Once upon a time Dinosaurs ruled the employability sector – large, successful animals whose size and capacity enabled them to deliver the big contracts; and do it well. One day a meteorite came along in the shape of Rt Hon Priti Patel MP, then the Employment Minister, at the 2015 ERSA conference. She said that long term unemployment was no longer an issue and consequently slashed funding for employability services. Many of the dinosaurs found it hard to survive the change with mergers and exits from the sector taking place and, in their wake, have come the mammals. The smaller organisations, more varied, more adaptable, still tenacious.

In October, the London animals of the employability sector got together at City Hall with the ERSA team to talk about how we can share ideas, gain a bigger voice and most importantly use our expertise to ensure that employment services meet everyone’s needs. Over 40 people were in the room – with representatives from the biggest primes, the London delivery organisations and the small specialist subcontractors. Alongside B2B support organisations, well-respected policy wonks and local authorities. The well of experience and ideas was deep. 

It became clear that the London sector wants ERSA to provide smart, current market intelligence and news updates, but they also want the opportunity to network, share ideas, and collaborate to use their expertise to develop better provision.

A clear example of what that might mean is how to develop a better understanding of the journey taken by clients– particularly for more disadvantaged groups. What is a reasonable way to recruit participants; measure softer outcomes; create holistic support that recognises longer term issues like housing, mental health or caring responsibilities, and then what does that mean, in terms of commissioning, service delivery and in-work support.

Elizabeth Taylor ERSA’s new Chief Exexcutive made clear that to maintain our voice we have to work together from within ERSA, develop our ideas and present them to Ministers and funders. The next stage of the debate will take place at ERSA Annual Conference on 27 November, London, which will be attended by around 200 industry experts. If you are already an ERSA member, book your place by the 31 October and save £150 on your place. Full details can be found here.

I look forward to seeing you there. 

Liz Sewell is Director at Belina Get Ready for Work and an elected member of the ERSA Board