As the new Minister for Just Transition, Employment and Fair Work, I am pleased to present this third Annual Report on Fair Start Scotland (FSS), our national employability support service. This report shows how well the service has responded to the significant challenges that COVID-19 has brought over the last 18 months, and how we have been able to maintain the momentum on our journey towards our No One Left Behind ambitions of locally aligned and integrated employability support.
Despite the challenges of lockdown in the early part of Year 3, we moved quickly to provide continuity of support for participants, flexing the delivery model to encourage new referral routes and virtual engagement, and allowing “Day 1 unemployed" access to services for those people experiencing the most disadvantage.
In response to ongoing labour market uncertainty, the then Minister for Fair Work Business and Skills decided to extend FSS contracted delivery for a further two years to March 2023, again providing support and much needed stability for those facing unemployment.
Our quarterly statistics releases and supporting evaluation findings show that the pandemic has affected all aspects of FSS participation. Perhaps not surprisingly, those with health-related barriers were less inclined to engage with services. It’s likely that the national lockdowns and health concerns over COVID-19 have discouraged more vulnerable people from engaging with support and that for many, seeking employment was not a priority at this time. We have seen a change in the types of people engaging with FSS services: participants were more likely to be younger (aged 16-34) and more recently out of work (less than 6 months unemployed). COVID-19 impacts also led to lower rates of completion for equalities data and other characteristics, meaning that we are less able to report on progress in supporting some groups this year.
However, despite the pandemic, the evaluation evidence shows clearly that those who did join FSS rated the support and ethos of the service very highly and that many moved into work as a result. The offer of up to 12 months in-work support is also highly valued by participants and the majority of those who start work go on to sustain their employment. Furthermore, the economic evaluation of the service shows that FSS delivers value for money and positive benefits, not just for those who participate, but also for Scottish society and the public purse.
Challenges remain, particularly in decluttering the complex local funding and provision landscape, and sharpening our focus on reaching out to those communities that have been pushed further away from the labour market by the economic impacts of COVID-19. Through our continuous improvement initiatives we are engaging with under-represented groups and will also publish reviews of specialist services – Supported Employment (SE) and Individual Placement and Support (IPS) – later this year. We are also using provider and participant feedback to enhance our support, ensuring that we can respond to the changing employability landscape and the different ways that participants want to engage with services.
As we enter the fourth year of FSS delivery, we are firmly focused on high-quality delivery and outcomes, and making our services inclusive and accessible for all. We continue to work towards our No One Left Behind ambitions, working with local government and other partners to develop a locally responsive and flexible employability system that delivers the right support at the right time for those who need it most.