Evaluation of Scottish transitional employment services: interim report August 2018

How programme design impacted the quality of delivery and customers’ experience of Work First and Work Able Scotland services in the first 6 months after launch.

Client management procedures


The design of both WFS and WAS has taken an important step away from the 'black box' arrangements of previous welfare to work programmes in the UK – where trigger payments for target outcomes are specified but there is no detailed specification on how providers should deliver the programmes.

The guidance for both services put forward a number of design features that have a direct bearing on the providers' delivery arrangements:

  • That each customer of WFS or WAS should receive at least one hour of face-to-face support each week
  • That customers should have access to the same adviser wherever possible
  • That each customer has an action plan, updated on a monthly basis that identifies their goals, barriers and actions planned to overcome these.
  • A number of Key Performance Indicators ( KPIs) were also established that set time limits and compliance criteria for service delivery and overlay this process

The section considers how providers implemented the service in practice and the issues and lessons that arise from this.

Summary of key messages from delivery model

  • The requirement for an hour a week has been an important statement of intent – contact time with customers delivers outcomes and is well received by participants.
  • Individual action planning is at the heart of the process and all providers would use this approach even if it were not a requirement of both programmes.
  • Voluntary participation is a core component of both services and is welcomed by all parties. However, it will take time for benefit claimants to believe that this is truly the case. The DWP Work Capability Assessment process cuts across this approach and some stakeholders in JCP and providers believe that JCP customers may see involvement with employability services as being evidence of capacity to work.
  • In comparison with other employability support programmes, the quality assurance process is fairly standard. Nevertheless, many providers and frontline staff said they found compliance had a significant impact on their time and consistently reported that some 30% of their time was devoted to administration. A complex mix of factors combine here: high number of referrals and lengthy induction process, but much lower starts ( WFS); limited use of new technology ( WFS and WAS); the need to engage voluntary customers to undertake weekly meetings ( WFS and WAS) and customers who have moved into work and often consider that they no longer need support ( WFS and WAS). The costs involved in compliance, and how this impacts on provider's ability to deliver a service to customers', needs to be considered carefully by providers and commissioners to identify opportunities to improve both efficiency and quality.
  • Provider contracts for both WFS and WAS included delivery of additional support services where these were required to support the customer overcome barriers to employment. Additional support services can and do add value to the employability support provided by most delivery, especially for customers of both programmes with more significant needs. Providers claim that there was insufficient funding and time to properly support specialist providers.
  • WAS had sufficient time to delivery pre-employment support to customers with high levels of need. WFS customer eligibility was distinct from WAS, with a shorter pre-employment support period. However, the MIS analysis (up to Oct 17 ) suggests there is a large minority of WFS customers who may require more time to turn their improved confidence into employment outcomes.
  • Placement and support with the employer can conform to the good practice model set out in programme guidance. However, a minority of customers want their provider to engage with their new employer and so this model of support happens only rarely.

Building trust with customers

Initial assessment

Ensuring a smooth referral process is essential in any employability service. All providers were required by SG/ SDS to set KPIs to offer initial appointments in a timely manner and ensure that these were undertaken as quickly as possible and that there was no loss of enthusiasm on the customers' part. It is worth reiterating that as voluntary services, both WFS and WAS providers discussed with potential customers a convenient time to attend.

WFS referrals were handled through DWP's electronic PRaP system. This meant that once a customer was referred across to a provider that they could access the customer's PRaP record and start to contact them to set up a time for an Initial Assessment ( IA). WFS providers were required to arrange the IA within ten days of this notification.

As SDS were unable to access the PRaP system, WAS adopted the existing SDS Corporate Training System ( CTS) to capture monitoring data which is an SDS training provider payment management system. CTS did not integrate with PRaP. So for WAS, a customer referral would be notified by telephone but their basic information had to be sent by post. This had the effect of introducing a delay in the process and reducing the time available to set up the first appointment, especially in rural areas.

The first KPI for WAS required that customers referred to the provider should "…conduct a face to face referal meeting with the proposed customer to occur no later than 7 calendar days after receipt of the customer's details" [17] . WAS frontline advisers and lead providers felt that this KPI meant engaging all referrals at the expense of existing customers to avoid breaching the KPI, especially during the intensive activity period when large numbers of referrals were generated by JCP. SDS introduced a dispensation to this guidance for a limited time period, during the intensive activity period in response to the large spike in referalls.

WFS providers had to create an action plan at the IA which was then required to be reviewed at least on a 4 weekly basis. The timing of the IA on WFS was less of an issue as customer details were transferred to service providers by PRaP. The production of an action plan was in practice required by the end of the first month in what was a much shorter window for support, although the absence of a specific KPI around a formal timeframe provided frontline staff some flexibility if customers were not fully engaged.

Providers and frontline advisers from both WFS and WAS felt that the fluctuation in the number of referrals at times placed an administrative burden on them and these KPIs meant that they had to respond in a timely manner:

  • Although the customer had agreed to refer they had to be engaged and agree to attend an IA and this could take a number of phone calls and follow-ups. Both WFS and WAS providers were required to make reasonable endeavours to contact referrals before they could disengage (generally agreed to be three attempts among providers) and report the customer as DNS (did not start).
  • However, WFS guidance required that any 'fail to attends' were reported to JCP WCs within 24 hours and WAS providers must use reasonable endeavours to contact JCP. In both programmes, the intention was to establish the circumstances surrounding a referral's (potential) disengagement and discuss options such as alternative contact details etc. ( JCP offices preferred telephone calls did not respond to emails). [18]

It is also the case that during periods of low level of referrals and starts providers were in danger of having their service fee (payable for WAS) reduced if they did not achieve at least 75% of the predicted starts set out in their contract. SDS lifted this provision in late Summer 2017, which had concerned providers up to that point. This was a result of recognition by SDS the the lack of referral flows were outiwth WAS Provider control and it would be inappropriate to invoke this clause and penalise providers as a result.

Frontline provider advisers and their supply chain staff felt that the initial interview process was onerous for WFS and lengthy for WAS. Ensuring that all information required by the contract was complete, accurate and provided in accordance to a strict timetable was the focus on key performance indicators ( KPI). This reflected the various legal and contractual requirements placed on Scottish Government and providers by data protection laws. Information available from JCP at referral was based on eligibility for each service and not always up-to-date and providers were required to undertake a full assessment of customers' needs, so carried out a full review of customers' current circumstances. This meant that IAs were long (some frontline advisers report over two hours for WFS and over an hour for WAS) and, for many customers in the target group, difficult to sustain.

Frontline advisers in most organisations were also critical of the language used in the forms which was not plain English and inaccessible to many in the customer group. The initial forms for WFS had to take into account the need to get consent from individuals and receipt of the fair processing notice acknowledged which was seen by customers as being overtly bureaucratic through the requirement to have customer consents for data protection purposes. The forms varied across providers, with some adding further consents for their own processes, and included the signatures necessary for providers to ensure that they had appropriate permissions to retain customer details etc. Frontline advisers report that customers sometimes challenged them on the similarity in wording – believing that they had already signed the same form. A number of advisers were at a loss to explain the difference between the different permissions forms to customers.

A key point is the message this sends to customers. Most advisers feel that it is a vital part of the process to get to know the customer and that building trust is central to achieving this. It is not so much that the information will not help deliver a service to the customer but impact of the process may damage the developing trust.

This is a shared responsibility between JCP, providers and Scottish Government to consider the induction process from the perspective of the customer and seek to minimise the information and permissions as much as possible. Scottish Government has already taken forward learning on this into the development of Fair Start Scotland services balancing the need to hold providers to what they are contracted to deliver with ensuring a smoother process for the customer. This has also become easier with the introduction of new data protection legislation in May 2018, which places a stronger focus on the legal basis for data processing (over individual consent) and introduces clearer guidance for developing a Privacy Notice to inform individuals of how and why their data will be processed.

Action planning process

Providers and frontline advisers across the supply chain in WFS and WAS felt that the action planning process was an essential platform for developing trust, structuring support for the customer and demonstrating their progress to them. Both programmes require that action plans are 'living documents' that are kept up-to-date to reflect customer progress.

Some providers used needs assessment tools which work with the customer to identify areas where they already have something positive to offer and those areas they need to address across health (often healthy living), personal presentation, CV highlights and gaps, housing issues and job search focus. An important issue from the outset is to give customers confidence that they do have something to offer employers, when many can believe that they will not work again.

Most frontline advisers on both programmes reported that the action plan developed over the first weeks of support as they got to know their customer and their trust developed in the adviser. The speed at which this relationship developed did vary and advisers were keen not to be held to too rigid a process and timetable. Supply chain providers who felt that their 'offer' and reputation was built on a more understanding approach to working with customers, commented on the importance of ensuring that the process of compliance and KPIs did not prevent this. Although in practice we found no evidence that this had occurred.

The Scottish Government and SDS performance managers reviewed a sample of action plans for completeness and accuracy of the information – principally whether the action plan was SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time bound) and provided realistic activities to support progression into work.

A number of advisers commented that they felt the review process was bureaucratic and time-consuming. Perhaps a more relevant issue was that advisers found it increasingly difficult to keep action plans up to date as customers' confidence improved and they moved into job search activities. They felt that the action plan and activity logs became very repetitive, as the actions did not change much when reflecting ongoing job search activities.

The in-work action planning process was welcomed by many as it helped customers consider all the issues in moving into employment in advance, and was a signal that they had achieved their goal. However, updating this in-work action plan was challenging for both programmes ( WAS every four weeks and WFS required a face-to-face meeting every eight weeks) as most customers had 'moved on' by that stage – the support from WFS/ WAS was in the past and they did not see an updated action plan as relating to their current situation. The issue of in-work support is returned to below.

All providers and advisers recognised the need for quality assurance procedures – these were standard in previous (and current) employability support programmes. There was some frustration about the time these tasks took from their day. A consistent message from frontline advisers was that around a third of advisers' time was devoted to administration. There is a mix of issues here which are difficult to disentangle but all make a contribution:

  • WFS had referrals that did not match the contract profile providers had been expecting (and had set staffing levels etc. to meet. A higher proportion did not result in starts on the programme, so adviser time focused on setting up Initial Assessment interviews and sometimes undertaking the IA but then not securing a start.. Referrals varied widely at a local level, leaving some in the supply chain with less to do than others with considerably more than planned – one location received more referrals in three months under WFS than in the previous five years of their Work Choice contract.
  • A smaller proportion of WAS referrals started the service and providers also faced issues in securing a steady flow of customers to meet planned levels of starts outside of the JCP intensive activity period when referrals increased considerably.
  • The technology available in providers on both programmes meant that 'wet' signatures were used for customers (documents had to be printed, signed and then scanned before being uploaded). Online forms and digital signatures mirror this process and had been used by many on previous programmes but this required significant investment in appropriate technology (portable touch screens for signatures) which was unlikely on such short-lived programmes.
  • A particular issue for frontline advisers on both programmes was obtaining signatures for the updated action plans for those customers who had moved into work. These typically required repeated home visits, often out of office hours to secure.
  • For their part, performance managers from Scottish Government for WFS and SIAs from SDS for WAS feel that their quality assurance procedures were consistent with ensuring that customers received quality support. They believe that their reviews of sample action plans have carefully focused on their quality and not on the content of the plans. A number did suggest that providers were asked to deliver in a manner that had not been present in previous programmes:
  • One hour a week face-to-face with each customer when many have needs that meant they were not ready to undertake group work.
  • Participation was voluntary and so frontline staff had to engage and develop trust with customers to ensure their participation – no shows, health and other issues (health appointments, etc.) increased the challenge of meeting this basic service standard.

In this context, 'standard' QA procedures are likely to be considered as an overhead when they are core to ensuring service levels are maintained.

Client management procedures

Some lead providers felt that the requirement to see a customer for an hour a week face-to-face was too prescriptive as it did not take into account the individual's needs and their ability to sustain this level of engagement. Conversely,the participants surveyed overwhelmingly found the face to face contact a positive feature of the programmes.

There were numerous issues where access and the travel time involved in getting to the provider could make this quite onerous for the customer. In response to this feedback from providers, the service guidance for both WAS and WFS was changed to allow skype meetings that provided additional flexibility.

However, frontline advisers were very supportive of the hour a week face to face criteria and felt it provided a platform to support the customer and make sufficient progress in building trust and confidence.

"It's about right, these clients are not great at self-directed support, so it is rare that they do much on their own between meetings. An hour is sufficient to move things on, especially one-to-one" [ WFS frontline adviser].

"Client contact time drives outcomes" [ WAS frontline adviser].

It is also worth noting that few providers or advisers felt that telephone contact was an appropriate substitute for face-to-face meetings for many of the more difficult to engage customers. Low confidence and trust were the most commonly cited issues identified by frontline advisers. Many customers suffered from anxiety disorders and were very reluctant to engage at the outset. Frontline advisers felt that the one-to-one meetings were vital in engaging customers and building trust. Many WAS and some WFS customers struggled to cope with new environments and meeting new people so advisers aimed to:

  • Build trust and confidence at the pace of the customer
  • Explore the potential positive skills and any previous experience customers may have to offer
  • Work on any barriers – employability issues (lack of work experience or qualifications) and health and wellbeing issues

The provision of specialist support for customers has been more limited than planned. One provider had engaged a specialist mental health provider to interview all customers on WFS who had mental health conditions to help provide an assessment and specialist action plan to manage these conditions. This proved too costly to maintain. Moreover, some frontline advisers felt that there was insufficient time in the six months available within WFS services to address these needs separately from the customers wider confidence and employability issues.

WAS providers and their supply chain fully recognise the more significant health needs among their customers, particularly mental health issues. Some bought in specialist services on a trial basis from local providers, in one case contracting with a Working Matters [19] provider to deliver occupational therapy to customers. Typically, support was relatively short – aiming to help the customer develop coping strategies. Other provision looked to local NHS services to explore what mental health support was available and waiting times were not too lengthy. It has not been possible to comprehensively map provider investment in such specialist services but direct investment has clearly been impacted by the lower than expected customer flows on to the programme.

Other WAS providers report that they were able to refer customers to specialist support where funds from other sources were available. Examples include:

  • Specialist counselling and stress management
  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy ( CBT) and other Talking Therapies
  • Addiction services specifically for those in recovery but who felt that trauma counselling would help them deal with the stress of returning to work
  • Health and wellbeing in terms of access to advice on healthy living, e.g. the importance of sleep and a healthy diet etc.

These services were described by some as a 'postcode lottery' as they were not consistently available typically supported by the funding for WFS or more often WAS (where proportionately more customers were in need of such services). Some frontline advisers said that there were other mental health services available locally, but these typically had waiting lists of two months or more. These could be considered by WAS, but if such services were seen as necessary for the customer in WFS, the provider would exit them from the programme – primarily as there would not be sufficient time to return to WFS support within the six month timeframe.

Some frontline advisers were trained to deliver CBT and other counselling techniques and were positively able to use these directly where necessary with their customers.

Others were concerned about the depth of their knowledge and ensuring that they did not push their customers too hard.

In many cases frontline advisers report that they were helping customers find coping strategies to help deal with their condition. Their approach was to build the customers' capacity and resilience. Some offered online courses and many accessed online information and support tools from NHS on health and wellbeing issues.

"Many clients arrive here and have no hope of working again. We can help them with that and get them to see that they do have something to offer. This can make a big difference to their confidence" [ WFS Frontline adviser].

Few frontline advisers reported that customers were overly concerned about work adversely affecting their health or disability. Just under a third of WFS and 29% of WAS customers reported that they had concerns work would worsen their health condition. This suggests that this remains an issue for a sizeable number of customers [20] . Some customers faced significant health issues but still wanted to try to find work. In one case, the customer was due to have one hip replaced in the next eight weeks and would then undergo surgery for the second replacement after recovery. Nevertheless, they still wanted to explore what work options were available. A minority of advisers also had some customers who were open that their health condition would prevent them finding work [21] but were still keen to come to their weekly sessions as it meant they felt less socially isolated.

Frontline adviser caseloads

Frontline adviser caseloads varied but typically fell in the range of 25-35 customers. Some advisers reported higher caseloads but these typically involved proportionately more customers in-work who did not require the weekly support sessions. Lower caseloads were evident in rural areas because of the extensive travel times involved.

Neither WFS nor WAS specified a target caseload for the services, although providers pointed to this being implicit in the requirement to meet each customer for an hour a week.

Frontline advisers reported that caseloads were about right to support customers on this basis but straightforward comparisons could be misleading – as customers later in the process were better able to undertake group work, and those who had moved into work generally required much less contact time. The caseloads were seen as a positive step forward in comparisons to other welfare to work programmes.

That said, frontline advisers felt that more could be done to increase their productivity. Asked to describe how they allocated their time on a weekly basis, most agreed that it was split around a third of the time working with customers, another third setting up these meetings and chasing no shows and the remaining third on admin supporting this process and uploading information to their systems.

Providers felt that the costs of providing compliance information had not been sufficiently considered by Scottish Government. However, providers and frontline advisers both recognised it was important to be compliant, not least because of the need to ensure customers were effectively supported. There were no financial penalties imposed on providers for non-compliance, but providers reported indirect costs associated with the requirement to demonstrate that errors had been investigated and resolved adequately. This could take up much more of their time and may explain why many advisers were very focused on ensuring that they did not make an error in the first place.

Supporting customer needs

Group work

As customers developed their confidence, providers felt more able to use group sessions to deliver training and job search and interview skills. In general, once customers have the confidence, working with others in similar situations is useful for them, especially if they move on into work.

Group sessions do not replace one-to-ones as frontline advisers were aware that should customers experience a setback this can damage their confidence. For most customers, the advisers work closely with them, looking for job opportunities and help prepare letters, CVs and applications. Many also provide pre-interview support to discuss interview techniques etc. as far as possible relating to the particular position they are hoping to secure.

Few advisers said that they attend employer interviews with their customers, mainly as the customer did not ask for this support. Many advisers report that customers are very cautious about revealing any disability or long-term health condition early in the recruitment process to employers – believing that this will rule them out of any chance of securing a job. This was true for both WFS and WAS customers. Attendence at interviews was supported in some cases where customers felt that they would perform better in the interview with the support of their adviser and be better able to focus on what they had to bring to the role than their health condition – the small number of examples that were reported were all from WAS when customers had physical or learning disabilities.

This should be seen as an early finding as WAS advisers often reported that while they had had some customers move into work, the majority took longer to build their confidence and take their first steps into job search. The cohort of starts from the first quarter of WAS recruitment (April – June 2017) were only beginning to reach this stage by the early months of 2018. This is entirely in keeping with the WAS service expectations that customers may take up to 12 months to move into employment.

WFS advisers more often report that customers may return to their weekly session to announce that they had secured a job offer themselves. As might be expected, WFS customers were reportedly much less likely to want advisers to play an overt role in discussions with employers – very much for the same reason, that they felt this would lower their chances of securing employment.

Training and work experience

Short course training was widely used by many providers – CSCS construction site cards, Security Industry Authority training and licence and other short entry courses (Care Routes, Customer care). The inability to access funding such as the Individual Learning Account to help support the costs of this training was criticised by providers who did not understand this constituted 'double funding' of public sector programmes in Scotland.

This emphasis was on short-course training where completion would have a direct impact on the customers' CV for particular job roles. We did not find any examples where customers were undertaking longer more generic vocational training. City and Guild Employability and Personal development courses were offered by some WAS providers [22] . Providers and supply chain frontline advisers reported that they focused more on removing immediate barriers to employment and building customers' confidence than seek to secure vocational qualifications. Some supply chain providers reported that they could draw down on other funding to support personal development. Cognative Behaviour Therapy and Neuro-Linguistic Programming support was available to those customers who could benefit from the six-week support. Referrals elsewhere to Lifelinks counselling or 6-8 week gym memberships had been used in various locations.

Advisers on both programmes felt they had limited discretion in paying for other support, but could offer support for interview clothes and similar support. These costs appeared to be drawn from service fees rather than (potential) job outcome payments. Again we have no direct evidence to verify this.

Work experience is highly sought after. JCP WCs in some areas were aware that certain providers had access to work experience placements in a major national retailer and bank. The existence of these did sway the choice of provider for WFS and WAS as they were seen as gateways to employment with a high quality employer.

WAS customers were widely reported by providers and supply chain frontline advisers to lack recent employment experience, so placement opportunities were considered to be an effective method of addressing this barrier. A minority of providers used local contacts with voluntary bodies and charity shops etc. to offer customers one week's experience where appropriate.

Other providers, depending on location, report that the use of work experience was more limited. Where the major employers used employment agencies to manage their labour needs, there was little appetite for work experience and customers were likely to be taken on directly (although all such contracts were temporary but rolled over month-to-month).

One lead provider felt that in practice, the removal of supported jobs from WFS outcomes may have limited the potential for further job outcomes downstream, as those customers who required more support than was possible in open market jobs could build up their work practice. Another provider with direct access to supported jobs used these internally as work practice opportunities to help provide customers with recent employment experience. It is too early to say whether this will have the desired effect in comparison to working directly with employers in the open market.

Exiting from the programmes

At the time of the interviews no WAS starts had completed their full 12 months support and so would be required to leave provision and this issue will be addressed in Phase 2 of the evaluation. However, this was not the case for some WFS customers. WFS providers felt that too little thought had been given to the exit arrangements for customers reaching their six-month limit.

Frontline advisers were concerned about some of their customers who had come a long way in terms of improving their confidence and were close to getting back into the labour market. A number felt that going back to JCP may have a significant impact on their confidence and the providers were not able to point them to their next steps in attempting to find work.

WFS does have a procedure to extend a customer's participation in pre-employment support by up to a further eight weeks. However, this required a business case to be prepared for Scottish Government by the end of the customers' fifth month and advisers felt that this was bureaucratic. Equally, many felt it was only worthwhile where there was evidence that the customer would be offered a job – this was a requirement of the extension request. The promise of an interview or an actual job offer (in which case they could claim the job outcome anyway under the conditions period) appeared to secure an extension, whereas a less definitive business case would not secure approval.

Previously under Work Choice, the ability to extend participation was at the discretion of the provider (as no further funding was due) and providers felt that this was a much more appropriate model where they could back their own judgement. Any impact the Work Choice approach might have had on WFS and WAS customer remains unclear, as providers had no data on the the proportion of customers who might have been supported through such discretionary extensions. Furthermore, there is no data available for the proportion who benefited from extensions in the previous Work Choice contract).

Engaging with employers

Customers' willingness to disclose

Customer attitudes drive providers' approach to working with employers. Frontline advisers from both programmes consistently report that the vast majority of customers do not want them to contact their employer – with estimates ranging from 80 to 95%. Again, as noted above, WAS advisers had fewer customers in work at the time the fieldwork was carried out, but were no less of the view that their customers did not wish to disclose their participation in the service than WFS customers.

Most customers, including those working closely with their adviser in preparing an application and interview did not want to reveal their health condition to employers. For those with a physical disability this occurred less often but those who also suffered from depression, anxiety or other mental health issues rarely wanted to report these conditions to their prospective employers.

Much of the research literature would suggest that good practice is to formally disclose health conditions as this will (i) enable the employer to provide appropriate support and be aware of any changes in job design necessary to enable the individual to sustain employment, and (ii) ensure that non-disclosure leads to dismissal when the employer discovers that they do have a health condition. Set against this perspective, the evidence suggests that disabled people and those with long-term conditions continue to perform less well in securing and sustaining employment [23] .

Providers prefer customers to disclose but to do this appropriately, so that the individual's strengths in relation to the job opportunity are highlighted alongside their health condition. Many frontline advisers, in briefing customers (both WFS and WAS) stressed the need to ensure that discussions focused on how the individual's condition would impact on their ability to do the job, which type of tasks may be more challenging to perform but also how their disability or condition may make them more suitable for certain tasks.

Frontline advisers report that it is equally important for the customer to be proactive and put forward suggestions on what adjustments may be appropriate in the job role and how this may work with new co-workers to help them be more effective in their new job role. An issue is helping employers deal with disability or health conditions with confidence so that they feel able to manage their new employee without falling foul of employment law.

However, much depends on how the customer secured the job – where customers increase confidence and provider support was 'in the background', then they rarely want providers to engage with their employer. Frontline advisers report that customers are often at pains to keep them at arm's length and will readily agree to provide copies of pay slips as the necessary evidence of the employment, if this means the employer is not contacted.

Some WAS frontline advisers reported that the exception to this rule were customers with a learning or other developmental disability who were keen to get provider support to explain their condition to the employer and how the employer can best support and manage the customer in the workplace. This sometimes involved an Individual Placement and Support model approach but the ability of providers to provide job coaching and extended support was limited.

Some providers only engage with employers after their customers have raised their involvement – "[provider] has been supporting me with my job search". This provided a context for the provider to engage with the employer and explore what further support they may require. For example, Access to Work or other support, and often informal advice on how to get the best from the customer etc. Frontline advisers report that the vast majority of employers are open to such approaches and welcome the provider contact and willingness to engage should there be any issues with the customer. It also helps to explain that the provider needs to obtain evidence of continuous employment from the employer. Many employers are used to such requests, as it has been part of the employment services landscape for some time.

When the provider has sourced the vacancy through employer contacts, then the frontline adviser would expect to develop a direct relationship with the employer – supporting the customer in preparing and application and in a minority of cases supporting them at interview. This does provide a better platform to engage with employers and offer a range of post-employment support. Some providers aim to work with the employer on developing induction training and buddy/mentoring support. Case study interviews with a small number of employers who had recruited WFS customers, reinforce the importance of a long-standing relationship with the adviser.

A number of frontline advisers felt that some customers in WAS would benefit from a job coach/Individual Placement and Support model (where the provider staff go into the employer and support the customer while they become familiar with the job role and develop the most effective way of them addressing these). This approach was seen to be very effective in delivering sustained engagement in employment for customers facing more significant barriers to work. However, it was widely recognised that this approach was both resource-intensive and expensive.

Initial contact with the employer can come from responding to an advert (often online) or in some cases through cold calling. Larger providers will have employer engagement staff dedicated to this task and ensuring on-going relationships with employers. One provider has secured an agreement with two national employers (in the retail and banking sectors) to prepare and help their customers for work placements. These placements with blue-chip firms are sought after as an effective pathway to securing employment with these firms. These placement arrangements were negotiated at UK national level.

In-work support

Frontline advisers and provider managers stressed the importance of supporting the customer to stay in work, particularly through the first 6-8 weeks. While fewer WAS customers had moved into work at the time of the fieldwork, WAS frontline advisers report a very similar pattern. The problems that cause customers to fall out of work were reported to be the same as for anyone who had been out of work for a long time – adjusting to a daily routine, transport problems, dealing with the transition from benefits to being paid a wage, managing money, etc. Few advisers were aware of any customers who subsequently stopped work due to their disability or health condition.

Most frontline advisers reported that once past the 6-8 week period, customers were more secure in work and their chances of leaving employment were much lower. WFS Advisers [24] report that a typical pattern of in-work support would be:

  • Initial four-six weeks of regular text, email or phone contact
  • Weeks 6-8 weekly text or email contact to ensure all is fine with the customer
  • Weeks 8 and 13 a higher level of engagement with customer backed by phone calls to ensure that action plans have been updated and necessary documentation can be signed off, including evidence of sustained employment

Providers are required to prepare an in-work action plan for customers that sets out the actions and support including induction training or other support from employers prior to the customer starting work. As noted earlier, these were widely welcomed by frontline advisers as they provided a structure to engage with the customer on a range of issues that are different to job search techniques. Having an in-work action plan denoted a step-change in the customer's status, but was also important as it covered a range of issues that many customers would not necessarily consider for themselves – including how they plan to travel to work, cope with the transition from benefits and fund themselves until the first pay cheque.

"Once clients get their first wage, a lot changes. Before that they can find it difficult and we have to ensure that they know they can contact us before things go too far" [ WFS adviser].

Given the issues they may have in engaging directly with employers, providers find that the action plan can draw out some of the details of the job so that they can discuss these with the customer.

Programme guidance for both WFS and WAS is predicated on a tripartite process where the provider brokers the induction, adjustment and customisation appropriate for the customer with their new employer. WFS requires a face-to-face meeting at least every eight weeks while WAS required that the customers' action plan be updated everyfour weeks (on the same basis as when they were in pre-employment support). None of the frontline advisers interviewed had undertaken a tripartite review with both the customer and employer – this was always considered to be a result of the distance customers wished to maintain between their employer and provider.

The Scottish Government performance managers for WFS and SDS SIAs for WAS both recognised that the face-to-face meetings every eight weeks for WFS and action plan updates including employers for WFS represented an 'ideal approach when circumstances allow'. None suggested that the process should go against the express wishes of customers but a number felt that if customers' fears could be overcome, the process might lead to more sustained employment outcomes.

Engaging customers back in the WFS/ WAS process when they had begun to settle to a new life was challenging from frontline advisers, especially as these documents required signatures and customers were understandably reluctant to come back into the offices. Providers report that they have to arrange repeated visits to secure a signature. Some further consideration needs to be given to how quality assurance procedures can better sit around the pattern of activity during the in-work support phase.

The transition off benefits presents a number of issues:

  • Customers struggle to fund the transition between benefit and their first pay packet and providers report that they often supported customers over this period with:
  • Travel passes
  • Energy or phone cards to help meet household costs
  • Food vouchers for supermarkets
  • In one case, a referral to local food banks
  • An understandable fear from customers that if they leave their current benefit they will have little opportunity to return to them (particularly the case for ESA WRAG)

A number of frontline advisers reported that customers who had been offered more than 16 hours work, took permitted work as they were concerned about not being able to return to their current benefits should anything not work out. Providers felt that in these circumstances, with the lifting of the cap on permitted work and the roll out of Universal Credit, it would have been better if the funding model for WFS and WAS had recognised that securing permitted work (under 16 hours per week) which allowed customers to start work but retain their current benefits, would have been an important staging post to increasing working hours in the future. The wider policy intention was predicated on an indivduals ability to be job ready and reach an employment outcome of 16 hours a week. This was designed with the aim of the service supporting individuals and increasing individuals confidence and capacity to get in work and be able to stay in work.

Employer views of the provider services

Profile of employers interviewed

A total of 17 employers have been interviewed across cleaning, retail, security and IT. One organisation was a social enterprise. A number of employment agencies have also engaged with providers who recruit on behalf of a range of employers in the production and customer service sectors in the main. Pay rates varied with the positions but were typically minimum wage or just above. In many cases, the jobs available were full time but, especially with the employment agencies were temporary rolling contracts.

All the employers contacted were drawn from WFS as there were relatively few employment outcomes for WAS at the end of October 2017. These employers have worked closely with providers and so are familiar with their services – something which is not typical for many employers who recruit WFS customers but given that customers do not wish providers to contact their employers and reveal their background, we were not in a position to engage with them.

The employers interviewed have only limited knowledge, if any, of the nature of services provided to customers but were able to comment on how the candidates presented at interview and their progress if they had been offered employment. The responses need to be considered with this in mind.

Initial contact with WFS

None of those interviewed recognised the WFS or WAS services, but instead spoke of their relationships with the providers, and often particular individuals. Employers had not attended any provider events run under these programmes (one had attended events as part of a previous programme with one provider).

Most employers had long term relationships with most having engaged with providers for two years or more. In a number of cases, employers had worked closely with an individual frontline adviser and trusted them to provide a stream of potential candidates whatever programme or provider they were working with. The other employers were first engaged in summer 2017 and had responded to a cold call from the provider at a time when they were looking to recruit. A minority had engaged only recently as a result of a cold call from the provider.


All of the companies had recruited one or more employees through WFS. The social enterprise specifically targets employment at the long-term unemployed and does not have any issues filling 'places'. The IT company was expanding in Scotland and wanted to open up some opportunities to people from disadvantaged backgrounds. They generally did not have any issues recruiting.

A number of companies in the security sector had taken on a large number of people (100 and 25) from the providers over the last year. All were recruited as security officers on pay rates ranging from £7.50 per hour to £9.50 per hour. Both felt that without the providers it would be much harder to recruit good candidates. Other sources of recruitment included JCP who were described as providing candidates who did not really want to work and lacking in motivation. Several of the employers used online websites including Indeed and .gov to recruit which tended to be a better source of recruits than JCP. Others advertised in the local press, particularly agencies when they had significant numbers of job roles to fill.

Companies in the cleaning sector had similar views to the security firms. They have ongoing recruitment needs due to staff turnover and had tried recruiting from JCP but had low levels of retention from this route. One large cleaning firm with 1000+ employees had high levels of employee turnover across all recruitment methods at around 60% a year. Annual turnover from the WFS service was around 80% although this is because the 60% figure includes recommendations from friends/family which have a much higher retention rate.

Employment agencies had responded to cold calls from the providers in question. They had experienced a shortage of candidates coming forward from their usual online adverts and other sources and so were more open to such an approach than may have been the case.

A large retailer had recruited three people through the programme. Their rationale was 'to give people a chance' and they generally did not have any difficulties recruiting for the checkout and car park assistant roles.

Views on the recruitment process were generally positive. The amount of support provided varied widely. The larger companies that recruited larger numbers through the programmes generally had the most support with recruitment:

"I was very impressed with [Provider]. They provided me with a recruitment day when they set up nine interviews at their offices. This worked well as the recruits were more confident here and all turned up well prepared in suits and with up to date CVs. I recruited six of these candidates. Prior to getting involved with [the provider[ I had not (knowingly) recruited anyone with a disability. Their support made me more comfortable to do this. They helped with the background checks for the security licence as well as providing face-to-face support if needed. It helped that their offices were very close by so I could just drop in if needed. They also funded the SI licence if the client did not already have this" [Security employer, 1000+ employees].

The picture that emerges from this small group of cases is that these employers value relationships with providers and, in some cases, individual advisers whose judgement they trust. This can sustain between successive welfare to work programmes and even adviser job changes – a small number of advisers reported that they maintained contact with key employers when they moved jobs.

Characteristics of candidates

Overall, companies were impressed with the quality of the candidates coming through the programme. Customers had a mix of disabilities ranging from learning disabilities and autism, to physical and mental health issues. The security sector employers said they did not take on people with learning disabilities as they said they would not pass the test for the SIA licence.

Employment agencies reported that they were not often able to vary the recruitment specification they received from their employers to give potentially good candidates who lack experience an opportunity.

"We can sometimes say to the employer that there are good candidates who lack experience but it depends on the individual – some feel that they are paying us to meet their full requirements and they don't want to compromise" [Employment Agency].

There was limited interest from this group of employers in providing work experience as a stepping stone to employment. Employment agencies would find this very difficult to organise and employers in other sectors were keen to recruit directly into work.

The IT sector employer was after candidates with more specialised skills than the other employers and did feel that initially the provider had some issues understanding the skillset required but felt this had improved over time and they would be happy to use them again. All of the employers commented that the candidates had been well prepared for the interviews and were well presented, interested and motivated.

"We were impressed with the motivation and presentation of the first group of five candidates from the provider. We would not normally expect that. We offered two employment and the only reason we did not offer more is that the employer was very strict on candidates having relevant experience in the sector" [Employment Agency].

Some of the employers valued the additional 'financial' support provided. The security sector employers found the funding of the SI licence very attractive. Other employers also commented that practical support with bus fares, clothing and Tesco vouchers until the first pay cheque was useful for their employees.


Two of the employers had taken the recruits on through a 2-week job trial and in one case there was evidence to suggest that without this trial period they would not have taken the risk and offered the customer employment.

After the initial assistance, for example with bus passes, there was some evidence of ongoing support from the provider although this varied:

"I go back to [provider] on the rare occasions I have problems. Sometimes I find that the recruits are not willing to share their issues with me and I go back to [provider] for advice on dealing with any problems" [Security employer, 1000+ employees].

"I don't tend to need to go back to [provider] and the support given to their recruits did not differ from other recruits. The main health condition was depression mainly from being out of work, some were recovering alcoholics, all were able physically and none had learning difficulties, [as] they would struggle to get the SI licence" [Security employer, 1000+ employees].

One of the employers had noticed a decrease in the level of support over time:

"We have worked with the [provider] for a long time and used to get recruits through [another provider]. It used to be that we would get responses to our enquires within the hour but now it is a day or longer. We used to be able to meet with their area managers but now I just meet with the junior advisers who are not very clued up on what I need. When it was [provider] I would get a much clearer picture of what a person's issues were and they even offered training on how to support them, e.g. I attended an autism and a dyslexia event, there has been nothing recently" [Cleaning employer, 1000+ employees].

In a couple of cases there was evidence of ongoing support and adjustments in job roles to adapt to the needs of the recruit. This tended to be in the case of recruits on the autistic spectrum. In both these cases, ongoing support from the provider was not required with respect to making these adaptions:

"We found that the autistic lad needed quite a bit of support, we would take the time to sit him down and explain things and help him with any customer facing roles, e.g. rather than just saying he didn't know to customers he needed to be taught to go and get someone who did know. One of our managers has two autistic children and he offered a lot of support and advice so we didn't need to talk to [provider]" [Retail employer, 1000+ employees].

In the other cases, the support tends to be the same as for their other employees:

"We provide a 12-week training course to all new recruits, sometimes those from [provider] take a bit longer to pick things up but they generally all get there in 12 weeks. For the first two to three weeks all new recruits are provided with a buddy" [Cleaning sector, 1000+ employees].

There was some evidence of progression through the programme:

  • A cleaning company aims to move people on to more permanent employment and support them to develop, thus freeing up space for new recruits. Those that stay with the company for longer tend to have more barriers to overcome. The company has recruited six people from the provider over the past 18 months and of these two remain with the company. Four have moved on to employment elsewhere.
  • At the IT sector company the recruit has been with the company for almost a year in an IT role. There are plenty of opportunities for progression.
  • A security company recruited 25 people through the programme and of these around 75% are still with the company. One of the recruits has progressed to supervisory level.
  • At another security company 100 people have been recruited through the provider over the past three years. Retention has been excellent and the employer has only had to terminate employment for two of the 100 recruits. This is much lower compared to other sources of recruitment from unemployment.
  • At one of the cleaning firms they have recruited five people from the provider in the past two years. They have all gone into cleaning roles although there are progression opportunities into supervisory and managerial roles. None have progressed yet although a few have increased their hours from 16 to 30/40 hours a week.
  • At the retail sector company, of the three recruits, two have stayed with the company and one has increased his hours from 16 to 24 a week.

Long term impacts

All of the employers were positive about using the providers for recruitment in the future.

There was some evidence of a change in attitudes about recruiting disabled people although this was mixed and this is a relatively small group of employers. The employers which found it easier to recruit (retail and IT sector) both said that they wanted to recruit disabled people from the outset to put something back into the community and would continue to do so either through the service or outside it. They did, however, feel that without the initial introduction from the provider it would have been harder to recruit a disabled person – support and advice from the provider was considered to be crucial.

The employers which found recruitment more challenging (security and cleaning sectors and recruitment agencies, in part) felt more confident in recruiting disabled people although some did say that they may have been taking on disabled people anyway without being aware:

"A lot of the people we get through [provider] are classed as disabled as they have mental health problems from long term unemployment. We find that they are not much different from others we have recruited, although they are typically more motivated" [Cleaning sector, 1000+ employees].


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