Overall the findings from this year's evaluation suggest that Fair Start Scotland has developed into a more mature service in terms of bedding in processes and improved relationships between providers, Jobcentres and partner organisations.
Many of the issues highlighted during the implementation process and year 1 evaluation appear to have been overcome. For instance previous FSS evaluation reports highlighted a number of areas for improvement, including but not limited to:
- the need to improve representation from women, younger workers, individuals from ethnic minority groups, people living in rural areas and early entry groups
- that work on building relationships and improving communication between providers and JCP as well as with other partners in local areas was required
- a desire to see increased flexibility around re-engagement for participants
- the importance of improving the rate of job starts for the most vulnerable groups
Significantly, in this year's report there were demonstrable improvements in relation to a number of these recommendations. For instance, there has been an improvement from last year with regards to the service reaching women, young people, lone parents, those with convictions, refugees and people who have care experience.
There was also evidence of improvement in the strength of local relationships, particularly between providers and JCPs as well as the introduction of increased flexibility for participants to pause their involvement with services and re-engage at a later date.
Nonetheless there are still specific areas which continue to present challenges, for example there continues to be underrepresentation of certain groups within the service, including; females, young people, individuals from ethnic minorities and those living in rural areas.
There were also a number of findings which highlighted that there continued to be scope for improvement in terms of relationships with local authorities, issues around ESF and interactions with other employability programmes within a landscape that is still often described as cluttered and complex.
More broadly there were a number of other important findings from this year's report, including that participants continue to be generally very positive about the support they have received. In particular participants seem to view non-traditional employability interventions as most useful (health related support), reemphasising the need for a holistic, biopsychosocial approach to the delivery of employability services.
With regards to barriers to employment, we found that participants view these as being both individual and structural in nature. For example the most commonly cited barriers included health issues and challenging local labour markets, often described as lacking in opportunities.
This year's report also included a larger emphasis on outcomes for individuals in the form of job starts. Findings suggested that people with multiple barriers such as those with disabilities, older people, the care-experienced, those with convictions and refugees continue to be less likely to gain or sustain employment through to the 6 month milestone, while those from rural areas, younger participants and those from minority ethnic groups are more likely to sustain work to 6 months.
It is also important to recognise that the timing of this year's report coincided with the outbreak of COVID-19 and the associated restrictions and implications for the economy. Many challenges are apparent for FSS both with regards to delivery of services and also in relation to the evaluation process itself. Some changes were already starting to filter through in terms of day to day practice for providers including increased use of social marketing to generate referrals as well as switching to remote working.
With specific regards to Fair Start Scotland's stated aim of supporting 38,000 people by March of 2021 it has been acknowledged that due to ongoing economic and labour market uncertainty brought on by the coronavirus pandemic there will likely be a significant impact on FSS performance. As such it has been noted that it is unlikely that FSS will meet its original ambition to support 38,000 participants.
More generally, the pandemic is likely to cause long lasting changes to the labour market across the country. This is of particular note for FSS given that it is a service which was developed at a time of relatively high employment and as such may need to adapt significantly to meet the challenges presented by what may be a starkly different economic context.
8.1 Recommendations & Next Steps
Whilst recognising that measures have already been taken to address some concerns as noted throughout this report, we have highlighted four key recommendations for FSS below:
- Continue to address underrepresentation of certain groups amongst the population of FSS participants
- In line with the NOLB approach, build upon relationships between providers and local stakeholders to declutter the employability landscape with a particular focus on fostering more effective and efficient relationships with local authorities
- Take steps to improve the effectiveness of support received by the those with multiple and complex barriers in order to ensure more equitable job start outcomes
- Consider how best FSS can adapt to meet the needs of a labour market which may be radically altered to that which existed at the time of FSS's development due to the COVID-19 pandemic
With regards to next steps for the evaluation, the next FSS evaluation report is due in Autumn of 2021 and will continue to include three more local area case studies as well as feedback from participants, providers and other key partners and stakeholders. It is also intended that an economic evaluation will be undertaken and published alongside the overall report.
More detailed reports on this year's evaluation are also published alongside this overview report. These can also be found on the Scottish Government website:
Fair Start Scotland Evaluation Report 3: Local area case studies - year 2 (November 2020)
Fair Start Scotland Evaluation Report 3: Participant phone survey - year 2 (November 202