ERSA Employability Awards – Innovation winners House of St Barnabas discuss the night

“Winning an award is always good for the spirits, and when it’s an award which recognises the value and impact of our employability work, well that makes it all the more special. Last week, my colleague Luke and I went along to the ERSA Awards evening expecting to meet interesting people and do lots of clapping, but certainly not expecting to take home a trophy. ERSA stands for Employment Related Services Association, and it’s a membership body for organisations working in employability.  We enjoy being part of their network, as it includes a wide variety of organisations with which we can share learning and ideas, ranging from large private and third sector companies which deliver multi-million pound contracts for government to small local community organisations.

We were delighted that several organisations working with people who have experienced homelessness were winners on the night.  Adrian Bailey from Prisoners Abroad won the Adviser of the Year award.  We know Adrian well, and have a great relationship with Prisoners Abroad who do fantastic work supporting UK nationals who are deported back to the UK following imprisonment overseas.  They have referred their clients onto our employment programme since we set up over three years ago, the majority of whom have gone on to secure paid work.  We also clapped extra hard for Karla Gardner who won the Significant Achiever of the Year award.

Karla was put forward for the award by her support organisation, Working Chance, which supports women with histories of offending into work, and is also one of our valued Employment Academy referral partners.  This award was for a job-seeker who has demonstrated exceptional commitment to overcoming barriers to enter and maintain work.

Our award for employability innovation was, as I said, unexpected, and all the more exciting for it.  We certainly enjoyed the evening; getting up on stage to receive the award, posing for photos, meeting the BBC broadcaster Kirsty Lang who was MC-ing the event as well as Penny Mordaunt MP, Minister for Disability, Health and Work who I am happy to say will be visiting HoSB before too long to see what all the fuss is about.  With the sparkle of the evening behind us, we are left with an employability award (hooray!) which sits in the club reception (looking rather fine) from 2017 (always good to be current) and is a great boost to our wonderful team of programme participants, graduates, mentors and staff from across the organisation including the Benugo club team as well as those of us working for the charity.  We all play our part to create the magic, and if innovation means doing something imaginatively to get great results, I do believe we fit the bill – if I say so myself!”

-Ceri Sheppard, Employment Academy Director, House of St Barnabas

How combined authorities can make the most of new Government employment schemes


Last week the Government announced £35 million funding to support new employment schemes across the country. Pilots will be launched in six combined authorities, with the aim of helping over 18,000 people tackle long-term barriers to work and offering support with in-work progression.

What’s interesting about these programmes is that they are different in each combined authority, reflecting the diverse challenges that these places face in addressing these issues. For example, the pilot in Liverpool City Region will focus on households where two or more adults are out of work, and Sheffield City Region Combined Authority will set up an early intervention system for individuals at risk of long-term unemployment. Tackling the issue from a different angle, Cambridge and Peterborough Combined Authority will launch a ‘Health and Care Sector Progression Academy’. Funding was also allocated to the West Midlands Combined Authority, Tees Valley and the West of England Combined Authority.

With work being identified as the most successful way out of poverty, it is welcome to see the Government investing in these pilots. As our research on City Deals and Skills already stressed two years ago, a locally tailored approach to employment and skills can have positive effects. And well-designed employment schemes helping people into employment, and with in-work progression, can also play a role in improving productivity across the country.

So what are the next steps for local authority officers involved in these pilots? It is all about the evidence, in two ways. In the short term, officers should try to make the most out of existing case studies and their evaluation – when available. In the long term – once the projects will be up and running – local authorities should ensure the pilots are accurately monitored and evaluated.

To support officers on this second point, the What Works Centre for Local Economic Growth has made available a ‘How to evaluate’ toolkit which introduces ways of improving the evaluation of local growth policy. To support them on the first point, we’ve been pulling together our extensive back catalogue of case studies over the years.

For example, those working on the ‘Household into Work’ pilot in Liverpool City Region might be interested in the experience of Wolverhampton Homes.  The organization has supported residents of housing associations in Wolverhampton to become more employable by offering a service that also takes into account the caring responsibilities of its participants.

And local authority officers in Sheffield City Region may be interested in the work of Youth Competence Centres in Antwerp, Belgium. The centres have been closely working with 16-25 years old from disadvantaged backgrounds, running an outreach programme and supporting them with intensive coaching.

These are just two examples. To date, we have collected more than 150 case studies, from the UK and abroad, on all our main policy areas. Our case study library will be available later this month, with a full selection of best practice on employment and skills and beyond, so watch this space for more details.


Elena Magrini

This article was originally posted on the Centre for Cities website.

7 jobs that are already at risk of automation.


In a recent study by PwC, it estimated that around 30% of the UK workforce could be replaced by machines. Transport, manufacturing, retail and admin are the areas most at risk, but the ramifications are sure to affect all of us.

You may think this figure seems a little unrealistic, but for some, the prospect of automation is already more than evident.

Retail assistant

On your next trip into town, you might bump into a humanoid robot, known as Pepper. Standing at almost four feet tall, it greets customers as they pass, answers questions and provides directions. It uses sensors to monitor its surroundings and can make entirely autonomous decisions.

If you do stumble across one, make sure you smile, as it reads your facial expressions to gauge your mood and adjusts its responses accordingly.

Taxi driver
Driverless taxis are being trialled in the US and Singapore with Uber, Waymo (Google) and Nutonomy among the forerunners. Aside from a huge set of sensors strapped to the roof, a self-driving cab feels much like sitting in an ordinary vehicle.

From your spot in the back seat, you can check various information on a tablet, including the car’s speed, the route and a view of the road. While in the front, where the cup holder usually is, a large red button switches the car into manual mode, for when things get a bit hairy. Although at present, every self-driving taxi includes an engineer who takes control from time to time.

Delivery driver
Hermes recently began collecting parcels in Southwark using a fleet of delivery robots, which follows a successful trial by Just Eat last year. With Amazon still exploring the options by air, traditional deliveries look set to change sooner rather than later.

But perhaps the most intriguing technology is a robot dog, affectionately know as Spot, which is delivering parcels in Boston, USA. Google-owned, robotics company Boston Dynamics, is currently testing the four-legged robodog which can jump, climb stairs and get back up when it falls over.

Sensors on its head help it to navigate across difficult terrain and it can safely run alongside its human owner. At 11 stone, you certainly wouldn’t want it running into you.

Crop picker
In Australia, a fruit harvesting robot draws upon the latest advances in AI vision to identify when an apple is ripe and then uses a sucker to gently pick it. It’s been notoriously hard for a machine to harvest ripe fruit without ruining it, so this marks quite a step forward for farming.

The thought of an automated Terminator-style robot making life and death decisions is a terrifying one. Some argue that replacing our armed forces with machines is more humane than sending actual humans onto the battlefield, but the issue is fraught with moral dilemmas.

Either way, it’s happening – in the US and Russia, military robots are being trialled. The Russian version, FEDOR, stands six feet high and weighs up to 25 stone. It’s currently learning how to drive a car, use a set of keys and screw in a lightbulb.

Over 800’000 people worldwide use the Babylon Health app to get advice and support. In the UK, you can use it to book a video or audio appointment with a GP and receive prescriptions directly to your nearest pharmacy.
The next step for Babylon Health is to develop an AI doctor that can diagnose illnesses more accurately than a human. The only question is whether you’d actually want it to break potentially life-changing news to a vulnerable person.

Paris-based Flow Machines is developing a program that can create an entire pop album. Its AI finds patterns within over 15’000 tracks and then pulls together various chord progressions and suggested rhythms.
Although whether a machine can ever appeal at a creative level is a subject of much debate. It’s more likely that AI will augment our own creativity, rather than replace it entirely. Let’s not forget that synthesisers still haven’t replaced the piano.

Shaping our public services
There are growing anxieties within the public sector about job losses resulting from automation. A report by think tank, Reform, stated that around 250’000 workers could be replaced by machines.
The impact of AI on public services needs careful consideration and it worries me that changes might be seen as a way to force through financial cutbacks. There are still so many cultural issues to resolve prior to implementing any significant technology.

For example, agencies are still working in silos and neglecting to share information. This attitude can have dire consequences, such as overlooking the root cause of child’s mental illness. Or failing to spot the signs of addiction for a rough sleeper.

So before anyone gets carried away, let’s fix some of the problems we’re facing daily before we add another layer of complexity on top of an already struggling system.

 Gary Pettengell, Chief Executive of not for profit technology provider Empowering-Communities

The 20% Rule- Good Intentions & Dire Consequences


There has been a lot of talk regarding the new strict rules that all Apprenticeships after April 2017 have to evidence 20% off the job training, with employers and providers flagging numerous concerns with the rule.

I welcome the focus on real learning and off the job training, the positive intention that apprentices are not forced to do all their training outside of paid hours and that funding is for developing substantive new skills. If we want Apprenticeships to be seen as equal and equivalent to GCSE’s, A levels & degrees this is exactly the type of rule that will gain that credibility.

Apprenticeships have always had a significant off the job training element, however in an attempt to drive quality the new funding rules set a clear 20% minimum for off the job training. This is a mistake which could have dire consequences. It is a blunt instrument that endangers some of the things we value most about Apprenticeships:

  • Giving employers ownership of Apprenticeships
  • A credible alternative for learners to classroom based study
  •  Improving social mobility
  • Delivering value for money

Why is this a problem?

If we want to have employers at the heart of the system developing standards and real ownership, then each standard should specify a guideline for approximate amounts of off the job training. After all these employers will be the ones that need to balance the short-term loss of productivity against the long-term benefits of training Apprentices. I worked with an employer a couple of weeks ago who has some apprentices doing a day a week at college and also some work in their own time, so they thought they were easily completing 20%. However, their college day release is for 5 hours each week, for 38 weeks of the year and work in the apprentices own time doesn’t count. Clearly this employer was committed to his Apprentices but the thought of needing significantly more time off the job than they were already doing made him really question the value of the programme. If employers find the time off the job too onerous they will vote with their feet and apprenticeship opportunities and numbers will decline.

Why is 20% the right figure? Where was the research that demonstrated this was the right amount of time? Can it really be that all Apprenticeships, at all levels, across all sectors need the same amount of off the job training? Why would an employee on a 30-hour contract and another on a 40 hour a week contract doing the same job need around 100 hours a year difference in learning? It just doesn’t make sense. If employers own the standards then they should agree the amount of off the job time required for each individual standard. That is employer ownership.

For so many talented Apprentices I meet, learning at all levels, they value being able to earn and learn whilst gaining skills & experience. Often Apprentices tell me they are achieving more than they ever hoped and realised they simply couldn’t get on in a classroom environment. The prospect of doing so again would have most likely stopped them applying for an apprenticeship. Of course, not all off the job training has to be in the classroom but the cost to the system of it all being 1-2-1 training would be exceptionally high and would it really be value for money?

A key concern for me and many others is the treatment of English and maths study being on top of the 20%. An obvious consequence of this rule is that learners that need English and maths will be denied opportunities for apprenticeships particularly with SME’s. We have seen this before when GCSE English and maths was made a requirement of the Early Years level 3 Apprenticeships, in many cases we saw learners without these qualifications being turned down for the Apprenticeship. Where an employer is faced with a choice of taking a learner who requires English and Maths study on top of the current 20% off the job (which still has to be completed in working time) against one that doesn’t, it is not hard to guess who will lose out. This will impact social mobility by closing opportunities for learners who don’t have English and Maths qualifications or who feel a classroom environment is not for them.

We risk creating a system where we spend too much time and resources tracking and evidencing off the job training rather than focusing on great learner experience and the training itself. I am seeing Colleges and providers adding significant costs to their delivery to audit and measure off the job training, surely there is a better way to spend the money which we all know is already insufficient especially for none levy paying employers.

So, what are the solutions?

The key is 20% is just to prescriptive and also makes little sense. There is no doubt that apprenticeships should have a significant off the job element, but this should vary by standard and be set by the employer groups. There should be freedom to complete some work outside of paid hours, after all what qualification in a traditional route wouldn’t have course work or home work to complete. Of course, we need to protect Apprentices from exploitation but if planned learning is agreed up front in the learning agreement by all parties there shouldn’t be a problem.

I would like to see a move to a recommended amount of guided learning hours required by standard rather that a blunt 20% of paid hours which will result in different Apprentices needing to complete different amounts of hours for the same qualification based on their contracted hours rather than their needs.

Progress reviews are a valuable part of the learning experience and also take place in working time. They most certainly should be part of the recorded off the job element, which currently they are not. Anyone thinking that the coaching, challenge and support provided in a progress review is not off the job training doesn’t to my mind understand what an apprenticeship experience is. It is also more time on top of the 20% off the job training away from productive working for employers

It is clear to me that by adding these flexibilities we will drive quality without disengaging employers and learners. We will also ensure there is less risk of learners without English and maths qualifications being denied Apprenticeship opportunities.

Finally, we need to have a transitional period whilst employer groups are able to review and agree what is the right amount of off the job training for currently approved and new standards. During this period, we should ensure there is evidence of off the job training but not try too hard to measure an exact percentage.

No employer I know do Apprenticeships for the sake of it. It is an investment of their time, their money in none levy contributions and paying an Apprentice whilst less productive at the start of their career. We shouldn’t be focusing the whole system to defend against the 1% of employers who might exploit an Apprentice and in doing so discourage all employers and learners. The system should be designed to ensure Apprenticeships are accessible to all.

We have an opportunity to make our Apprenticeship system world class. Off the job training has to be a part of that but tying ourselves in knots over a blunt 20% rule could have dire consequences, discourage employer involvement, disengage learners and damage social mobility.

Salisbury Consult was set up to support a range of Colleges, Independent Training Providers and Employers in major strategic planning & change programs. With a particular focus on skills and Apprenticeships. If you think I can help you please email me at

If Brexit means Brexit, what does it mean for the labour market?

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Today marks a significant moment in UK history with Theresa May formally firing the starting gun for the process of the UK leaving the EU by triggering Article 50.

If there is one thing everyone has learned from recent political developments, it’s to avoid making predictions. But, when it comes to the future vitality of our labour market, we must nonetheless consider some of Brexit’s possible implications and challenges for policymakers.

For example, it is possible that we can expect a skills shortage in certain sectors, in others uncertainty may or may not depress the demand for staff, and crucially, unless replaced, we face a shortfall of investment in employment and skills services post-European Social Fund (ESF).  While addressing the Work and Pensions Select Committee inquiry into Brexit recently, I shared my recommendations on prioritising productivity, reducing skills gaps and grasping the opportunities that a post-EU world offers to improve the coordination of support to people, communities and employers.

Productivity and Skills

Successfully increasing productivity is the Holy Grail for our policymakers. At the heart of this, we need to make skills, and in particular upskilling, work. Progress is planned through the government’s focus on technical education, and in particular the new T-Levels announced in the Spring Budget. However, there remains a long way to go before we achieve parity of esteem between vocational and academic routeways.

Equally, we await the government’s ‘comprehensive strategy’ for careers (announced in the Industrial Strategy Green Paper), which we hope will provide the foundations of properly funded, universally available, high quality system, rather than doing things on the cheap, which is what the rollout of Jobcentre Plus’ advisers in schools threatens to be.  This needs to be all age and all geographies – why should decent advice about future career paths be the preserve of the few? 

Activating UK workers

We’re also seeing many sectors already effectively articulating the case to government to allow migrant workers to fill anticipated skills gaps.  This is likely to be necessary in some cases.  However, the majority of jobs taken by EU nationals are lower skilled and lower paid, with those filing them often highly qualified in their home countries.

Clearly, explaining why UK nationals are not filling these jobs is complex, but I would hazard that much can be put down to attitude, aspiration and pay.

Feedback from some ERSA members is that we have a bit of a mismatch between some young people’s aspirations and the reality of starting at the bottom and working your way up.  It’s great of course that we are engendering aspiration amongst younger people – it’s partly why we need decent careers’ advice in schools. However, we know that you are far more likely to get a better job if you are in a job and that employers want to see some work experience on the CV as well as academic qualifications.  Conversely, some sectors need to do far more to develop clearer career pathways that are attractive to UK workers and which demonstrate the potential for progression.

Pay matters too, and the continued perception that low paid work is simply uneconomic, is still a real factor for many people.  Simply stating that Universal Credit is the answer here, is not enough.  We know that UC will indeed help some people, but over £2 million people are likely to be worse off, with changes still needed to work allowance taper rates to ensure that work really does pay. UC also won’t address all the issues with our broken housing market.   Select Committee members asked why people who are unemployed do not move for jobs – our housing system is probably the biggest barrier to doing so.

The final piece of the puzzle is that some unemployed people in the UK, such as those with disabilities and health conditions, have struggled to receive the necessary employment support to enter and sustain work. Unfortunately, this is set to worsen, with the government reducing funding by 75% for national specialist employment support programmes from this year.  Given that labour market participation is so high, this might seem justifiable, but it does bank on the labour market staying strong, something we can’t take for granted in the normal cycle of things, even before we factor in Brexit.

European Social Fund

My final point therefore is that the government has to continue to invest in active labour market policies, as well as increasing the nation’s skills. We therefore also have to focus on the need for a replacement for the European Social Fund (ESF).  That wouldn’t need to be a like for like replacement.  Many of us who have handled European monies will know how bureaucratic this can be.  But ESF does make available over £500 million annually in skills and employment support across England and Wales, which we can ill afford to lose.  We now have the opportunity to design a successor system that delivers better integrated provision and is made more accessible, particularly to smaller organisations. Complementing the Chancellor’s focus on ‘hardware’ investments for UK Plc, such as infrastructure, this will deliver the ‘software’ and services needed to help individuals thrive in a post-Brexit Britain.

So, while Brexit might well mean Brexit (or something akin to it anyway), for the labour market it means a mixture of challenges and opportunities. The challenge will be to start improving productivity and ensure that we have the skills to match economic demands. Equally, the opportunities to make our system work better and tackle issues such as low pay, underemployment and lack of career pathways are wide open.

Although I will avoid making predictions, I know we’ll chart a more successful course if we have the right specialist support to meet these challenges.

Kirsty McHugh, Chief Executive of the Employment Related Services Association (ERSA)

This article originally appeared on FE News: