Instilling belief through creative engagement

Distilling practitioners’ expertise from this year’s ERSA Conference, CEO Elizabeth Taylor reflects on the sector’s skill in helping people tread the right path toward work.

Originally published exclusively for FE NEWS here. 

There are an estimated 5.5 million inactive potential workers in the UK labour market. People with health conditions, caring responsibilities, the over 50’s and many others – willing, able, valuable human talent squandering outside the realms of Jobcentre Plus provision.

Reaching and engaging with these desperately needed groups was high on the agenda at this year’s ERSA conference. With UK employers currently looking to resource upward of 1.2 million vacancies, it was unsurprising to hear economic inactivity acknowledged as a ‘real challenge’ by Employment Minister Guy Opperman.

As I subsequently listened to the expert panel of ERSA members, I was reassured that with considerate commissioning and an unwavering focus on the individual, the solutions exist within our sector to unlock this potential. I also fondly remembered the legendary 1970’s beer commercial which coined the phrase ‘refreshes the parts others cannot reach’. Our sector’s support does just that. It refreshes. It revitalises. As any mum, carer, person on probation, or living with a health condition will tell you, it slowly instils belief in people who have lost theirs.

I firmly believe that pre-employment support is the key here – making connections in familiar settings and in familiar ways to start the conversations that eventually change lives.

It’s a heady brew of understanding, commitment, skill, and time and I’d encourage commissioners large and small, from Westminster and beyond, to buy the next round!

Reaching out

Many people wishing for a working future simply don’t know where to begin. They’re not receiving benefits or attending Jobcentre Plus, and may well experience practical, social, or psychological barriers which deter them from proactively sourcing support.

ERSA members are adept at creating and accessing community networks to creatively engage with economically inactive people. Working with financial institutions, healthcare providers, local authorities, housing providers, employers, and community-based services they reach out to the silent masses.

A common theme around this at the ERSA Conference was the importance of community and friendship, reaching out to people where they are, building familiarity. Loneliness and isolation are unfortunate traits of many non-working people so understanding that you’re in the same moment as others, and there’s movement from it, is a revelation. The conference heard examples from supportive single parent groups babysitting during job interviews to BEAM’s experience of building a wrap-around community for refugees by sharing real life resettlement stories online and on social media.

These community networks must be protected – both by commissioners and incumbent or changing prime providers referring to local services. It was refreshing to hear the importance Ingeus places on local integration of services in Greater Manchester, bringing the right support to local people via community-based services – with ringfenced funding to support its smaller supply chain partners.

Take time

We talk a lot in employability about people-centred approaches… tailored support… individual action plans… but how many commissioned programmes really give providers the flexibility to walk the talk?

Building confidence and self-belief takes time and is often a journey of exceedingly small steps. We know that invested time is generally repaid with increased engagement and ultimately better outcomes but support rarely begins with job searching. Employment is part of a much bigger life package and ERSA members understand the need to fall into step with the people they’re helping and travel at their pace.

At the ERSA conference we heard from the Carers Trust about how making time for a cuppa or taking a few minutes each day for themselves can be the first small step in the life of a 60+ hours a week carer. Equally, Transform Lives Company outlined its human-first approach, ditching the labels we all so freely use for people and encouraging them to ‘get curious about themselves again.’

Use technology

Methods of engagement can also be directed to best suit those we’re helping. Covid led us all to digital – some willingly, some less so – but the benefits for some participants have been indisputable. De-formalising contact via the use of text and What’s App groups is another way BEAM used effectively to talk to people in a comfortable, familiar forum; while Shaw Trust saw engagement skyrocket when its services for participants experiencing mental health issues went digital.

Quality help

Recognising the specific skills and depth of support provided by our members also featured heavily at the ERSA conference. Aside from the knowledge required to advise people on practical processes, benefits, and rights, is a whole world of empathy, good listening, and lived experience of what participants are facing.

How many of us really know how you balance work with life as a carer? Or the imposed feeling of being old before your time as an over 50’s jobseeker? Or of having lost all hope of a different future for yourself having left the criminal justice system? ERSA members do.

We heard how St Giles Trust values the lived experience of its staff, from different career backgrounds and complex past lives, to build trust and connect with heavily disenfranchised clients. I applaud its call to support people with lived experience into the sector and to gain vocational qualifications to bring their experiences to a positive outcome. Ingeus meanwhile has implemented job coach training to support over 50’s, equipping their teams to have meaningful conversations on topics that really matter to their participants.

Retaining this expertise in the sector is paramount. Unfortunately, the rigours of contracting cycles and funding cuts leaves staff overheads on a very fine line for many smaller providers.

Top takeaways

Belina Consulting described the employability sector as ‘the hub – the translator’ between people who want to work, but whose circumstances limit their opportunities, and the labour market that so desperately needs them. The sector has the expertise and leaders to make this happen with an approach that includes:

  • The continuation of bespoke, local services to find, connect, and build the confidence and skills of participants, with appropriate funding from commissioners and supply chain partners to resource them
  • Recognition within commissioned programmes of:
    • the time and resources required to engage new people willingly onto programmes
    • the longevity of employment support, allowing meaningful time to work with people when THEY are ready
    • and similarly, the flexibility to achieve outcomes apart from job entries
  • Exploratory pilots, from a wider range of funders, and the flexibility to try new approaches. Our sector is creative and as the economy, long term pandemic impacts and nature of work continue to evolve, so must our delivery.

With huge thanks to the Practitioners’ Expertise panel at the #ERSAConf22, chaired by Liz SewellLauren Bailey-RhodesJayne GarnerRichard CliftonBrendon RossTanya SealeyRichard BrooksStephen Rowland.

The 2022 ERSA Award Winners have been announced!

Awards winners are pinnacle of industry ready to help jobseekers weather the storm of recession
Employment Related Services Association (ERSA) Awards 2022 highlight sector’s unsung heroes

The highest achievers in an industry standing ready to support jobseekers as recession bites have been celebrated at the ERSA awards.

The winners were announced at the end of the first day of the ERSA conference in Birmingham against a background of a forecast rise in the UK’s unemployment rate to nearly five per cent.

In front of an audience of employability and skills professionals, the awards, the tenth to be organised by the association, recognised the often-unsung heroes who help find worthwhile jobs and brighter futures for thousands of people every year, including many from the most disadvantaged sections of society.

The awards, chosen by an independent panel of experts, were presented by Tony Carr of 4 Front Partners and Ian Ross at Whitehead-Ross Education and Consulting along with the awards’ generous sponsors.

ERSA CEO Elizabeth Taylor says: “The empathy, expertise, experience and sheer persistence of those who work in our sector changes lives every day.

“Our winners deserve congratulations for their truly outstanding efforts and represent the very best of the work we collectively do on behalf of jobseekers and employers.

“There are challenges ahead, not least the rising number of people not working due to long term ill health or disability.

“But I am confident that within our sector we have the determination and the innovation to make a positive difference. Our winners are ample proof of that.”

Due to timing on the night, we were unable to announce organisations and individuals that received a highly commended honour, these are included below.

The full list of winners

Frontline Adviser of the Year
Sponsored by The Institute of Employability Professionals

Employment advisers and job coaches who have demonstrated exceptional commitment in a frontline role.

Winner: Saeema Yusuf, Team Belina

Highly commended

  • Natalie Nero, Tameside In Work, Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council
  • Janice Moody, Salisbury Jobcentre Plus – nominated by Recro Consulting
  • Lorraine Fenney, Newground Together

Frontline Manager of the Year
Sponsored by The Institute of Employability Professionals

Managers or team leaders who have demonstrated exceptional commitment to leading their frontline team to excellent performance and customer achievements.

Winner: Adrian Nesbitt, Shaw Trust

Highly commended

  • Darren Jones, Blackpool Council – nominated by G4S Employment Support Services
  • Gemma Morrison, Greenwich Local labour and Business (GLLaB), Royal Borough of Greenwich

Significant Achiever of the Year
Sponsored by Learning Curve 

A specific jobseeker that has demonstrated exceptional commitment to overcoming barriers to enter and maintain work.

Winner: Todd Scanlon, Down’s Syndrome Association

Highly commended

  • Kevin – nominated by Better Jobs Better Futures – Gower College Swansea
  • Daniel – nominated by Ingeus and Momentic
  • Amreet – nominated by Peabody
  • Kim – nominated by Serco Restart Scheme
  • Darren – nominated by West Lothian Council, Supported Employment Team
  • Paul – Genius Within CIC
  • Steven– nominated by Recro Consulting
  • Lisa – Riverside Training
  • Frederick – nominated by Hackney Works (Supported Employment)
  • Heather – nominated by Fedcap Scotland

Employer of the Year
Sponsored by Successful Mums 

Employers showing exceptional commitment by partnering with providers in their area, supporting disadvantaged and long-term unemployed jobseekers.

Winner: Diageo – Nominated by ENABLE Scotland

Highly commended

  • Spectrum Service Solutions Limited – nominated by Capita
  • SOCOTEC – nominated by Fedcap Employment

Community Partnership of the Year
Sponsored by Saffron Interactive 

Organisations working together to form partnerships that support local communities already furthest from the labour market.

Winner: IPS in NHS Service – In partnership with Blackpool Council and Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust

Highly commended

  • Education Development Trust’s Making a Difference Programme in partnership with Amber Foundation
  • The Motiv8 Partnership – A partnership between Jigsaw Homes Group, Bolton at Home, ForHousing, Stockport Homes and Wythenshawe Community Housing Group
  • All in Dundee – A third sector consortium delivered by ENABLE Works, Barnardo’s, DEAP, Access to Industry, One Parent Family Scotland, Volunteering Matters, The Princes Trust, HELM and Street League
  • Working for Carers – A partnership between Carers Trust and four of its Network Partners: Camden Carers Service; Harrow Carers; Carers Lewisham; and Redbridge Carers Support Service
  • Westminster Wheels – A partnership between Westminster City council, Groundwork London & Cycle Confident
  • Women’s Work Lab and Bath College

Sector Innovator of the Year
Sponsored by Genius Within CIC

Recognising an organisation that has pioneered innovative approaches and solutions within the employment support market.

Winner: Tourism and Hospitality Talent Hub, The Growth Company

Highly commended

  • The Pathways to Diagnostics Trailblazer
  • Radical Employability Training, People and their Brilliance
  • Create Your Own Future, Saffron Interactive

Team of the Year – Hidden heroes
Sponsored by entitledto

Working behind the scenes to enable services: IT/digital services, service design, research and evidence.

Winner: The Fedcap Customer Success Centre (CSC)

Highly commended

  • HR Team, Itec Skills and Employment
  • Shaw Trust Community Health and Wellbeing Team
  • JETS Team, The Growth Company

Team of the Year – Hardest hit
Sponsored by Education Development Trust

Frontline teams supporting individuals and communities in hardest hit sectors, including low-paid workers, young people NEET, diverse communities, experience of the justice system, women, people with learning disabilities and other disadvantaged groups.

Winner: Step Forward Tees Valley

Highly commended

  • Breaking Barriers Team, Social Enterprise Kent
  • Back 2 Work Restart Team

Team of the Year – Disability and health
Sponsored by The Digital College 

Team that has demonstrated exceptional commitment in supporting jobseekers with disabilities and health conditions to achieve sustained employment.


Winner: Sixteen Co-operative Supported Employment Service

Highly commended

  • 3SC’s Neuro Diverse Strategy Coaching Team
  • The Working Win Team, South Yorkshire and Bassetlaw
  • Hackney Council’s Supported Employment Service

Outstanding Contribution to the Sector

Sponsored by Fedcap Employment and Fedcap Scotland

Recognising an exceptional person who has dedicated a significant part of their career to the employment related services sector and has made a notable impact on the wider sector.

Liz Sewell, Belina Consulting

Lifetime Achievement

A special legacy announcement awarded this year to an exceptional leader who has made a career-long contribution to the employability sector having reached the pinnacle of their profession.

Sarah Sanderson, Triage

Additional information

  • The ERSA awards 2022 have been judged by: Dr Calum Carson, Postdoctoral Researcher, Centre for Decent Work and Productivity, Manchester Metropolitan University; Tammy Fevrier, Deputy Director, Youth and Skills, Department for Work and Pensions; Gill Holmes OBE, Contract Management and Partnering Delivery Director, Department for Work and Pensions; Dr Katy Jones, Research Fellow, Centre for Decent Work and Productivity, Manchester Metropolitan University; Nicola Inge, Employment & Skills Director, Business in the Community; Naomi Phillips, Director of Policy and Research, Learning and Work Institute and Jagdeep Soor, Head of Strategic Partnerships, Pathways Group.
  • The shortlist was chosen from 182 entries.
  • ERSA’s 2021 winners can be found here







Media contact:

Helen Wardle, Fivefold, 07757 355339,


About ERSA:

The Employment Related Services Association (ERSA) is the representative body for the employment support sector.

ERSA’s membership spans the private, voluntary, and public sectors and ranges from large multi-nationals through to small specialist charities.