Engaging employers in employability and skills programmes
by Dr Jo Ingold (Leeds University Business School)
Employers are critical to the success of employability programmes. But there’s been surprisingly little research about employers’ perspectives about them. Following a survey we conducted of over 1,500 employers in the UK and Denmark, we’ve just carried out more than 100 in-depth interviews with employers and providers delivering employability programmes in both countries.
Employers’ perspectives on employability programmes
Employers were generally positive about employing unemployed candidates but were not so positive about employability programmes, particularly in the UK. A critical difference between the countries was that, while every Danish employer we interviewed had taken part in at least one programme (often in more), among UK employers participation was more sporadic. UK employers were most familiar with apprenticeships above other provision. A key reason for not engaging in programmes was that employers thought there were inappropriate to their needs. They were put off by the large number of programmes and providers, lack of knowledge about them, lack of clarity about their value, and about how to access them. The most popular reasons for engaging were to access an alternative recruitment channel, to develop talent and to ‘give people a chance’.
Critically, employers felt that benefit conditionality and employability programmes could ‘tarnish’ candidates and were dissatisfied about receiving large numbers of job applications as a result of conditionality and entitlement conditions. The lack of a tailored service could sometimes resulted in employers being sent candidates who were of ‘poor quality’, unsuitable, or ill-prepared.
Employers were generally positive about employing disabled people, although only a small number of UK employers had done so, and not necessarily through employability programmes. In Denmark the Flexjobs scheme for disabled people (offering subsidized jobs under special conditions, in-work support and reduced working hours) was popular with employers. Importantly, in both countries very few employers had made changes to their recruitment and selection processes to encourage candidates from disadvantaged groups, despite recognising the shortcomings of the standard application and interview method.
UK employers didn’t feel that employability programmes were designed with their needs in mind and, compared with Danish employers, UK employers had very low trust in public policies. This left more ‘gaps’ to be filled by providers through the development of ‘inter-personal’ relationships with employers, based on trust. But, although these relationships were critical to employer engagement, they were also fragile. Once relationships between employers and providers were established, their ongoing management was critically important and UK employers particularly liked having a ‘single point of contact’.
- In their current form, programmes are not working very effectively for employers. Employers still lack knowledge about programmes, do not recognise their potential benefits and consider them inappropriate to their needs.
- A smaller number of programmes with more continuity and stability but less complexity and fragmentation would make it easier for employers to engage.
- Changes need to be made to avoid employers receiving large numbers of job applications from benefit claimants in order to fulfil conditionality requirements, as this is damaging to employers’ views of initiatives. A critical aspect of this is better targeting of applications to employers.
- Devolution is a critical opportunity to improve employer engagement in the design and implementation of initiatives and to devise programmes that are responsive to local needs.
- More employers need to be equipped with information about ways to make their recruitment and selection processes more inclusive and effective.
- To maximise resources and to provide a better service to employers, we need more mechanisms for sharing evidence-based good practice across different providers, programmes, cohorts and areas.
Dr Jo Ingold, Lecturer in Human Resource Management and Public Policy, Leeds University Business School.
This research was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. More information about the research can be found here.
The final research report will be launched on 13 December 2017 at an event in Westminster for policymakers, practitioners and academics. More information about the event can be found here.