One of the striking features of the recently released Department for Work and Pensions/ European Social Fund 2014-2020 tenders is the emphasis on supporting people to find employment in priority sectors. This welcome development is due to Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) influence and in part, based on an appreciation that overall economic growth will be hindered if we do not ensure an adequate labour supply for locally important sectors that are predicted to grow.
To ensure that providers take account of LEP data, the Invitation to Tender documents specify that providers are expected to conduct research on the labour market in the LEP area they are tendering in. Although many providers will have their own sources of labour market information (LMI) data, it is crucial that they make reference to the LEP’s priorities as described in the LEP’s Strategic Economic Plan and any supporting documents such as local growth strategies.
Providers are used to being required to take account of LMI but this time, providers are expected to demonstrate that they can establish explicit links and strong working relationships between themselves and employers in priority sectors. This is a greater challenge if the LEP’s priority sectors are predominantly comprised of small and micro-sized employers. Engaging smaller SMEs and micro-businesses is challenging because they:
- tend to offer single vacancies rather than multiple vacancies making it less cost effective for providers to engage them;
- need new staff to have particular attributes to meet the demands of working in a small business;
- want to interact on an informal, one-to-one basis with providers, which can be time consuming and difficult for providers to handle alongside the more formal systems they use with larger employers;
- have limited capacity to provide supervisory support to new staff and therefore may want providers to provide supplementary in-work support to their learners; and
- often need additional support themselves, for instance with recruitment and induction processes as they rarely have HR staff and formal management systems in place.
There are approaches that work, as described in one of my publications: Engaging Micro-businesses: A guide for learning providers delivering skills provision for unemployed adults NIACE, 2012. But these approaches take time because they are dependent on building personal trusted relationships and, whilst feasible, they are unlikely to be ever as cost effective as supplying a few large employers.
Due to its origins in supporting disadvantaged people to find employment in the inner city of Leicester, Business2Business (B2B) has always needed, and benefitted from, strong relationships with nearby, small, hospitality and manufacturing employers; two of the priority sectors in Leicester and Leicestershire LEP area. The active involvement of Veejay and Varsha, B2B’s Managing Directors, within the local business community has enabled B2B to further diversify its links with small employers as B2B itself has expanded to deliver employment programmes across Leicestershire and beyond.
Alongside engaging employers, it will also be vital to engage participants to help them see the value of working in a priority sector. The most motivated participants are often those who most look forward to working in a particular role or occupation. Utilising sector awareness resources, incorporating employer talks and providing workplace tours and tasters are some examples of what providers might do to inspire programme participants.
Albeit challenging, the potential benefits of succeeding will be huge. Providers will have helped disadvantaged adults enter the sectors, which LMI suggests are expanding and which are vital to the local economy. For participants, this implies a lower risk of a return to unemployment and opportunities for in-work progression. For local economies, it offers a boost by eliminating labour supply constraints in every priority sector. Because labour supply interventions have never been as focused, the magnitude of this boost, might pleasantly surprise us all.
Blog by Rob Gray, Strategy & Policy Development, Business 2 Business