Rocket Science, in partnership with Blake Stevenson and the Institute for Employment Studies, was commissioned in 2019 to complete a three-year evaluation of Fair Start Scotland.
Fair Start Scotland is the Scottish Government’s first national employability programme and aims to contribute towards their Scottish Approach to employability that seeks to move Scotland towards a more integrated employability landscape. It is underpinned by the principles around fair work, person centred approaches, dignity and respect. Fair Start Scotland was commissioned in nine contract areas and is delivered by a combination of public, third and private sector organisations all operating and adapting the model to suit the local needs and context.
This evaluation looked at nine case study areas across three years as well as a range of Scotland-wide evaluation activities to draw overarching conclusions about the impact and operation of Fair Start Scotland.
In the case study areas we contacted:
- Fair Start Scotland Participants
- Fair Start Scotland Lead Providers
- Jobcentre Plus Work Coaches
- Jobcentre Plus Work Coaches*
- Other employability service providers and stakeholders*
Across Scotland we contacted:
- Fair Start Scotland Providers
- Department for Work and Pensions (DWP)
- Scottish Government (SG)
While each of the case study areas operates slightly differently feedback appears consistent across the case study areas in relation to the strengths and weaknesses of the programme and the experience and views of the participants.
Key findings from the case studies were:
1. Providers, participants, and stakeholders were generally happy with the design and quality of the service and noted its unique approach that set it apart from prior and existing provision.
2. Successful delivery relies heavily on the skills and expertise of frontline staff and the quality of the relationships between providers and other stakeholders in the area such as JCP’s and Local Authorities.
3. Fair Start Scotland was often operating in isolation across case study areas, within a cluttered landscape of established provision and where relationships between providers and local stakeholders were often variable and sometimes challenging.
4. Fair Start Scotland is unable to address fundamental structural issues such as local job availability and transport difficulties.
5. Fair Start Scotland appears to be undergoing a change in the profile of participants and their needs following changes to the labour market resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic with a greater proportion of new participants having a continuous work history and fewer barriers to employment.
6. Providers have adapted quickly to service provision under Covid-19 restrictions adopting a range of virtual service activities that would be valuable to include as part of a mixed model of delivery in the future. Social media promotion has also proven to be an effective way to increase self-referrals.
7. There is a general feeling across case study providers that they would like to see greater flexibility in the way the service is delivered particularly when it comes to meeting reporting requirements. It was generally felt amongst providers that the way job outcomes were measured and paid for disregarded other successful outcomes for example job outcomes of less than 16 hours a week and participants moving into further education and training. These sentiments needs to be balanced against the SG’s reporting requirements which are aimed to ensure delivery of a high quality service.
Participants were overwhelmingly positive about their experience with Fair Start and valued the personalised nature of the support and the engagement they had with Fair Start Scotland provider staff. Participants felt that Fair Start Scotland had helped them improve their job search skills, confidence, and employability skills and helped them to move into employment and in some cases volunteering opportunities that they otherwise would not have been able to do.
Our overall conclusions from the three years of case studies are:
1. That Fair Start Scotland is considered to be a high-quality service and is valued by stakeholders, participants and providers for its person-centred approach and for offering types of support that many other programmes do not such as the long duration of support (12 months and in some cases up to 18 months), the emphasis on in-work support, and the flexibility of support available for participants.
2. That the approach taken by Scottish Government has been appreciated by Fair Start Scotland providers and stakeholders such as DWP where feedback was that Scottish Government have been open, flexible, and pragmatic.
3. There is room for improvement in the relationships between Fair Start Scotland providers and Jobcentres with some of the frustration in the relationship arising from misaligned expectations about the number and suitability of referrals coming from Jobcentres to Fair Start Scotland.
4. Fair Start Scotland has not contributed notably to a more integrated and cohesive employability service with all the case study provision operating in parallel with existing provision and acting as another option for those looking for work. This lack of coordinated action appears to be driven by poor local relationships and exacerbated by the issues created with European Structural Funding (ESF) where participants cannot simultaneously be receiving support from Fair Start Scotland and ESF funded programmes at the same time due to double funding risks.
5. The Covid-19 pandemic has revealed a number of benefits in virtual delivery that could provide useful insights into a mixed-model of virtual and face-to-face delivery to ensure that the benefits of each approach are able to be used flexibly to best suit participants and deliver an efficient service.
6. While the overall approach appears fit for purpose, there are a number of practical ways that the current Fair Start Scotland model could be improved – to providers the service feels administratively heavy with a large number of reporting requirements inhibiting the flexibility needed to tailor the service to the individual. Further consideration around how to balance public accountability and quality control with the administrative cost of running the programme could be given.
* Employer interviews were largely unable to be conducted in years 2 and 3 due to the pandemic. Focus groups with Jobcentre Plus Work Coaches were unable to be completed in years 2 and 3 due to the pandemic. Interviews with other service providers and stakeholders within the case study areas were conducted as appropriate.