Fair Start Scotland: evaluation report 4 - local area case studies - year 3

Part of the Fair Start Scotland series of evaluation reports which presents detailed findings from the third wave of local area case studies in in Fife, Motherwell and Inverclyde, incorporating feedback from FSS service providers, participants, and local delivery partners in these areas.

5. Fair Start Scotland participant views

In this chapter, we discuss participants’ experiences of Fair Start Scotland across the three years of the evaluation, exploring referral processes, participants experiences of taking part in the service, key strengths and challenges, and the impact of the service on participants.

We have based the information presented in this chapter on interviews conducted with 70 Fair Start Scotland participants in the nine case study areas across the three years of the evaluation. We also interviewed the key workers who supported the participants who took part in interviews and, in Year 1, we interviewed 12 eligible non-participants (including non-completers of Fair Start Scotland).

In this chapter, we outline the key findings from these interviews, organised under the following sub-headings:

1. Referral processes

2. Motivations for taking part in Fair Start Scotland

3. Strengths of Fair Start Scotland

4. Challenges to delivery

5. Barriers to progression

6. Impact of Fair Start Scotland.

Where relevant, we also refer to responses from the surveys of Fair Start Scotland provider staff and Jobcentre Plus Work Coaches to better contextualise the findings from the interviews with participants.

5.1 Referral processes

Across all three years of the evaluation, the majority of participants who we interviewed were referred into Fair Start Scotland through Jobcentre Plus. A small number self-referred into the service having heard about it from a friend or family member. Other routes into the service included, for example, via information provided by staff at volunteering opportunities, through other local services (e.g. Enable and a local authority homelessness officer), through an advert for Fair Start Scotland in a local newspaper and another through adverts for Fair Start Scotland on social media.

Participants in general did not report any issues with the referral arrangements.

5.2 Motivation for taking part in Fair Start Scotland

Many participants noted that they took part because they hoped Fair Start Scotland could help them address challenges that made it difficult for them to look for and/or find work. Some had mental or physical health conditions or disabilities which restricted the type of employment they could engage with. For example, one participant reported that a hearing problem had made it difficult to find suitable jobs and they wanted support from Fair Start Scotland in identifying appropriate vacancies. Another participant described having suffered a spinal injury which limited their opportunities for work – they thought that Fair Start Scotland could help them to find part-time work that took account of their disabilities.

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 in general. For example, one participant in Year 1 said that they “wanted [Fair Start Scotland] to help me get out of my shell a bit”, while some others reported that they found looking for work challenging and needed support to stay motivated.

Some participants, meanwhile, had confidence that they could perform well in the jobs they were applying for, but needed support with aspects related to looking for a job. One, for example, found it “difficult to express myself at interviews” (Year 3 participant) and thought Fair Start Scotland could help with this. Other participants (in Year 2) explained that they had been in employment until recently so had relevant skills but reported needing help to “brush up on approaching employers” and to find a new job as quickly as possible after being made redundant.

Although participation in Fair Start Scotland is voluntary, a very small number of participants in Years 1 and 2 said that they did not have a choice about participation and that they were given the impression by their Jobcentre Plus officer that they had to take part. This highlights the importance of Jobcentre Plus staff explaining the voluntary nature of the service clearly to potential participants before they agree to take part. While the vast majority of Jobcentre Plus staff appear to do so, and we should note that there were no examples like this in Year 3, some may need a further reminder of the importance of this being made clear.

5.3 Strengths of Fair Start Scotland

Despite restrictions as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, participants from this year’s case study areas were overwhelmingly positive about their experience. They highlighted a range of strengths of the service which were very similar to those identified in previous years. They included:

  • The wide ranging and comprehensive support given
  • The personalised nature of the support provided tailored approach
  • Key workers’ respectful, supportive and caring approaches
  • The aftercare provided once they were in employment

We describe Fair Start Scotland’s strengths from the participant’s perspective, as per findings from across the three years of case studies in more detail below.

5.3.1 Wide-ranging and comprehensive support

Many of the participants spoke positively of the wide range of support they had received. This included support with CV-writing, job searches, support to identify suitable employment sectors, support with writing job applications and preparing for interviews. They also highlighted the importance of the support they had received to access work placements, training and volunteering opportunities which participants reported had given them new skills and experience, as well as opening their eyes to potential areas of employment that they would not have previously considered.

Some people in Year 3 referred to receiving help to improve their confidence and technical ability to conduct interviews on Zoom which has become necessary as a result of the pandemic.

Interviewees also described practical and financial support provided by Fair Start Scotland when they were in work. One, for example, said that Fair Start Scotland “offered me a bus pass” (and their key worker confirmed that Fair Start Scotland paid the participant’s travel costs for the first eight weeks in the job) as well as money for clothes for work and personal protective equipment.

Another participant had taken part in a Steps to Work programme at his local college which was certified on completion:

“They were instrumental in helping me to take part in an Introduction to IT security course – I wouldn’t have done that before Fair Start.” Participant Year 3

In general, participants felt the support they received was comprehensive and very few participants reported any support needs that Fair Start Scotland could not help with.

5.3.2 Tailored support

Participants highly valued the tailored support that Fair Start Scotland offered them with many feeding back that it felt like it was tailored to suit their individual needs:

“Even during Covid I still received support and weekly calls from my key worker.” Participant Year 3

“They helped with my routine at home, and helped me to balance my work and home life.” Participant Year 3

“They encouraged small improvements in my health and encouraged me to do more light exercise. I got weekly health care check-ins to see how I was feeling.” Participant Year 3

Another participant reported that they could be honest with their Fair Start Scotland adviser about the types of work they wanted to do “without feeling fussy” (Year 3), and the support they received was tailored to this goal – “they actually listened to what I wanted” (Year 3).

Some spoke of their key workers helping to find work which suited their interests and circumstances, while others reported receiving help to address individual needs. One participant, for example, lacked confidence in interviews so they received support in improving their interview technique through mock interviews; another who lacked confidence was supported to access a course in assertiveness. Another had some retail experience, so Fair Start Scotland built on this and organised a placement at a large retailer.

In other cases, Fair Start Scotland helped participants to identify vacancies suitable to them and any particular challenges they had, which included health issues, childcare considerations as well as lack of experience in employment. 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. Other support that key workers provided to help participants address individual needs included, for example, helping participants to obtain a driving licence, get their hair cut before an interview, buy new shoes before starting a job, pay for bus fares to attend interviews and helping to enhance a participant’s digital literacy so they could seek and apply for jobs online more confidently. In another case, Fair Start Scotland advisers helped one participant to write a ‘disclosure letter’ for potential employers to explain a criminal conviction he had.

5.3.3 Caring, respectful, kind and supportive key workers

Participants described the approach of Fair Start Scotland key workers as caring, respectful, kind and supportive. This is consistent with Fair Start Scotland’s principles of dignity and respect and, across all localities that the evaluation has covered, 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.

Some participants said it is “nice to have somebody to talk to – a bit of personal support” (Year 3) about work and the challenges involved. One said they liked that advisers “regularly check in” (Year 3).

This emphasises the importance of providers having well-trained, committed staff – feedback indicates that the quality of key workers is central to a positive experience on the service.

Comments from participants include the following:

“I like how encouraging they are…they know what I’m good at and want to build on that.” Participant Year 1

“[Staff member] was great, understood my needs was sympathetic for what I could and could not do, would recommend [Fair Start Scotland] to anyone looking for a job.” Participant Year 2

“[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.” Participant Year 2

5.3.4 Support post-employment

A number of the participants interviewed by us had moved into employment and were able to share their experiences of receiving post-employment support from their provider. All of them were positive about this support. For example, one participant had been supported by Remploy to develop his CV and skills and as a result, got temporary work. Once this work finished, he returned to them for further support. Another participant noted that she gets in work support from her key worker who “calls every week, sees how I’m getting on, if I need anything, how the job is working out” (Year 3).

There were also a few examples of participants who had returned for further support when they became unemployed again. For example, one participant found a job in February 2020, just prior to the first lockdown, then lost it because of lockdown and returned to Fair Start Scotland. They were then supported to find another job in October 2020.

5.4 Challenges to delivery

Unsurprisingly, the main challenge highlighted in Years 2 and 3 related to the Covid-19 pandemic. Feedback from participants suggests that providers have found ways to continue to support participants despite the restrictions, with regular contact being made via telephone and email, and group sessions being held via Zoom or other internet-based platforms. The extent to which participants engaged with the support on offer varied. One participant, for example, said that they were offered support during lockdown but chose not to have much contact with their adviser because there were so few jobs to apply for at that time.

In general, participants’ feedback was very positive. However, there were a small number of cases where participants felt the support they were offered was not aligned with their circumstances or goals. For example, a handful of participants stated that they preferred another employability service and chose to return to it because they felt it provided more intensive and personalised support. One participant, who is not a native English speaker, left Fair Start Scotland as they did not receive the intensive literacy support they required. A participant (who completed their Fair Start Scotland support) had hoped to receive support with interview skills but there was not enough time to provide this, while another said they completed a placement at a large retailer but they viewed this as “a nothing trial” (Year 3) because they were not interested in working in retail.

Given Fair Start Scotland’s focus on providing comprehensive, individualised support to help people progress towards work, it is perhaps surprising that participants reported these examples where Fair Start Scotland 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.

5.5 Barriers to progression

Interviewees reported various barriers that restricted their ability to move into and sustain work. These included the following:

5.5.1 Covid-19

While providers seem to have found ways to continue to provide support to participants despite all of the restrictions which remain in place due to the pandemic, Covid-19 has impacted in other ways. A number of participants noted that there were very few suitable job opportunities to apply for. In a number of cases participants moved into employment just prior to the initial lockdown in March 2020 but were then made redundant again as a result of lockdown. As noted already, some of these participants then returned to Fair Start Scotland for further support. One participant said that Covid-19 “blew everything out of the water” in terms of their job search.

While there is little that Fair Start Scotland 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 Fair Start Scotland 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.

5.5.2 Transport issues

Transport is an issue that restricts the opportunities accessible to some people. In some areas, especially more rural localities, limitations in public transport links means that being able to drive and having access to a car can enhance an individual’s employment prospects. A few participants noted challenges related to this – for example, one was 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.

A few participants gave examples of where Fair Start Scotland had supported them to overcome transport-related issues. For example, a few welcomed receiving bus passes from their providers which made it more affordable for them to travel to interviews, volunteering opportunities and work.

“They gave me money for travel to the interview, and for the first three weeks of employment as I could not afford the bus before I got paid.” Participant Year 3

5.5.3 Individual challenges

In addition to the challenges noted above, participants reported barriers to finding and then staying in work, related to a range of individual circumstances. For example, many interviewees reported that they have struggled to find work because of their parental or caring duties. These issues have either prevented them from moving into employment altogether or limited the range of roles they could apply for. For example, one participant mentioned that they could not take a job that started early in the morning because of their child’s drop-off time at school. Likewise, another interviewee was 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.

Other barriers to employment reported included age constraints. For example, one research participant referred who is turning 60 stated that they received good support from Fair Start Scotland 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” (Year 1). Another participant, in their 50’s, said “I’m a difficult case… age is against me” (Year 2).

In some cases, poor mental health, physical health and/or disabilities prevented interviewees from moving into and staying in employment or restricted the types of opportunity they could apply for.

Housing issues were mentioned by two participants as a barrier to employment. One, in Year 1, received support from Fair Start Scotland to secure furniture for their new flat, while another in Year 3 did not disclose that she was homeless at first due to feelings of shame, and this meant that her key worker could not help with this initially.

These examples highlight the importance of the tailored support that Fair Start Scotland offers to help participants overcome the challenges they face to entering and sustaining employment, and of key workers’ skills in building a trusting relationship with participants to ensure they disclose the issues that are acting as barriers to finding work.

5.6 Impact of Fair Start on participants

Drawing from interviews conducted between 2019 and 2021, participants articulated that Fair Start Scotland had the following impacts on them:

1. Improved skills for searching and applying for jobs

2. Enhanced confidence

3. Improved skills for employment

4. Support to enter and sustain work.

These impacts are explored in more detail in this section.

5.6.1 Improved skills for searching and applying for jobs

Many participants we interviewed across all three years of the evaluation indicated that they had improved their ability to search and apply for jobs. This included improving their understanding of where to search for jobs, enhancing their CV, developing their skills in completing job application forms and enhancing their interview skills. In Year 3, some participants noted the value of gaining experience in conducting interviews online, which has become necessary as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

5.6.2 Enhanced confidence

Fair Start Scotland appears to have had a significant positive impact in enhancing participants’ confidence in their ability to find work. Key workers confirmed that participants often needed help to improve their confidence before any further support could be offered, and there were several examples of participants who reported an improvement in their confidence.

“I 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.” Participant Year 1

“[Fair Start Scotland] “gradually built up my confidence, just with chit chat, talking to me.” Participant Year 2

“I was very paranoid about leaving the house and that limited the jobs I was willing to apply for. I now have more confidence in applying for jobs as my self-esteem is now higher since finishing the programme.” Participant Year 3

Some participants were encouraged to enter volunteering opportunities as a first step towards employment. One participant in Motherwell, for example, described how positive his experience of volunteering for a charity had been, and reported that “I would never historically have considered volunteering because it isn’t paid but my key worker encouraged me to and it got me out of the house. It has let me use my IT skills and given me experience to add to my CV” (Year 3).

5.6.3 Improved skills for employment

Fewer participants in Year 3 reported having taken part in job-specific skills development opportunities – most described improving CV and job application writing skills, and interview skills. Two participants mentioned gaining experience through work placements and another said they were supported to gain their Construction Skills Certificate Scheme (CSCS) card for working in the construction sector while another had undertaken an IT qualification. In previous years, more participants spoke about the benefits of qualifications and placements in terms of helping them to gain new and improved skills for employment. These included skills that are transferable to any field, 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. However, it is likely that fewer opportunities to take part in qualifications and work placements were available in Year 3 as a result of the pandemic and it is therefore not unexpected that fewer participants had had these opportunities.

5.6.4 Support to enter and sustain work

Fair Start Scotland aims to help people move towards employment, and many of the participants we interviewed reported that they had found work as a result of the support they had received.

Seven of nine interviewees in Greenock in Year 3, for example, found work through Fair Start Scotland in construction, retail, cleaning and employment advice. One participant noted that they “would probably still be jobless” (Year 3) if it were not for Fair Start Scotland and another said they would not have found their job without the service. A third commented that, while they think they would have found a job without Fair Start Scotland, this would likely “have been doing something I hated” (Year 3).

Overall, across all three years of the evaluation many participants said that Fair Start Scotland was crucial in their finding work.

Participants were also very positive about the in-work support they received. This included practical and financial support. For example, one participant said that their key worker had helped them to source a special chair to minimise back pain while sitting at a desk, while others received funding for travel costs. In other cases, participants reported that their key workers regularly checked in to offer moral support and advice on day-to-day issues in the workplace.


Email: Arfan.iqbal@gov.scot

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