As part of our government funded sector-led improvement offer we have created the Employment and Skills Learning Hub, which includes a number of resources to help councils understand and develop their thinking around employment and skills programmes as we emerge from the pandemic.
Throughout the pandemic, local government has been trusted to coordinate employment, training and business support for their local area. Many set up redundancy taskforces, delivered grants to businesses, supported employers to create new Kickstart placements and created more within their own councils, and kept adults learning through community provision and online support.
As the vaccine is rolled out and the economy opens up, local government is turning its attention to planning and supporting recovery. Below are resources to share learning across the sector.
L&W top tips for local employment and skills recovery briefings
This series of briefings provides you with an introduction to key issues that will need to be addressed post pandemic in order to boost employment, skills and recovery.
- Basic skills and capabilities
Basic skills include literacy, English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), numeracy and digital as well as other capabilities like health, financial and citizenship. They help people find work and be active citizens and adapt to economic and social change, including that caused or accelerated by the pandemic.
- Economic shocks and opportunities
The pandemic has had a stark impact, including a number of high profile business closures. The pandemic and recovery from it will bring shocks to local economies that can be negative, such as the closure, relocation or downsizing of a significant local employer; or positive, such as a significant infrastructure project or the relocation of a major employer into an area.
- Long-term unemployment
Long-term unemployment is most generally defined as being out of work for 12 months or more and this is something expected to increase following the pandemic. Helping people back to work quickly will aid recovery and ensure everyone can share in recovery.
Retraining for the purposes of this guide refers to people moving to new jobs or careers where a significant development of new skills is required. This will be increasingly important as working lives lengthen and coronavirus potentially accelerates some structural economic changes.
- Youth unemployment
Youth unemployment, generally defined as someone aged under 25 who is not in work and who is actively seeking work, has risen sharply during the pandemic and has lasting, damaging effects.
Local government's role in coordinating jobs and training support during the pandemic.
Produced by Rocket Science, this resource includes thirteen in-depth case studies showing the practical measures local government has taken to develop an employment and training offer during the crisis and as they look ahead to recovery. Bringing all this together, an accompanying report captures key learning points for the wider sector about how they can continue to deliver into recovery.
Although each council approached their response in different ways, there were some common themes emerging about their experiences and situations. Whether they were focused on shifting their service to online, working directly with businesses to mitigate impact or developing a coherent council-wide response, there have been some big shifts in the position of their employment and skills functions and offer and this provides important learning for the whole sector.
We identified five main themes:
- Theme 1: The rising importance of economic development, employment and skills
There is no doubt that the pandemic has both shone a light on, and raised the importance of, the economic development and employment and skills functions within local government, moving to a similar status to that of a statutory function at a leadership and cross-council level. This increased momentum and focus on the employment and skills agenda by councils has pushed jobs and skills at the top of the agenda. What will be important is how this can be maintained and sustained as we move out of lockdown, particularly over the next five years. We suggest:
Keeping jobs and skills top of the agenda: One of the risks is that this focus will become less of a priority as communities recover. Based on our conversations, councils are expecting most places to eventually get back to a pre-pandemic economic state within the next two to three years. It will be important for employment and skills teams to understand the impact this focus has had both in terms of economic and social impact, so there is clear evidence and learning from which to make the case for future investment and leadership.
Future resilience: It was clear from our discussions that teams that had direct control and influence over funding and resources were able to adapt quickly. From a future resilience perspective this could help make the case to integrate all employment, skills and learning activity into a central function within the council. Teams that already deliver employment support should also consider whether they could extend delivery and be built into the supply chains for nationally funded programmes such as Restart. This would enable them to make the links between different programmes and use resources and other funding to plug gaps in the range of employment support pathways on offer.
Sharing services: There is some learning about how emergency responses can be a catalyst for joining up council services and to consider support through an employment and skills lens. We heard examples of where employment brokerage expertise was used to help redeploy staff into response roles and support vaccination roll out and how they helped their adult social care teams to recruit. It will be good for councils to reflect on their learning and how this could continue and evolve in the future.
- Theme 2: The acceleration of service transformation
Within days of the first lockdown, services had to shift from face to face to remote delivery. All councils either had an existing or created a virtual hub where information on support for residents and, in some cases businesses, could access help, jobs and training. Bringing together information into a single platform enabled better communication of the range of offers and support as well as providing a ‘single front door’ for a wider support. The pandemic has accelerated service transformation from face to face to digital, opened up new ways of working, enabled upskilling of staff and moving to a more agile and accessible offer. As we move out of lockdown, we suggest:
Evaluate the future role of online learning platforms/virtual hubs: It will be important to reflect on the effectiveness of online learning platforms/virtual hubs in meeting the needs of learners, residents and businesses. There is clearly a case for mixed delivery to meet the needs of learners including those more vulnerable who prefer face to face interaction. These services were developed quickly without the usual consultative process that authorities would undergo with service users. It would be worth assessing the extent to which these platforms have supported residents, businesses and learners alongside how these might need to evolve over time.
Maintain flexibility for virtual working and meetings: Everyone we spoke to commented on the value of remote working and the need to keep flexibility when it is safe to return to offices. It will be very difficult to go back to the ‘old ways of working’ and important to make sure councils retain the effectiveness of virtual meetings and a more agile approach to management and delivery of services.
- Theme 3: Importance of getting the employment and skills offer right
Council leaders recognise the importance of getting the employment and skills offer right for their local area, that it needs to be at the heart of recovery, and many have invested in services and support at a scale not seen in relatively recent history. As we move towards jobs and skills being at the heart of local recovery, councils may wish to consider the following if they are to make the case for funding in the future:
Understanding the cost benefit and social value of effective services: A great deal of work has been done to understand the benefits of early intervention and prevention and the role of employment and ‘good work’ in reducing demands on council and public services and create decent environments for people to work. With the consultation on public sector procurement likely to lead to increased social value, the next two years provides councils with a good opportunity to build the evidence base on the impact of an employment and skills service/offer on local recovery and cost reduction to build the business case for future investment.
Better integration of support for businesses: All councils talked about having a ‘single offer’ for businesses and their role in providing a ‘single front door’ for businesses to go for support. The distribution of business grants by the council had built relationships with their business community providing a strong platform from which to engage them on recruitment needs and maximising opportunities including apprenticeships and Kickstart, with practical local support on how to make that happen and work through any issues. There is a case to be made for councils to develop an enhanced business brokerage for local recovery and growth and becoming a key partner as the interface with local business and employment and skills programmes.
- Theme 4: Greater freedom and ability to develop and test new ideas and approaches
Given the pace at which services had to adapt and respond to the impact of lockdown on the local economy, this environment created the conditions for greater freedom and appetite to test new ideas and ways of working. Greater freedom and ability to develop and test new ideas and approaches and investing in services and products that could be replicated and scaled. We suggest it is important to bring these together as a central resource to draw upon either for further collaboration and/or scaling across the local government community:
Innovation showcase: These case studies have provided insight into some of the innovations that have been developed but there are likely to be other examples. An innovation showcase on employment and skills to bring these to a wider audience and to help identify those that have potential to replicate and scale could be considered. A curated platform of ideas that have already been tested could be a useful resource for the sector.
Support for scaling: Alongside the above, there is also potential to provide support to help products scale to other councils. This would reduce duplication and, provide an alternative route to market.
- Theme 5: The continued uncertainty of how the long-term impact of COVID-19, furlough and recovery process will play out locally
Many councils were looking at their longer-term strategies and need quality data to be able to inform and shift their existing skills supply to meet demand for growth. The continued uncertainty of how the long-term impact of COVID-19, furlough and recovery process will play out locally, and the potential challenge faced in widening inequalities. This was seen to be a big challenge but critical to improving productivity.
All councils spoke of the importance of getting people into ‘Good Work’, but we need to understand what this means in the context of recovery, where it may not be possible for programmes to offer these opportunities. This brings in-work support and progression into greater focus. With the digital transformation of adult and community learning and the access and flexibility this can provide for more people, this could create greater incentive for alignment between employment and skills programmes in local areas to support all aspects of an employment pathway.