointed out that government policy is muddled over how to support people in work into better jobs and out of entrenched low pay. Learning and Work is evaluating a number of pilots as part of their Better Work Network and initial key points included the need for a more flexible approach for these services compared to supporting the unemployed which allowed for access outside working hours. Their research will result in a best practice website as well as a framework for evaluating initiatives.

Andrew Moore, Senior Operations Manager, Prospects Services, spoke frankly about the difficulties encountered running their progression activity in London. The outcomes measure was higher pay through better contract or better earnings within 28 days of referral.  Although engagement and numbers were on track and meeting targets, recruiting participants had been initially challenging and had only been effective through engaging employers. Self-referral was hampered by working through JCPs. The average increase of those who had progressed was £1.50/hour. They found there was appetite for training but confusion between apprenticeships or other skills development provision.

Breakout Six: The DWP’s Test and Learn Dynamic Purchasing System                         
George Baines, Director, Standguide (chair)
Craig Rye, Employment Category Commercial Lead, Department for Work and Pensions

Craig Rye, Employment Category Commercial Lead of DWP and George Baines, CEO of Standguide hosted a breakout session primarily covering the DWP’s new  “Test and Learn” Dynamic Purchasing System (DPS) but were able to touch on the current Jobcentre Plus Flexible Support Fund (FSF) DPS that providers have had access to for nearly 18 months. In this interesting  session Craig took us through the main differences between the Test and learn DPS systems and the FSF DPS. Chris explained the procurement process for the Test and Learn DPS and an expectation that the first opportunities will be published early in 2019, he then went on to outline some tips on how to submit a good offer to the FSF DPS. As a successful provider on the FSF DPS, Standguide’s George Baines was able to offer some insights into the benefits and pitfalls of the FSF DPS. Thee were many questions from the floor and DWP offered with ERSA’s help to convene a meeting in the new year to hear provider concerns about the FSF DPS.

Breakout Seven: Mental Health at Work
Gemma Hope, Director of Policy, Shaw Trust (chair)
Caroline Masundire, Associate Director, Rocket Science
Ayden Sims, Director of Business Development, Remploy

In this session, Caroline Masundire of Rocket Science talked about her own experiences of poor mental health and the impact it has on a person's ability to function properly in a working environment. Caroline then went on to talk about the Challenge Fund - the first externally-held DWP contract which aims to help people with mental health and musculoskeletal (MSK) issues stay in work. Caroline also stressed the importance of normalising disclosure of mental health issues in the workplace to create a supportive and understanding environment.

Ayden Sims of Remploy then spoke about its delivery of the Access to Work Mental Health contract. The contract is entirely funded by DWP and eligibility is not dependent on a formed diagnosis of mental health issues. The referral process has been simplified so that individuals are put in direct contact with Remploy, whether they are in employment or not. The contract has seen a 93% success rate of individuals remaining in employment after six months.

Breakout Eight: Collaborative Working in a Devolving Landscape
Elizabeth Taylor, Chief Executive, Bootstrap Enterprises and Vice Chair, ERSA (chair)
Chantel Hampton, ESF Contract Manager, Seetec
Hollie Warren, Managing Director, Portland Training

With increasing devolution and greater powers transferring to regional bodies, the session started with Paul Vetta, Business Development and Marketing Manager, Seetec, highlighting the changes and challenges faced by them. He said that efficient service delivery is provided by good service integration, and that collaboration is key.

Chantel Hampton, ESF Contract Manager, Seetec also talked about collaboration in their work with New Anglia LEP with the Skills Support for the Workforce (SSW) programme. It designs programmes to deliver responsive workplace learning across the Anglia region, the purpose of which is to reduce the long-term risk of unemployment and enhance employee skills and career prospects. Hollie Warren, Managing Director, Portland Training College has also partnered with Seetec on the SSW programme, and said that fully funded upskilling has enabled Portland to realise the completion of a plan for a full qualified workforce much sooner than anticipated. It is clear, that the work of prime contractors such as Seetec has been vital, in helping individuals as well as the business. The same collaboration is needed with the supply chain as a prime provider.

Jobseeker showcase: Down's Syndrome Association

Keynote address: Mike Amesbury MP, Shadow Minister for Employment
Shadow Minister for Employment, Mike Amesbury MP, spoke about the need to integrate employment support with a strong social security system. He said Labour would be radically different in direction and approach and would invest more in supporting young people and people with disabilities. He argued that Labour would ensure a fairer and more stable society with a £10 living wage, strong trade union rights and improved collective bargaining, and accused the Government of creating a hostile environment for vulnerable people and dragging its feet on the UK Shared Prosperity Fund. He suggested that poor practice in the private sector would not be tolerated, but praised the expertise of independent employment support providers.

Plenary Two: Unleashing the potential of people and place
Johanna Hoyal, Head of DWP Interventions and Local Labour Market Strategy, Department for Work and Pensions
Stephen Evans, Chief Executive, Learning and Work Institute
Bill Davies, Head of Policy, Central London Forward
Kate Markey, Chief Executive, London Community Foundation

Stephen Evans, Chief Executive of Learning and Work, proposed reversing the approach that activity is centralised first until its proven it can be devolved. He said he had three priorities for better devolution: better wrap around support as Universal Credit is rolled out; greater focus on closing the disability employment gap; and more workplace support to improve career progression.

Bill Davies of Central London Forward said the advantage of devolution is that local leaders can use resources to focus on local need. He suggested there is inadequate funding for labour market policy, however, and many groups are not supported. He challenged stakeholders to prepare for a post-Brexit labour market, as well as the next economic downturn when unemployment is higher. 

Johanna Hoyle of DWP expressed the importance of better planning facilitated by Local Enterprise Strategies. She said the first areas would be finalised by March 2019, with the rest completed by March 2020. Kate Markey of London Community Foundation said there is money out there which has nothing to do with central government. Many community groups can tap into this to provide hyper local solutions to local problems.

Further information:

Jack Thurston
Membership and Communications Officer
jack.thurston@ersa.org.uk
020 3757 9415