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.

Conclusions and issues arising

The final section of this report provides a final summary of the key findings of this research and their associated recommendations specifically in relation to the key questions for this research phase:

  • How well has the service delivery process worked across both services?
  • What do high quality services look and feel like for customers?
  • What difference does the service make to customer outcomes?
  • What difference does the service make to employers?
  • How are WFS and WAS different from previous employability support? Do the services attract a broad group of customers?

How well has the service delivery approach worked across both services?

Both programmes have engaged with a customer group that is broadly representative of their respective target client groups with the exception that:

  • When considering the gender split in self-reported disabilities and health conditions, female customers are slightly underrepresented across both services.
  • The customer groups are on average drawn from younger age groups, when the incidence of disability and health conditions rises steeply with age. That said, WAS participation up to the age of 55 is close to the profile of older people. This should be considered an achievement, given that some evidence suggests that the onset of health conditions after the age of 55 led many to retire from the workforce.
  • Two-thirds of WAS customers have mental health conditions, well above benchmark levels and 86% reported that their condition had an impact on their ability to carry out day-to-day activities.

The Scottish Government decision to work with existing Work Choice providers to ensure continuity of support in the one year transitional WFS approach meant that it was possible to roll-forward existing provider delivery arrangements and brought significant advantages in the time available. WAS did establish provision very quickly but this inevitably required some time to bed-in and this happened as the programme went live.

It is clear that while JCP staff worked hard to support both programmes with referrals, these were not always the most targeted. There was no effective JCP process for screening out customers who would struggle to secure employment of 16 hours or more at 6 months ( WFS) or 12 months ( WAS). In some cases, detailed discussions with customers on their interests, needs and whether the programme would suit them did not occur until they met with the providers – something which took time to establish, especially for WAS.

WFS referrals benefited from being familiar to JCP staff from previous Work Choice delivery but from a provider perspective this produced a larger than expected volume of referrals. WAS proved more challenging to engage as potential customers were less frequent visitors to the JCP offices and proportionately more felt that they were unlikely to secure work because of their health condition.

It is important to recognise that relatively high proportions of referrals either not attending initial interviews or attending and then deciding not to participate is not a costless exercise. Between April and end of October 2017, 62% of WFS referrals and 49% of WAS referrals started their respective programmes. The high volume of referrals on WFS and the spike in WAS referrals in June 2017 as a result of the intensive activity period, combined with difficulties in regular communication with JCP WCs, has focused provider behaviour towards managing this process.

Providers and JCP WCs see warm handovers as an important part of ensuring prospective customers are fully aware of the programme offer and its requirements of them . This is about selling the potential of the programme and explaining how the support provided can help customers access employment and manage their health. Providers are able to explain their offer in greater depth and give examples of similar customers who have worked with them successfully in the past.

Providers and JCP WCs all suggest that engagement and good communications with their local JCP offices were key to the scale and quality of referrals across both programmes. Day to day communications with JCP WCs has been a challenge and many providers suggested that it would be vital to have a single point of contact to help them source information on claimants..

The administrative overhead involved in both programmes impacted on frontline advisers' time to support customers. A consistent view from providers across the supply chain was that around a third of their time was spent working with customers, a third chasing customers to ensure that they attend these meetings and a third on the associated administration. Compared to other employability programmes, the compliance requirements and processes are not that different, however the weekly meetings with clients increases the volume of administration considerably. Programme administration should be reviewed and streamlined where possible.

Establishing two employability programmes in such a short timeframe has been a challenge, as there was a need to ensure continuity of service while developing the space for a distinctive Scottish approach to employability support. The WFS and WAS programmes have enabled Scottish Government to develop a supporting infrastructure that includes their own performance management team, data monitoring and effective strategic and operational communications with JCP and DWP. This will pay dividends as the lessons learned have helped in the design and delivery of future employability services, including Fair Start Scotland.

Partnership working and communications between Scottish Government and JCP/ DWP have been transformed. Partners now have an effective and enduring platform to raise and address policy and delivery issues such as information and data sharing and joint approach to improving operational delivery – as evidenced by the early and extensive preparations for the introduction of Fair Start Scotland in April 2018.

What do high quality services look and feel like for customers?

Voluntary participation is widely regarded by providers and JCP WCs as an important feature of both services that helps engage customers. However, it should be recognised that this is set within a wider benefit regime that still relies on compulsion in key aspects and it will take time for customers to fully appreciate that participation is entirely their choice. JCP WCs and provider advisers both stressed that the DWP Work Capability Assessment process is feared by many claimants who consider that showing any sign of interest in returning to work may impact on their WCA assessment process and lead to a loss in benefit income.

The main reason that WFS and WAS customers gave for engaging with services are related to their strong desire to secure work. The offer of specialist help for people with disabilities or health conditions and to build confidence was particularly important for WAS customers.

There is some limited evidence in the reasons given by a group of WAS referrals who opted not to start the programme, that around a quarter of these non-starters felt that they were not yet ready to return to work. This may mean a wider offer using health and community venues in the future might provide a steady stream of customers with the time to fully consider the employment services offer before engaging with employability services.

Almost seven in ten WFS and over eight in ten WAS customers found the regular one-to-one adviser appointments useful. Providers gave mixed views on the requirement to undertake at least one hour a week face-to-face with customers on both programmes. Some lead providers felt that this frequency did not always suit the needs of all clients. However, provider and supply chain frontline advisers were most often in favour of this approach. Regular contact based around the action planning process was considered to be very important for customers who were often not in a position to move forward their confidence and back to work strategies on their own and required more regular in-depth personal assistance. The vast majority of customers on both programmes report that their frequency was about right (84% WFS and 85% WAS) with only a small minority saying that they were too frequent (6% WFS and 5% WAS).

This did challenge providers and their supply chain to organise, undertake and follow-up at this level of service, especially as many customers (particularly WAS customers) suffered from anxiety and low confidence and so were not able to participate in any group activities until they gained confidence.

Occupational therapy and other health and wellbeing support was offered to proportionately more WAS customers (61%) than WFS (54%) reflecting their relative needs. A significant proportion of both groups (24% of WFS and 22% of WAS customers offered such support) did not take it up but the vast majority that did use the support found it useful.

Discussions with providers suggest that they faced cost-constraints on such specialist provision. In most cases support was relatively short courses with external providers or ensuring the customer was referred to a supply-chain provider with specialist knowledge of such support ( e.g. SAMH for mental health issues) with the purpose to provide customers with strategies to help manage their conditions. Extended support and those with higher level needs were referred to NHS or other local specialist services, but access to these was not consistently available in every area. In the case of WFS, customers were advised that they should exit the programme and return when they had recovered sufficiently as it was unlikely there would be time in their pre-employment stage otherwise. Healthy lifestyle support – short-term gym memberships and healthy living advice (often online) were also used by frontlne advisers to help customers manage their conditions.

Short course training was widely used – CSCS construction site cards, Security Industry Authority training and licence and other short entry courses (Care Routes, Customer care) were used by many providers. The inability to access funding such as the Individual Learning Account to help support the costs of this training were criticised by providers who did not understand why this constitutes 'double funding'. Discussions with case study employers point to the value placed on potential candidates having the relevant licence in selecting recruits.

Group job search and work trials were not always as popular with frontline advisers as some reported customers saw this as working for nothing. Supported employment, whilst not a feature of these services was anecdotally available in one provider along with bespoke recruitment for a large retailer and bank. JCP WCs reported that this was well-known among potential WFS customers who might opt to refer to this particular provider to access these.

Transitional support was more often reported for WFS customers (as fewer WAS customers had reached the stage of job entry). Bridging the gap between their last benefit payment and the first pay cheque was widely considered by frontline advisers to be a challenge for many customers. Payments for bus passes, supermarket vouchers, work clothes and referrals to food banks etc. were often cited as methods to help customers survive until they were paid.

What difference do the services make to customer outcomes?

At the time of the customer survey both programmes had a positive impact on customer motivation to work. It should be recognised that this was still relatively early in the pre-employment support phase of WAS and that this is reflected in the results to date.

As a result of programme participation, two-thirds of customers in both programmes felt their motivation to work had increased to some degree, with more than nine-in-ten customers exhibiting a desire to work in the future. Furthermore, two-thirds of WFS customers and two-fifths of WAS customers felt confident in their ability to take on a job without harmful consequences to their health ( WFS 63%, WAS 41%), as well as half feeling more comfortable disclosing their disability or condition when applying for jobs ( WFS 55%, WAS 50%).

At the time of interview, 81% of WFS customers were already in work or felt ready to be in work (32% [28] , 49% respectively). Some 40% of WAS customers were the same (16% already in work, 24% who felt ready) reflecting the longer pre-employment support period required to get WAS customers ready to undertake job search. For those not yet working, 83% of WFS customers expect or intend to be working within a year and 66% among WAS customers.

However, it should also be noted that a minority of customers from both WFS and WAS came to an end of their support without moving into work or discontinued participation due to lack of individualisation and relevance. This suggests that, while the programmes work for many, they may not be long enough or sufficiently tailored enough to meet all needs.

There are some differences between WFS and WAS customers in terms of the confidence with which they approach the idea of work and concerns were higher among those with mental health conditions, greater health needs and longer durations since they last worked:

  • Just under half WAS customers said they were worried that employers would not recruit them because of their health condition compared to 37% of WFS customers
  • Some 46% of WAS customers said the idea of working made them feel anxious compared to 35% of WFS customers

Similar proportions of both WFS and WAS customers (32% and 29%) are concerned about the impact work will have on their health and feel they need more social support in order to help them work.

Although it is still relatively early to judge outcomes based on performance from April to October 2017, the WFS job entry rate is comparable to that recorded for Work Choice for unsupported jobs. Both WAS and WFS providers reported that job outcomes were improving in the New Year.

For some customers on both programmes who had been offered jobs with more than 16 hours, the risks of leaving benefit were too high and they opted for permitted work (fewer than 16 hours) so that they could retain their benefits while they became comfortable with working.

As areas transition towards Universal Credit, the relevance of 16 hours or more employment and the fact that this requires customers' to leave their current out-of-work benefits behind has less relevance. Some customers had been offered more than 16 hours work but opted to work permitted hours so that they could retain their benefit status. This appears to be due to (i) fears that if the job did not work out, they could not return to their current benefit position and (ii) that funding the gap between the last benefit payment and first pay cheque was a substantial challenge.

What differences do the services make to employers?

A large majority of customers do not want providers speaking to their employers, which can vary from 80-95%. Customers do not wish to reveal their health conditions to employers and see no benefit in doing so. This does limit the opportunity for a more involved in-work support process. Providers do still engage with employers but this occurs mostly for customers with learning disabilities and other developmental conditions who see benefits from an IPS-type support from providers.

Providers have good connections to employers built up over numerous programmes and the interviews with employers show that they (i) find the potential recruits confident and enthusiastic and (ii) trust the providers. Of course, these are a select group. The sustainability of employment outcomes will be an issue for Phase 2 of the evaluation.

Case study discussions with employers have drawn on those employers with extended relationships with providers. A minority have engaged specifically with providers because they believe they should do more to employ people with a disability or health condition. However, more have developed and maintained contacts with employability service providers they trust to provide a stream of candidates who are well-prepared for interview.

Few of these employers were aware of the detailed support provided to customers by the WFS and WAS programmes and most were not familiar with the programme names. They did, however, mostly have strong relationships with individuals working at the provider and some had maintained contact through successive employability programmes because they trusted them.

The level of support from providers varied widely. The larger companies that recruited larger numbers through the programmes generally had the most support with recruitment. This might include setting up a recruitment day at the provider's premises to interview a series of candidates through to general advice on the recruitment of people with disability or health conditions. A small number had used work trials and would probably not have recruited without these. Others felt that the candidates were frequently very motivated and reported that they had good retention rates so far, so their involvement with the programmes provides them with better access to good employment candidates.

Providers in a small number of cases had engaged with employers to support them in making adjustments in job roles to adapt to the needs of the recruit or advice on using additional support for the new recruits such as buddies etc. However, in more cases the employers report that they gained confidence in recruiting people with disabilities and health conditions from the general advice gained by working with providers.

Ways to improve effectiveness and successful outcomes

While both programmes perform well, there are clear and consistent differences in performance and outcomes between customer subgroups. These findings provide clear evidence from which to develop WFS and WAS delivery and future employability services to better support the least successful groups.

There are a number of key recommendations for Scottish Government arising from this first phase evaluation that would improve employability services performance:

  • Warm handovers are an essential part of improving the quality of referrals to employability services. This is as much about selling the potential of the programme as voluntary participation. Providers are able to explain their offer in greater depth and give examples of similar customers who have worked with them successfully in the past to ensure that potential customers are clear on the support that they can expect to receive. Referral numbers need to be managed in line with provider capacity so resources are not under-used or overloaded.
  • A deeper engagement process through community and health services would have been very challenging to establish in the time available, but providers and JCP WCs see this as being an important consideration for future programmes. Raising the possibility of moving back into work among people with disabilities and long-term health conditions away from the benefit and employment services would allow potential customers more space to consider the offer.
  • The requirement that providers undertake an hour a week face-to-face with customers is successful. Adviser contact time with customers drives outcomes and was widely supported among frontline advisers as it provides the resource to deal with the customer as an individual. This has been carried forward into the contracts for FSS and there is sufficient evidence from WFS and WAS for this to continue.
  • Managers in lead providers felt that the 'hard-and-fast' rule was too inflexible to fit with all customers' needs or even work around their need to attend medical appointments. We recommend that Scottish Government explore ways of enabling greater flexibility to accommodate customer preferences. WFS and WAS compliance procedures were relatively standard, but some providers felt the frequency of reporting and the lack of technology to make the process more efficient created a significant overhead on advisers. Few providers had adopted technology such as digital signatures that might make this process more efficient and Scottish Government should consider how the administrative overhead involved could be reduced, while maintaining appropriate programme transparency, and consistency, quality and efficiency of delivery for participants.
  • A review of where compliance is best applied to support quality of delivery could also be undertaken – ensuring all customers receive regular support is perhaps more important than updating in-work action plans and requiring signatures when the vast majority of customers are reluctant to involve their employers directly and, moreover, feel that they have made a transition and 'moved on'. When customer contact drives desired outcomes, anything that reduces the time spent on this comes at a cost.
  • A customer-side view of procedures needs to be considered. Appropriate induction procedures need to be considered, and while these may consume provider resources, the real issue is how they can effectively engage voluntary participants.
  • For some customers with significant mental health needs, the support available is not sufficient and the ability to fund significant specialist support remains a challenge. Specialist support services to WAS customers have been provided but these were often relatively short interventions designed to help customers develop coping strategies to manage their conditions. Longer term and more intensive support relied on NHS services, particularly for the majority of people with a mental health condition (two-thirds of WAS customers), and was often described as a postcode lottery. Further thought needs to be given to:
    • A strategic discussion with NHS Scotland and Health Boards to explore more consistent access to mental health support services to customers who wish to return to work.
    • Consideration of how resources for specialist services can be directed more cost-effectively to a quality service. A number of frontline advisers felt that a ring-fenced budget could ensure greater investment. We would also recommend that Scottish Government consider the option of providing a centrally funded service for frequently used services where the likely volume means that core funding may support higher service standards and lower unit costs [29] .
  • This research cannot fully establish whether the costs of weekly employability support, specialist support, vocational courses and job search etc. prevent further investment in specialist services. This requires that contracts with providers have open-book accounting clauses combined with a more deliberate approach to shared learning in employability services – what has been termed a 'learning contract'. This is now in place for FSS and should be used by Scottish Government to provide a more forensic analysis of the costs of employability service delivery in future.
  • Regular meetings between Scottish Government and DWP and JCP stakeholders at senior and operational level have underpinned much closer working arrangements. However, Scottish Government should consider engaging providers more in practice development – part of the learning contract process – where good practice can be aired and discussed. These are probably best conducted in a separate forum away from the contractual and operational issues dealt within the Joint Operations Group meetings.


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