Headshot of Nikki-Dee HaddletonI’m Nikki-Dee Haddleton, the Strategic Lead for the Black Country Futures Partnership.  Black Country Futures are a diverse Partnership of well established, community focused organisations based in the Black Country. I work (and have worked) with lots of different charities and voluntary sector organisations here in the Black Country, Birmingham and Nationally. Over the coming weeks I will be sharing a series of blog posts on employment support services in the voluntary sector. I will be sharing my own thoughts and views based on my experiences, and conversations I am currently having with other charity leaders and front-line delivery staff, and hope that these will start important conversations and provide some useful insights and resources.

In the voluntary sector we support people in need. Our individual organisations may focus on specific communities or areas, or maybe issue focused, but we are all invariably working with people who are facing challenges they need help to overcome.  As part of this, we work with many people who have been out of work for some time, have never worked, and those who have barriers to work. We know that for many people, being able to find work or increase their chances of gaining sustainable employment is crucial in helping them build independent, stable lives. We also support employed people who are accessing a variety of our other services. Increasingly, employed people are still accessing our employment and skills support, as having a job doesn’t always lift people out of poverty and sustaining employment can present its own challenges.

When we speak of our ’employment support’ we are not just talking about helping someone write a CV/apply for a job and practice interview questions. Many of the statutory services offered to people, such as those at the jobcentre, focus on the employment side of looking for work. But we know from experience this really is the tip of the ice-berg. To help someone who is not in work to be able to enter / re-enter the world of work we have to support them to address their barriers to work and life situations which impact on their desire to work and ability to work. To deliver this holistic, person-centred support takes time, skills and experience. It is not something we can expect to be delivered in 20 minute appointment slots by employment advisors. It needs people who understand the issues and can help address them, whatever they may be. It needs a network of support organisations coming together to meet with the often diverse and complex needs of individuals. I would argue this is something that can only be delivered by the third sector.

One of the often repeated phrases I hear when working with people on the topic of employment and skills is that they are ‘Hard to Reach’. I disagree with this. People are not hard to reach. They may be hard to reach by conventional methods, or by national providers, but at a local level, we (the third sector) are already working with them. We are already engaged with them, and already supporting them. This is why it is so vital that strategic bodies and commissioners engage with us and ensure funding is allocated to support the work we do. It is why employment support models and funding criteria need to be updated to reflect the true depth of employment support and not just focus on the tip of the iceberg.

Employment Support Iceberg shows the wraparound support given by the voluntary sector.

If we (charities and voluntary sector organisations) cannot continue to do what we do, it is going to have a profound and negative impact on the people and communities we support. I asked the Black Country Futures partnership to share with me what they are actually doing to support people to move towards, gain or sustain employment and this graphic image was developed as a result. It is resonating strongly with people across the sector and has been made publicly available at www.blackcountryfutures.co.uk/further-info by popular request. We hope sharing this will help others to highlight just how much is involved in delivering holistic, in-depth support, that leads onto positive, sustainable employment for people, and why the voluntary sector is crucial to this.