Fair Start Scotland - evaluation report 5: qualitative interviews with service participants - years 4 and 5 - November 2023

Part of a series of reports on the evaluation of Fair Start Scotland (FSS) employability service. The report presents findings from a series of qualitative interviews with FSS participants. The report covers years 4 and 5 (April 2021 to March 2023) of FSS delivery.



This report presents detailed findings from 20 qualitative in-depth interviews conducted to capture the views and experiences of participants of the Fair Start Scotland (FSS) employability service. This qualitative research is one element of an ongoing evaluation programme of the service.

Fair Start Scotland is the devolved employability service responsible for providing employment support for disabled people and those at risk of long-term unemployment throughout Scotland. The service launched in April 2018, initially for three years, but has since been extended to accept referrals until March 2024. Evaluation of the service has been conducted throughout its lifetime, in order to understand the participants' experiences and outcomes associated with taking part, and to contribute to continuous improvement of service delivery. The following report forms part of the evaluation of the extension phase, which will contribute to future provision of employability support in Scotland, including the No One Left Behind approach.

Prior experience of work search and unemployment

Many respondents who took part in the interviews had been actively looking for work prior to joining FSS, searching for varying lengths of time ranging from a couple of months to ten years. Respondents described their experiences of prior employment as typically involving insecure jobs, such as seasonal or short-term work, often in lower skilled occuptions.

In terms of the types of jobs or roles they were looking for at the point of joining FSS, respondents expressed the need to find roles that fitted with their personal circumstances, such as childcare responsibilities or work that they felt capable of given existing health conditions. Being unable to find roles that suited, whether due to the tasks involved, working hours or not wanting to work in areas in which they had previous experience, were reported by respondents as common barriers to finding work. Other barriers reported by respondents included transport difficulties, gaps in employment history, lack of training or relevant work experience, mental health difficulties, a loss of confidence, or problems caused by the Covid-19 pandemic such as changes to job market or changes in ways of accessing employability support. For some, these barriers were compounded by spending an extended period in unemployment prior to joining FSS.

Experience of support

Respondents highlighted many different types of support as being particularly helpful to them. These can broadly be categorised as practical (direct) help in applying for specific jobs, indirect help with knowledge of job-searching, and emotional or psychological support, to develop respondents' overall abilities to find work. For those who had received in-work support, this tended to be continued contact with their key worker. Respondents described the ongoing contact as helpful as they appreciated the continued support of an 'advocate'.

Respondents indicated that less helpful types of support were those which were less personalised to them. In some cases, this meant training courses or advice which they didn't feel they needed because they already had the relevant skills, whereas in other instances, it involved key workers suggesting jobs that were unsuitable due to the respondent's personal circumstances.

Outcomes and impacts

Some respondents were in work at the point of interview. Of these, the majority were in relatively lower skilled roles[1], with jobs including call centre assistants, care support workers, administration assistant and a security guard. Some respondents reported they were happy with their roles, either because they felt it was a stepping stone to progress in their chosen sector, or because it matched well with their other circumstances such as health or childcare needs.

Some respondents were less happy with the type of work they were doing, but they were usually relieved to no longer be out of work. Some wanted to work in a particular sector but struggled to find vacancies in their area, or they did not have the required qualifications or experience.

Others were still searching for work at the point of the interview, with barriers that had been an issue to finding work before taking part in the service persisting, such as lack of qualifications or transportation.

In terms of impacts of taking part in FSS on skills and job search abilities, respondents often mentioned having improved CVs, having a better idea of what they should look for in a role, or how to go about findings relevant vacancies.

The most commonly mentioned impact of taking part in the service was increased confidence and motivation in job searching. Several respondents stated that taking part in FSS contributed to an overall improvement in their wellbeing. This improvement in wellbeing was sometimes attributed by respondents to the support from key workers, or the tailored nature of the service. Respondents described key workers helping their confidence, providing reassurance, keeping them on track and being a listening ear.

Participant reflections and recommendations for future service delivery

Participants highlighted strengths of the service. This included:

  • kind and friendly staff delivering FSS
  • overall supportive nature
  • voluntary nature of the service
  • personalised elements of support
  • specific help with CVs
  • practical support in finding work provided to participants

A few participants mentioned areas of support they felt worked less well. These included instances of gaps in communication with FSS key workers, FSS key workers changing too frequently, or the provision of support through online communication as being unsuitable for their needs.

Areas that could be considered for improvement in the delivery of future employment support services include:

  • the consistency of delivery of the personalised approach to support
  • additional support tailored to those with childcare difficulties
  • continued use of varied communications strategies to ensure all potential participants are made aware of the service
  • considering methods to maximise training and work experience opportunities offered to participants


Email: employabilityresearch@gov.scot

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