5 Participant views
In this chapter, we discuss participants' experiences of FSS in Year 2 of the service, considering in particular how participants may have benefitted from the support delivered, and the types of support that work best for individuals.
We have based the information presented in this chapter on interviews with 30 participants and 18 key workers in the three selected case study areas. This year's evaluation activity also included follow-up interviews with 9 participants interviewed as part of the Year 1 evaluation (three each from Alloa, Irvine and Wick), in order to explore the longer-term impact of the service.
In this chapter, we outline the key findings from these interviews, organised under the following sub-headings:
- Referral processes
- Motivations for taking part in FSS
- Strengths of FSS
- Areas for consideration
- Impact of FSS
- Barriers to progression
As in Year 1, the most common referral route into FSS in Year 2 was Jobcentre Plus (JCP). Twenty-two of the 30 interviewees reported that they were referred in this way. Seven of the others self-referred to the service after a friend or family member told them about it, and one was advised to access the service by a local authority homelessness officer.
Participants reported no issues with the referral arrangements. JCP seems to be an effective link into the service for most, but participants also appreciated being able to self-refer.
Motivations for taking part in FSS
FSS is voluntary, unlike previous national employment support services, and participants can decide whether or not to take part. The participants we interviewed in Year 2 identified a range of reasons why they decided to engage with the service.
Some participants noted that they took part because they hoped FSS could help them address challenges that made it difficult for them to look for and/or find work. In a few cases, participants had physical and mental health conditions that limited the types of jobs they could undertake, and they wanted support from FSS to find a suitable job. Lack of confidence was a barrier for some participants who needed support with this before they could find (and sustain) a job.
Others had been looking for work for some time with no success so wanted some additional support. One participant, for example, said that they engaged with FSS because they were "hitting a brick wall" and another said they decided to take part because they were "not getting anywhere" on their own. Another few, meanwhile, explained that they had unexpectedly been made redundant after their employers went out of business or closed the factory they worked at. These interviewees' key workers felt they had good employability skills and were well-placed to find another job, but the participants explained that they wanted help to "brush up on approaching employers" and to find a new job as quickly as possible.
Although participation in FSS is voluntary, in a very small number of cases participants said they felt they had to take part because JCP had suggested it. In one of these cases, the participant felt they were not given a choice. While this may have been a misinterpretation on the part of the interviewees it reinforces the importance of explaining the voluntary nature of the service clearly to potential participants before they agree to take part. This is especially important because key workers reported that better outcomes can be achieved when the participant is motivated and wants to take part.
Strengths of FSS
Overall, participants this year again described their experience of FSS in very favourable terms and they identified several strengths of the service. These are similar to the strengths identified by participants in Year 1 and include:
- The service's comprehensive and tailored approach
- The caring, respectful, and supportive key workers
- The holistic support offered
- The voluntary nature of the support.
We describe FSS's strengths in more detail below and, where possible, include comparisons with other employment support services that participants have engaged with.
Participants appreciated the comprehensive support that FSS provides to help them prepare for employment. Interviewees explained that the service helped them to identify suitable employment sectors, find job vacancies, prepare CVs, make applications and prepare for interviews. They also noted that FSS gave them help and advice to access suitable work placements, training and volunteering opportunities to enhance their skills and experience. Some participants reported that the service continued to provide valuable help and advice after they had moved into employment and, in one or two cases, the participant returned for further support when they became unemployed again.
A key worker compared FSS favourably to the support provided by JCP in terms of how comprehensive its support is. This interviewee said that while JCP "monitors progress" towards employment, FSS is more pro-active in helping participants make progress towards finding a job and gives them "tools and encouragement" they need to enter the job market.
We note some potential areas for improvement later in this chapter, but very few participants reported any support needs that FSS could not help with. Comments from participants include the following:
"They went out their way to help as much as they can."
"I think it was really great all round."
"What they do seems to be fine for me. They've got it structured well."
"My experience was nothing but positive."
A common theme in our interviews this year was the tailored nature of the support that FSS offers. Participants valued the fact that the support they received was tailored to their individual needs and that their key workers helped them to identify vacancies and access training and placement opportunities that suited their interests and skills. Some participants with children, for example, explained that their key workers helped them to find opportunities with start and finish times that would fit around school drop off and collection times, while others said they were supported to look for work in sectors that interested them or in which they had experience. Others reported receiving wide-ranging support to address individual needs, such as a bus pass being arranged for a participant who cannot drive, and helping to enhance a participant's digital literacy so they could seek and apply for jobs online more confidently. One said, "…there was a personal touch, they got to know me" and another observed that the key worker, "…asked me lots of questions about what I wanted and I felt like she was listening to what I was saying".
Key workers agreed that it is important to tailor the type and extent of support provided to the needs of individual participants. One, for example, explained that "everyone's journey to meet their end goal is different, and this participant-led programme meets everyone's different requirements to get there". Another key worker noted that some participants, "…come ready to work, and some have more work to do on their skills and need a slower pace. We work at whatever pace suits the individual… what we do is tailored to the individual".
Key workers explained that, as FSS is targeted at people who are far removed from the labour market, participants need a soft approach involving taking smaller steps. As a result, for some participants, finding a job might not be a realistic aim in the short-term, and in cases like this the service's support is more "…about building confidence, not about a job". We note some examples like this later in this chapter, where we discuss the impact of the service on participants.
Key workers and participants compared the personalised nature of FSS favourably with other similar services. Interviewees praised FSS for its flexibility and the ability to tailor the support to the needs of the individual participants, in contrast with other "one size fits all" employment support services.
Participants and key workers also valued the one-to-one approach of FSS, in contrast to other group-based services. Interviewees reported that this approach allowed the service to meet participants' individual needs. A participant said that they previously took part in a group-based service but preferred FSS because it was "focused on me - what do I need, what do I want to do?".
As well as the content of the support, participants reported that aspects of the way in which the support was delivered was tailored to their needs. For example, one participant appreciated being able to meet their key worker in a local library because it meant their children could be occupied reading books while they spoke with the key worker, while others noted that their key workers were willing to schedule appointments around childcare. Some said that they valued being able to meet their key worker in local settings, instead of travelling to the nearest Jobcentre, which in some cases can be a lengthy journey, particularly in rural areas. One described this arrangement as "…very, very convenient" and "…miles, miles better than JCP".
Participants appreciated the holistic nature of the support and reported that the service helped them with a wide range of issues that affected their ability to find work. For example, one participant reported that FSS had helped them to access counselling related to their childhood, and another was helped to access a psychologist to help address mental health issues that were making it difficult for them to find work. In another case, the key worker helped a participant to source a special chair to use in their new call centre job to ensure that their back problems were not exacerbated and to help ensure that they could sustain the job.
Participants noted that they felt able to discuss anything with their key worker. One said "…you can share your challenges with your health and your relationships with [the key worker]" and another commented that they were able to talk to their key worker about "…things that were on my mind".
While these issues are not directly linked to the skills or competencies that participants need to look for, find and sustain employment, by helping with challenges like these, FSS helps participants to address the various challenges in their lives that present a barrier to entering employment and, by doing so, helps to prepare them for work. Key workers felt this was an important part of their job and one said that, "…sometimes it's not about work, it's about being in the right place and state of mind to look for work".
Caring, respectful, kind and supportive key workers
Similar to our findings in Year 1, participants described the approach of FSS key workers as caring, respectful, kind and supportive. This is consistent with FSS's principles of dignity and respect and, across all localities, that the evaluation has covered to date, interviewees reported that the key workers were friendly, made the effort to get to know them and understand their needs, and genuinely cared about achieving the best outcome for them. Comments from participants include the following:
"Really helpful. It was good to know that there was someone who could back me up and was there to fight my corner."
"[My key worker is] sound. I can always have a chat and a bit of banter with him. He's checked in with me these past few months and kept in contact."
"They are very kind and phoned regularly to check I was doing ok and see if I needed anything. The staff are easy to talk to and very friendly."
"[The key worker] would listen and let me rant and rave. I never got a negative word out of him at all. If he hadn't been so positive, I wouldn't have found a job, wouldn't have been in the right place to find work."
Voluntary participation without risk of sanctions
Taking part in FSS, in contrast to other previous national employment support services, is voluntary, and people can choose to take part without the risk of sanctions if they miss a meeting or do not complete the service. Participants enjoyed "…not feeling pressured" by the service and felt this approach helped them to engage with the support on offer more willingly and effectively. One, for example, said that FSS offered "a more relaxed environment" in which to look for work because it was voluntary and they found this more effective than more formal services where attendance is mandatory.
Key workers agreed that this is a positive aspect of the service, noting that, because participants decide whether they want to take part, those who do "genuinely want the help" and this helps participants to achieve better outcomes. Another key worker noted that FSS "has a different feel to it" compared to other services: "it's not about having to do things, it's about [participants] wanting to do it".
Across the two years of the service to date, feedback from participants has been highly positive about FSS. However, a small number identified some challenges that have made it difficult for them to access, or participate fully in, the service.
Unsurprisingly, the main challenges identified in Year 2 related to the Covid-19 lockdown. Since March, providers have not been able to deliver face-to-face, in-person support due to social distancing restrictions, and instead have delivered support using platforms such as telephone calls, text messages and messaging over the internet. Some participants have been able to access online training opportunities during lockdown, often at the suggestion of their key workers, and this has been an opportunity to gain new skills. Others, however, have been unable to do this because they have had no access to IT equipment, either at home or at public libraries due to their closure during the lockdown.
Levels of support to participants during lockdown have varied in their intensity. Most participants were positive about the support they had continued to receive and understood the restrictions that have been placed on providers. They appreciated their key workers' efforts to continue supporting them.
However, a minority of participants have not had the level of support that they felt they have needed during lockdown. One participant, for example, reported that their support during lockdown has been limited to one text message a week, which they did not feel had enabled them to discuss their challenges in sufficient detail.
Areas for consideration
Again, participants' feedback has been very positive overall, but our interviews identified some important factors to consider to ensure that FSS continues to deliver effective support. These are outlined below.
Ensuring that FSS is the most appropriate service for participants
It is important that referral to FSS continues to be appropriate - FSS might not be the most appropriate service for all participants. Most notably, some interviewees suggested that FSS might not be best suited to people with university qualifications or those who already have extensive employment experience. It is possible that greater value for money could be achieved by directing these participants to other services more appropriate to their needs, and ensuring that those referred to FSS are in need of the intensive support that the service offers.
One participant with a degree, for example, felt that the service was geared more towards people seeking jobs in call centres, care or basic administrative positions rather than "roles for those who are better qualified". Another university graduate, with over 45 years' experience, applied for jobs without his key worker's support and reported that FSS was "not terribly useful" in finding suitable opportunities. Key workers also cited a few highly qualified and/or experienced participants who "did not need a lot of help". This suggests that participants like these who have relatively low support needs should potentially be signposted to other less intensive sources of support, which would allow FSS to focus on supporting people who need a higher level of support, as was intended when the service was designed.
At the other end of the spectrum, there were a few participants who were very far removed from the labour market due to severe health problems or childcare issues. FSS may not be the most appropriate service for these people as entering employment did not appear to be a realistic goal for them in the short- to medium-term. This was emphasised by the follow-up interviews conducted with Year 1 participants, which confirmed that at least two participants, while satisfied with the support they had received from FSS, had not moved into employment in the year since we last spoke to them. These two participants acknowledged that employment is a very difficult objective to achieve just now given their personal circumstances, and they were not surprised that they had not found work.
In addition, a small number of interviewees wanted to set up their own business (and this was their intention at the point of referral). It is not clear why they were referred to FSS as, although key workers helped as much as they could, there are other agencies that specialise in supporting people in this position.
This feedback related to a very small number of interviewees only and, overall, most participants seemed to be well suited to the support that FSS can offer. However, these examples emphasise the importance of ensuring at the point of referral that FSS is the most appropriate service for all participants, taking into account their experience, qualifications, aspirations and circumstances.
Ensuring the right fit between participants and key workers
In most cases, interviewees reported satisfaction with their key worker, but there were a handful of examples where the participant and key worker did not develop a productive relationship. In most of these cases, the participant was transferred to another key worker with more success. A key worker explained that "…you have to be able to talk on the same level, to establish a relationship - and get a rapport going - to dig around enough and find out what they need and what's stopping them from getting there".
This only relates to a small number of cases, and it is inevitable that some participant-key worker pairings will be less successful than others. However, this finding emphasises the importance of support providers matching participants with key workers appropriately, ensuring that the worker's expertise is aligned with the participants' interests, needs and level of experience.
Impact of FSS
Participants and key workers reported a range of benefits for participants as a result of engaging with FSS. These impacts were similar to those reported in Year 1. They included improved skills related to searching and applying for jobs, enhanced confidence, improved skills for employment, support to plan their future careers, and support to enter and sustain work. We discuss each of these impacts overleaf.
Improved skills for searching and applying for jobs
A common theme among many participants was the support that FSS provided in improving their ability to search and apply for jobs. Participants found this support helpful, and it included the following:
- Learning how to access sources of job adverts. Key workers made participants aware of the various sources of job adverts online and, in some cases, supported participants to upload job search apps to their smartphone. One participant said, "now I know how to search for jobs online".
- Support to prepare CVs. For example, one noted that their key worker "changed my CV for the better".
- Assistance with completing job application forms. Some interviewees felt they would have been unable to complete forms without their key worker's help, but now felt more able to complete applications independently in the future.
- Enhanced skills in job interviews. Many mentioned taking part in mock interviews with their key worker, and this helped them to feel more prepared and less nervous about interviews.
In addition, consistent with the personalised, caring nature of the support discussed above, some participants described the moral support and encouragement that key workers offered with job interviews. In particular, participants appreciated the encouragement that key workers provided after unsuccessful interviews, in terms of emphasising that being unsuccessful was nothing to be embarrassed about. Participants observed that this helped to maintain their morale and motivation to apply for further opportunities, and one said that "the support when things went wrong was great". Given the fragile state of many participants' confidence (as we discuss below), this is an important element of the support.
FSS has had a significant positive impact in enhancing participants' confidence in their ability to find work. Many participants reported that they lacked confidence when they were referred to FSS, and key workers agreed that participants often need help to improve their confidence before they could make further progress towards work.
Some participants credited improvements in confidence to the support and encouragement provided by key workers. Participants explained that this helped them to recognise the skills they already had and built their confidence to try new things. There were several examples of participants who described being supported in this way, and one, for instance, described themselves as "very shy, reserved, and not open to trying out new things" when they joined the service but is now "very different…I'm a very confident person… I've also got a 'can do' attitude that I didn't have before". They attributed this improvement to the key worker's "chilled out, understanding approach". Another, who said that they had previously lacked the confidence to leave the house on some days, said that their key worker "gradually built up my confidence, just with chit chat, talking to me".
Some participants who lacked confidence in social interactions reported improvements in this respect as a result of the activities they took part in with FSS. Some said their meetings with their key worker were important in providing experience of building a relationship with someone whom they did not know. One, for example, said that interacting with their key worker helped to develop the confidence they needed to take up a voluntary position at a local library. Others said they felt more comfortable interacting with other people as a result of attending training, work experience and volunteering opportunities arranged by FSS, and this helped them to feel more confident to apply for and enter employment.
Many participants also reported that taking part in FSS helped them to gain new and improved skills, and this further helped to enhance their confidence. We explore FSS's impact on participants' skills in the next section.
Improved skills for employment
Many participants reported that the training, work experience and volunteering opportunities that FSS helped them to access enabled them to gain new and improved skills for employment. These included skills that are transferable to any job, such as communication and teamwork, as well as sector-specific competencies such as electrical testing, food hygiene and skills required for workplaces in the retail and construction fields. Participants felt that these skills strengthened their CVs, made them more attractive to employers, and increased their confidence to apply for positions that they were previously not qualified for.
Support to plan their future careers
For some participants, the key benefit of taking part in FSS was getting help to identify the sector(s) they would like to work in. These interviewees said they were lacking direction and were unsure which sectors to apply for jobs in and that FSS had helped them to identify opportunities that aligned with their skills, experience and interests. In one case, a participant had not previously considered working in retail but FSS helped him to arrange a voluntary position in a charity shop and to take part in a training service with a large retailer, at the end of which he secured a job. Another said that they have a "better view of what I want to do as a job" as a result of FSS.
In a few other cases, participants were unable to work in the sectors they had previously been employed in for various reasons, so FSS helped them to identify opportunities in other sectors. For example, one used to work in construction before sustaining an injury, while another travelled across the world during a career in the oil and gas industry before a change in personal circumstances meant this was no longer possible. In these cases, key workers helped the participants to identify opportunities in the cleaning and hospitality sectors, and to gain skills necessary to apply for positions in those sectors.
Support to enter and sustain work
FSS aims to help people move towards employment, and many participants we interviewed reported that they had found work as a result of the support they had received. Participants reported starting jobs in a range of sectors including call centres, retail, manufacturing and administration, and they felt that FSS had been crucial in helping them to build the confidence, skills and experience to successfully enter employment.
Some participants also described the importance of the in-work support provided by FSS in helping them to sustain their job. As noted earlier, for example, a participant said that their key worker had helped them to source a special chair to ensure they could undertake the job while minimising pain caused by back problems, and others said that key workers helped them to liaise with their managers when they needed support in their role. Participants, many of whom had been out of work for a significant period of time, appreciated this on-going support to help them address any issues that could affect their ability to sustain their employment.
Barriers to progression
Interviewees reported various barriers that restricted participants' ability to move into and sustain work. These included the following.
A few key workers reported, in a small number of cases, that participants' reluctance to fully engage with the service and the opportunities on offer restricted their ability to progress. One gave an example of a participant who refused to take part in basic IT courses to enhance his ability to use the internet to look for job opportunities, while another commented that "the people who take part have to be in the right space…we can't help people if they don't want to be helped". This emphasises the need to ensure that people referred to FSS are willing and motivated to engage with FSS and the opportunities it offers.
In a small number of examples, participants felt that their age was making it difficult for them to find work. A key worker said that one participant who is 60 believes that his "age is going against him" while a participant in their 50s reported that "I'm a difficult case… age is against me". Another, in their 60s, felt that the service was more suited to helping younger people. This demonstrates the importance of FSS in enhancing participants' confidence and ability to find work, regardless of their age and may suggest a need for further training of key workers to ensure that they have the skills to support older people seeking employment.
The Covid-19 pandemic and the resultant lockdown was a key barrier identified by participants and key workers this year. Interviewees reported a reduction in the number of job opportunities to apply for, as well as training courses and work experience placements being cancelled. Some participants were hopeful that the situation would improve once lockdown is eased, while others were more pessimistic about the longer-term impact of the pandemic on their chances of finding work.
Similarly, there were at least two examples of participants who had found work shortly before the lockdown began and have now been informed that their position is no longer available due to the economic pressures created by the pandemic.
While there is little that FSS can do to influence this situation, it is important that support providers stay abreast of the latest developments related to the pandemic and its impact on the labour market, and are prepared to support participants accordingly. It is also important to note that this demonstrates that, while FSS was developed while employment levels were high, substantial revision may be required to help the service respond to the significant impact of the pandemic on the economy.
Lack of local job opportunities
Some interviewees, particularly in Peterhead/Fraserburgh, reported a lack of job opportunities locally that existed even before the pandemic. A participant said there is "nothing out there for me for what I do" and a key worker acknowledged that local opportunities outside the fishing and care sectors are limited. While this was a barrier to successful outcomes, participants in Peterhead and Fraserburgh praised key workers for being "keyed into to the local job market", and for finding out about job opportunities that were not advertised. This emphasises the importance of key workers, regardless of the profile of their area, having an in-depth knowledge of the local labour market and strong links with local employers.
Transport is an issue that restricts the opportunities accessible to some people, and this was particularly the case for participants in Peterhead/Fraserburgh. The nature of the area, and limitations in public transport links, means that being able to drive and having access to a car can enhance an individual's employment prospects. Two participants noted challenges related to this - one is currently suspended from driving due to a drink driving conviction and another cannot drive, lives in an area not served by public transport, and is reliant on their parents for lifts - and this can restrict the opportunities available to them. This illustrates the importance of key workers helping participants to identify and overcome barriers such as this through, for example, helping participants to access driving lessons and/or public transport, as happened in Peterhead/Fraserburgh, where a participant was helped to apply for (and get) a bus pass.
The importance of the on-going contact is further illustrated by a few examples of participants who started a job but then left it for various reasons. These participants were able to immediately access support from FSS to help them to respond to this setback. For some, this support focused on finding a new job ("back to the drawing board" as a key worker said) while others required support with other problems before they could start to look for work again.
One, for example, had to leave their job after falling ill, so the FSS key worker helped them to address the sudden reduction in income by supporting them to apply for Universal Credit and to access a food bank. This is another example of the holistic support offered by FSS and demonstrates the importance of the on-going support provided by FSS after a participant enters work.
We have created 9 Case Studies based on our discussions with clients and these are presented in Appendix 3.
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