Fair Start Scotland evaluation report 2: local area case studies - November 2019

Part of the Fair Start Scotland evaluation series. It presents detailed findings from the first wave of local area case studies in Alloa, Wick and Irvine and includes feedback from FSS service providers, participants, local delivery partners and other local people facing similar barriers to employment.

Participant and non-participant views

In this chapter, we explore participants’ experiences of FSS, considering in particular the types of support that work best for individuals, and the difference that participation has made to people taking part.

In addition, we provide an overview of feedback from eligible non-participants (including non-completers of FSS) regarding their awareness of the service, their reasons for non-participation, and, in the case of non-completers, their experiences of FSS and reasons for dropping out.

The information provided in this chapter is drawn from interviews with both groups and with participants’ support workers in the three case study areas.

Below we outline the key findings from our interviews with participants, non-participants and key workers, organised under the following sub-headings:

  • Referral processes
  • Motivations for taking part in FSS
  • Reasons for non-participation
  • Reasons for non-completion
  • Strengths of FSS
  • Weaknesses and areas for improvement
  • Impact of FSS
  • Barriers to progression.

Referral processes

All of the participants who took part in our interviews were referred by, or found out about FSS, through JCP, except two (one of whom heard about FSS from their sister and the other through adverts in their local newspaper and health centre). The arrangements for referral to FSS seem to work well from participants’ point of view, with JCP providing an effective gateway to FSS, along with the option for self-referrals.

Motivations for taking part in FSS

One of the key differences between FSS and previous national employment support services is that FSS is voluntary – individuals choose to take part of their own free will. As such, participants were able to articulate the benefits of engaging with the service.

Participants engaged with FSS for various reasons. Most commonly, participants wanted help in finding and/or applying for jobs. A small number had had positive experiences of being supported by the current providers in the past, including one who had previously been helped to find a job, and decided to take part in the hope that FSS would be similarly helpful.

Some participants joined the service to help them build or regain their confidence and sense of motivation. This lack of confidence sometimes related to the process of applying for jobs – for example, attending job interviews – while others wanted help to boost their self-confidence. One participant said they “wanted [FSS] to help me get out of my shell a bit”.

A small number of participants engaged with the service because it gave them something to do or to satisfy Jobcentre Plus. For example, one participant said, “I went to get JCP off my back”.

Others joined the service to learn new skills, such as how to send emails or write a CV, including one participant who had skills in Scottish traditional music and wanted to become a self-employed teacher or performer but needed help with advertising. It was not clear how this help was provided by FSS.

Reasons for non-participation

As a voluntary service, individuals can decide whether or not to take part in FSS. Through the research we identified two main reasons for non-participation.

Firstly, four research participants reported that they have not taken part in FSS because they were not aware of it. This suggests that there may be scope to further increase the profile of FSS among potential participants.

Secondly, two research participants reported that, while they were made aware of the service through leaflets provided by JCP, they decided not to engage as they were already being supported by another employability service. These research participants said that there was no particular reason for choosing another service over FSS. One interviewee stated that they visited the employability hub to register for employment support on the day of another service’s drop-in session, and that they would probably have registered with FSS if they visited on a different day.

Reasons for non-completion

Participants are free to leave FSS before completing the service without sanctions, and six interviewees reported that they had left the service early. Four of these individuals reported positive experiences of their time with FSS and left due to reasons unrelated to the quality of support they received – for example, disabilities, caring responsibilities and childcare issues.

Two of these participants reported that they left the service because they moved on to disability benefits and are no longer looking for work. One explained that their disability benefits were re-approved following an appeal against an earlier failed assessment. This person described themselves as “long-term sick, not long-term unemployed”. Another described leaving FSS because they developed a medical condition as a result of surgery and now receive ESA payments.

However, two participants, both in Irvine, left because they had not received the support that they needed and opted to return to another service as it offered more personalised and intensive support. This is an issue we return to later in this chapter.

Strengths of FSS

Overall, feedback from participants was very positive and clients identified several strengths of FSS including its comprehensive and tailored approach, the caring, respectful and supportive key workers, the holistic support offered, and the voluntary nature of the support. We describe FSS’s strengths in more detail below including, where possible, comparisons with other services that participants have taken part in.

Participants valued the comprehensive support that FSS offers, covering all aspects of preparation for employment. Interviewees appreciated the help and advice they receive to find vacancies, write their CV, make job applications, prepare for interviews and enhance their experience and skills through placements and courses. Very few participants reported having any support needs that FSS did not meet and one said, “What they do is perfect”. Another said the service was “On the ball about everything”.

Tailored support
FSS aims to understand and support the individual situation of each participant, and participants reported that the support they received from FSS was tailored to their individual needs. Key workers help to find vacancies and arrange placements and training that suits individual participant’s skills, interests and circumstances. For example, one participant, who has a young son, said that their key worker was helping them to look for opportunities that would fit around school start and finish times. Others reported undertaking placements relevant to their existing skills and interests. Key workers also provide wide-ranging support to address individual needs including, for example, helping participants to obtain a driving licence, get their hair cut before an interview, or buy new shoes before starting a job. One participant said, “I can pop in anytime… they guide me with everything”. Another said, “The way they’ve supported me, they’re spot on”.

Many participants who had also taken part in another employability service noted that it did not seek to accommodate their interests and individual circumstances to the same extent as FSS. One, for instance, said it “felt like I was just another number” on another service, where advisors “didn’t listen to what you needed… and didn’t understand what people were going through”.

Holistic support
Participants appreciated the holistic nature of FSS, including support from key workers with other aspects of their lives not directly linked to their employability. For example, we spoke to one participant whose key worker helped them to access financial assistance to buy furniture when they moved out of their father’s house and into their own flat, and another whose key worker helped them to arrange medical appointments. Other examples include a participant with a mental health condition who said, “They made sure I was eating and taking my medication” and another who reported, “I wasn’t sure about Universal Credit and they helped me with that too”. Another said that key workers, “Go above and beyond”.

Caring, respectful and supportive key workers
In line with FSS’s Fair Work principles of dignity and respect, participants described the approach of FSS key workers as caring, respectful and supportive. Across the three providers, interviewees reported that the key workers were friendly, understood their circumstances and genuinely cared about achieving the best outcome for them.

“It was very relaxed and informal, and they always made you feel welcome.”

“They believe in me.”

“They treat you like family.”

“I like how encouraging they are…they know what I’m good at and want to build on that.”

Participants with experience of other employability support felt that FSS key workers are more supportive and respectful than advisers on other programmes. One said that they were “spoken to like a bairn” on another programme, but the FSS worker “puts you at ease”. Another observed that “the FSS advisor listened to you” in contrast to their experience of another service. The exception to this, as already noted, was two research participants in Irvine who preferred the support they received from another programme and dropped out of FSS provision as a result.

Voluntary participation without risk of sanctions
FSS is a voluntary service and people can choose to take part without the risk of sanctions for non-completion or non-participation. Participants and non-participants appreciated this aspect of the service and reported that key workers were understanding when they missed appointments or were unable to take part in activities like IT classes or placements. In one case, a participant turned down a job offer because they did not feel emotionally ready to return to work, and they were able to do this without fear of penalty.

In contrast, participants who had engaged with the Work Programme disliked its compulsory nature and the risk of sanctions for non-completion or non-participation. One, for example, said they felt forced to accept a job through the Work Programme but then left it almost immediately as it did not suit their circumstances, and this had led to a benefits sanction.


While feedback about FSS was generally very positive, some participants reported some challenges with FSS.

In Irvine, several participants stated that they much preferred another employability service and chose to leave FSS to return to their previous advisor because they provided more intensive and personalised support. For instance, one interviewee stated that they require intensive and specific support due to a disability, and that support from FSS was not personalised enough and too infrequent. They only received scheduled meetings every fortnight, compared to the two meetings a week from the advisor on the other service. They said that their FSS advisor would leave them alone in a computer room to complete job searches, with no guidance or direction. They said that the advisor did not come through to talk to them and felt that they need someone to be in the room with them. This person left the service after eight months and was “eager” to return to their previous support.

Another participant, also receiving support in Irvine, who is not a native English speaker, left FSS as they did not receive the intensive literacy support they required. They stated that the FSS key worker only saw them once a week, whereas they saw a dedicated literacy worker three times a week with another service, who provided support with English writing skills and in preparing job applications and cover letters.

In Alloa, one participant said they had hoped to receive support with interview skills but there was not enough time to provide this, and in Wick one participant would have appreciated more support with managing their finances.

Given FSS’s focus on providing comprehensive, individualised support to help people progress towards work, it is perhaps surprising that participants reported these examples where FSS had not fully met their support needs. This may indicate a need to ensure that all providers have the necessary resources, competencies and links with other relevant services to support participants fully.

Impact of FSS

Participants and key workers reported a range of positive outcomes for participants. Several interviewees had gained new practical, job-related skills, or renewed their existing qualifications, through undertaking courses and work placements. Participants had built skills in a range of areas such as forklift driving, retail, health and safety, landscaping and welding. Many interviewees also reported being enrolled in IT courses and confidence-building workshops.

Participants also said they improved their skills in job-seeking. This included better awareness of where to look for vacancies, including online sources, enhanced CVs and support with interview skills.

Many of the participants and key workers involved in the research reported that FSS helped participants to feel more confident in themselves and in their ability to find work.

“I’ve opened up more as a person… before, I was always at home and I was never out the house.”

“They helped me see that people should be screaming out for me.”

“It has given me the confidence and experience to go into places.”

Participants attributed this growth in confidence to FSS activities giving them a purpose and “structure” to their week, a chance to meet new people, and a greater awareness of their strengths, as well as enhancing their skills and experience. One participant reported that FSS “gave me the confidence to do interviews” and another, who has not worked for 12 years, said the key worker “has helped me feel more confident”. Another key worker felt that one of their participants “is less quiet than before” and more confident about speaking to people.

Some interviewees told us that FSS helped them to gain experience of different sectors and decide what they want to do. For example, one participant took part in placements in retail and sports development and through these, realised that they wanted to pursue a career in sports development - “I like that they’ve helped me find out what I want to do”. Another liked the fact that their key worker gave them different “ideas to float around my head”.

For some participants, the confidence gained and support provided through FSS helped them to move into work or further education. One participant said that “I got the job because of confidence and self-esteem” developed through FSS, while another “wasn’t confident at all in applying for retail jobs but they supported me the entire way and I feel a lot more confident. That’s how I was able to get my current job”. A third noted that their key worker has “helped me to get into work by showing me how to do my CV and that sort of thing”. Another secured a place at college which they will take up unless they are successful with a Modern Apprenticeship application. Another reported that FSS has “helped me with skills to start self-employment”.

Other participants reported that, although they are not ready to enter the labour market just now, FSS had made them more confident about and interested in finding work when their circumstances change. For example, one single parent who has eight children said that FSS has given them a “taster” and that they are more interested in finding a job when their children are older.

FSS has also had a positive impact on participants’ health and wellbeing and, more broadly, that of their families. Some participants reported that, by helping them to get into work, FSS had helped to improve their financial situation and this in turn had benefitted other members of the family as well. The service helped some participants to meet new people, exemplified by one who said “I don’t feel so isolated”. Another spoke about the importance of the holistic support that FSS offers and of having the key worker there to talk to about anything that is worrying them - “[the key worker] is there if you need her… she gives the support I need”.

Key workers provide support with a wide range of issues and, as noted earlier, FSS helped one participant to prepare for moving into their own flat, another was supported with their medication, and two or three said their key worker provided support with their benefits.

Barriers to progression

Participants and non-participants reported that challenges in finding and then staying in work were related to a range of individual circumstances. Many interviewees reported that they have struggled to find work because of their parental and/or caring duties. These issues have either prevented them from moving into employment altogether or set limits on the range of roles they could apply to. For example, one participant mentioned that they had to wait for their child to start school before moving into work. Their key worker reported that the participant felt they could not commit to the hours required. Likewise, another interviewee recently became a full-time carer for their grandson and said that, in the jobs they applied to, they were asked to work nights and weekends, without any flexibility.

A lack of skills was another key barrier to employment. Some felt they were hindered by a lack of skills in written English or IT (such as typing) or by not having a driving licence, which one key worker noted was valuable in opening up opportunities for employment further afield.

For some, a lack of knowledge of recruitment processes was also a barrier to employment. We heard from participants who needed help with writing and uploading a CV and applying for jobs online. One participant felt hindered by a lack of interview skills and familiarity with the interview process. They had been in the same line of work for decades, had never attended a formal interview, and had difficulty understanding what was being asked of them in interviews.

In some cases, poor mental and/or physical health has prevented interviewees from moving into and staying in employment. For example, one participant lost their job as a chef because they were experiencing mental health issues, which they described as “a psychological knock”.

Other barriers to employment reported included a lack of job opportunities in the local area and age constraints. For example, one research participant referred to a retail job they applied for which required a 12-year commitment from successful applicants so that they could make progress to middle management. As the interviewee said, “they’re not going to hire someone in their 50s”. Another participant who is turning 60 stated that they received good support from FSS and “managed to fire off lots of applications” but felt their age “works against me” and “employers don’t want to give me a look in”.

We also heard from a key worker that a lack of discipline and/or poor relations with work colleagues has prevented two FSS participants from staying in work. While one participant lost their job because of inappropriate behaviour, the other left due to strained relations with their manager.


Email: kirstie.corbett@gov.scot

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