Equal Event on Employability 24 January 2008 Dynamic Earth Edinburgh Introduction I am very pleased to have been invited to speak at today‟s event. Not sure why, of all the workforce plus national board members, I‟ve been given this honour. Perhaps, I was the only member available. Anyway, whatever the reason I‟m pleased to be here at what, I believe is a very important event. This is an event very much focused on service delivery and on the practitioner. And while I cannot offer the professional perspective of the practitioner, I can offer a commitment to help tackle the issue of employability at a strategic and indeed political level and to listen and act, and hopefully encourage others to act, to put in place the correct policy and funding regime that is responsive to your “on the ground” experience, and helps rather than hinders you in your desire to provide the best possible services to those who need them. So I hope to listen and learn today so when the opportunity exists for me to bring some influence to bear I will be better able to do so. Purpose of the event But of course, today‟s event is very much about you learning from each other, to share best practice and experience, so that you can develop your skills and hopefully find ways of applying lessons learned, both in terms of successes and failures, to improve service provision. While there is a particular focus today on the three equal partnerships, it is clear to me from sitting on the workforce plus national board, from various discussions I‟ve had with local Government and health service colleagues, voluntary sector groups and local enterprise agencies and JCP, that across Scotland there is excellent and innovative practice. Hopefully today we can help ensure that best and innovative practice is shared and lessons learned; That blockages and barriers to achieving the best possible outcomes are identified and used to inform strategic responses from the workforce plus board and the national delivery group; And that areas for joint implementation and cross collaboration can be identified and effective responses developed. So nothing too difficult then! Commitment to employability agenda The challenge we face, as you know better than most, is crucially important. But I believe that there is a very strong commitment at all levels, including UK and Scottish ministers to the employability agenda as a way of improving the economic and social fabric of Scotland. Emphasis may differ but there is an unusual level of unanimity that meaningful employment offers a clear and sustainable route out of poverty for those currently not working. The STUC and many others have criticised aspects of the UK Government‟s welfare to work reforms but there is strong support for the central plank of the strategy, that active support for those able and willing to return to the workforce is fundamental to developing our economy and the improving the cohesiveness of our society. I am pleased that despite the change in Government here in Scotland and the consequent departmental re-allocation of responsibilities there has been effective continuation of the workforce plus strategy, developed by the last Scottish Executive, and some important indications from Scottish Ministers that they share the view that action on employability is vital to improving the economic and social fabric of Scotland. This is reflected in a number of the major initiatives of our new Government. The Scottish Government has been clear that its number one priority is to improve the rate of sustainable economic growth. While I, and others, might quibble with its analysis about the past performance of the Scottish economy believing it not to have been as bad as has been made out, there is little doubt that growing our economy must be the priority. And we will not be successful in this unless we make best use of our number one asset: our people and that must mean all of our people. Although the Scottish employment rate is above the UK rate we still have a significant and persistent unemployment problem and a problem with job retention at basic entry level. As you know, 2/3rds of all JSA claimants are repeat claims. Something is not right. We are wasting talent and crushing potential. We are condemning generations to poverty, leaving them without power and influence, economically and socially. And what‟s more it‟s economically inefficient. The Scottish Government’s New Economic Strategy The Scottish Government‟s new economic strategy identifies sustainability and solidarity as key elements. Amongst the aims of the strategy is: to increase overall income and the proportion of income earned by the three lowest income deciles as a group by 2017 (the solidarity „golden rule‟); And: To narrow the gap in participation between Scotland‟s best and worst performing regions by 2017 (the cohesion „golden rule‟); Employability is a vital component in meeting both of these objectives. The workforce plus approach is specifically endorsed in the strategy, hhowever, the strategy also makes another important and until now largely understated point about the quality of the workplace environment in relation to employability. It says: A more fulfilled and purposeful workforce will be more productive. It goes on to say that action to address health inequalities and mental health will help to reduce absenteeism and increase participation in the jobs market, particularly where a joined-up approach is needed to develop co-ordinated support to help people into work. Of course, this is also important not just to help people into work but to keep people in work. Too often work, and poor work practices, is the route cause of the ill-health that takes people out of the jobs market, whether it be through workplace accidents, job related disease or work related stress and mental health problems. So, a much greater focus is required in Government policy to encourage, support, and if needs be, compel employers to improve the quality of the workplace environment, including their occupational heath and safety practices. Just as important, workers need to be more involved in decisions that affect them in the workplace; they need to be given more control over their work, through better working methods and work organisation, and crucially there needs to be more opportunities for workers not only to develop existing skills and acquire new skills but to use these skills more productively in the workplace. The Scottish Government’s Skills Strategy The Scottish Government‟s skills strategy gives an important nod in this direction by highlighting the issue of skills utilisation and also by explicitly linking re-skilling and up- skilling the current workforce with employability. It highlights the need to provide support for low paid and low skilled workers so that they have the opportunity to advance their careers and create more basic entry level job opportunities. It also highlights the need to facilitate local design and delivery of learning for those furthest from the labour market; and The need for Scottish Government and Scottish agencies to work with JCP to integrate jobs and labour market information with learning information and to have effective advice and guidance to help the unemployed into work. The employability agenda is also central to two other major developments. The Scottish Government’s Concordat with Local Government The Scottish Government‟s concordat with local Government and the single outcome agreement process with its basket of employability outcomes and indicators is intended to establish a partnership between central and local Government to deliver nationally agreed objectives on employability. Of course, it is important that this partnership approach adopted by the Government doesn‟t stop with local Government. It should extend to include other social partners, including the trade unions and employers and the third sector to create a genuine social and economic partnership that can build consensus on key economic and social policy objects and can ensure that they are delivered. The New National Economic Forum The new national economic forum brings together unions, employers and Government, and which has its first meeting on the 6th of February, could be an important vehicle in this regard and it is important that the employability agenda is a key part of its deliberations. UK Commission on Employment and Skills And the new UK commission on employment and skills, with its responsibility to provide advice to ministers in the UK Government and in the devolved administrations has a key role to play. However, a key challenge for the commissioners will be to ensure that the employability agenda is not overshadowed by the commissions other responsibilities, particularly to sort out the English skills and training system and to re-licence the sector skills councils. Local Partnerships Implicit in the workforce plus strategy is the recognition that there is rarely a single cause of high levels of worklessness. Poor health, poor housing, lack of training, drug and alcohol abuse, discrimination in the work place, poor occupational health provision at work are all causes, and combinations of more than one factor is prevalent. The aim therefore of bringing together agencies to provide pathways to employment and provide support tailored to individual need is absolutely key. The key role here I believe is for the public sector: the DWP to provide innovative and consistent support; the health service to work closely with other partners to deliver outcomes which support individuals‟ efforts to attain suitable employment; and local and central Government and their agencies to deliver supporting services such as childcare, transport infrastructure and access to education and training. There is also a key role for other innovative services providers, particularly in the voluntary sector, where consistent and adequate levels of funding are vital along with a targeting regime which allows them to address the needs of a diverse range of clients. Union Role And there is a key role for trade unions to play in ensuring that individuals and the workplaces where they find employment are conducive to retention and progression. Already we are working to ensure that workplaces offer more equality of opportunity for those marginalised in the jobs market and to promote skills and training provision and best practice on workplace occupational health and safety. In Edinburgh, the STUC, Edinburgh TUC and “joined up for jobs” work in partnership to ensure that training organisations, individual returnees and employers have a proper understanding of rights and responsibilities in the workplace. We provide training on health and safety, employment rights, equalities – indeed a range of employment rights for public, voluntary and private sector agencies undertaking employability initiatives. We provide tailored support for workers not in a union prior to job placement and for the first six months of employment, and in unionised workplaces we promote partnership working between union and employer to best support employability returnees. We have a cohort of nearly thirty trade unionists supporting the project Edinburgh-wide on a voluntary basis with the support of their union. Some of you may know that we have also embarked on a mental health in the workplace project called “advocating and acting for change”, exploring the positive initiatives unions and employers can take together to remove stigma, provide sign posting support and increase capacity to support in the workplace those with mental health problems or a history of mental health problems. We very much hope we can attract support and resources for both this and an expansion of the support@work project, both of which with modest resources can exploit the enormous capacity of the 30,000 trade union reps we have in Scotland to support employability and remove barriers to employment. Employer Engagement It is obviously vital that employers are engaged in this agenda, not just through undertaking to provide employment opportunities, but in identifying more explicitly their skills needs, not to mention the support required to sustain people in employment. Equally however, there must be an expectation of employers to provide quality employment with eventual prospects of progression. This effectiveness of this strategy will not be judged simply on the number of placements achieved but on the extent to which the jobs “stick”. Being transferred from benefits to jobs with low pay and low prospects and no chance of training is still far too prevalent and results in high incidences of people falling quickly out of the labour market. It is necessary therefore that we maintain a dialogue with employers to ensure that they fully understand the key aspects of a good retention policy. There are a limited number of entry level jobs and more than one cohort of people seeking them. Futureskills Scotland predicts that the number of “entry level” jobs will fall as a proportion of total employment. In order to ensure that job churn is positive – upwards and across the labour market rather than back out of the labour market - we need to promote retention and progression through. A flexible and understanding approach to those managing conditions in areas such as mental health; Occupational health policies, accessible by the individual, which prevent people falling out of the workplace unnecessarily; The promotion of in house and external training offering opportunity for progression and personal development for employability returnees; Fair employment conditions and pay levels which allow individuals to effectively make the transition from benefits to work – not least because so many will be bringing debt and money management problems into the workplace; and The continuation and expansion of ESOL training to ensure that migrant workers are able to work to a level consummate with their abilities and qualifications. It must also be remembered that very many employability target groups, disabled workers, women, BME workers face significant discrimination in the workplace and finding suitable opportunities through employer engagement means being sure that the employer is able and willing to meet their responsibilities in relation to access, diversity and flexibility. All of this is challenging for employers I know. However, if they want a policy framework that helps business succeed they have a responsibility as an economic and social partner to play their part in shaping and delivering on national objectives to improve productivity, skills utilisation, and economic inclusiveness. However, I would also say that we need institutional arrangements that help rather than hinder employers. The creation of the new skills agency must be managed in a way that helps employers, unions and others, including colleges, enterprise agencies, local authorities, the voluntary sector and JCP deliver the skills strategy rather than duplicate what is already being done, in many cases very well, at a local level. Employers don‟t need and don‟t want an array of advisors knocking on their door trying to persuade them of the value of the particular services they have to offer. Or to have an array of agencies to go to for support or advice. They quite rightly want a coordinated and simple to navigate system. In that regard, I am pleased that the Scottish Government is looking closely at the local employability partnerships as a potential model for delivering the range of interventions needed to support the implementation of the skills strategy. Late last year I accompanied the Cabinet Secretary on a visit to the local partnership in Dundee and I believe she was impressed by the effectiveness of its approach to cross agency collaboration. Conclusion Which I suppose brings me back to where I started – talking about good practice and how we can all learn from each other – the very important purpose of today‟s event. Thank you again for the opportunity to speak to you and thank you for listening. And I hope you have a productive day. I would now like to hand back to Richard to introduce the next session.
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