A blog by Employment Support Scotland’s Co Chair Kate Still. Kate is Director for Scotland, Rathbone UK

The Scottish Government has big ambitions of creating a fairer, more prosperous Scotland by enabling everyone to make the most of their skills and develop their potential for a successful future.

I am excited by the prospect of designing and developing something better than we currently have, as ‘making a difference’ and tackling inequality has been a personal driver of my career within the skills and employability sector over many years. We need a system that works for job seekers, employers and delivers the best value for tax payers.     

What do I think we need to do differently to make the current system better? The key thing for me is a shift to a more person-centred system. Within this we must:

• Focus on meeting the needs of people using the service. How easy will it be for someone to access services and to get personalised support based on their individual needs and circumstances? I believe that we should ditch the focus on bureaucratic eligibility rules and complex service segregation and make it easy for people to access support on a voluntary basis, taking account of when and how they want to engage. We should offer early interventions to prevent a lot of the impacts of poverty and ill-health associated with being on long term benefits. I want to see a system that is people, not programme focused. There is a danger that we commission and implement what’s easiest to do in the timescales given and therefore miss the opportunity to deliver better outcomes.

• Integrate skills training and employment support. Many individuals seeking work require both skills development and employability support. Offering access to core skills and vocational skills both pre and post employment is critical to ensure you are not only supporting people into work but helping them with career progression and to move away from low wage and insecure employment. This will support the goal of a fairer employment market

• Invest most in those with the greatest need and enable customer choice. Employment statistics continue to show a lack of real progress in equality of employment for those with mental health issues, learning disabilities, disabilities/chronic health conditions, young people, lone parents, offenders, young carers, young people leaving care and BME groups. I don’t believe in service segregation but I do believe in positive action and additional investment to incentivise employers to offer more work experience placements for those that face the biggest equality challenges. This does not need to be based on a complex system to identify those with greatest need – if someone has never worked or has not worked for over two years then they need more investment to get into work.

• Focus on positive attributes and assets of individuals rather than talk of barriers. The use of negative language to describe service users has become ingrained in the skills and employment sectors mostly because it has often been the means of convincing funders to invest – we need to ditch this negative talk as it creates a culture of stereotyping individuals and damages perceptions of self-worth and aspiration.   

• Other things to consider are personalised top-up budgets which would enable individuals to purchase self-directed support from the provider of their choice to assist with a sustainable working life –  e.g. support from health and social care specialist services. There are also a number of National insurance or tax benefits for employers that employ a diverse workforce, and which might help to get a radical shift in workforce demographics.

These aren’t all the answers and we know that the government is working hard to consider what the key elements are to make up a strong program. However, I think if we ensure the focus is on creating a programme that focuses on the needs of individuals, we will have a good starting point to work from.