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.

4. Experience of support

This chapter explores how respondents originally joined the FSS service, the types of support they received and whether they found this support helpful or not and why. It also outlines why some types of support were not taken up, why early

leavers left the service, any support respondents would have liked to have received and exploring any in-work support if this was provided.

4.1 Joining Fair Start Scotland and expectations of support

Most often, respondents were referred to the FSS service by their Job Coach at the Jobcentre. In other cases, respondents became aware of the service through word of mouth, social media adverts, an online search, a job fair, a family support service or an employablity service provider.

Expectations about what the FSS service could offer varied across respondents. Some simply expected FSS to help them find a job by supporting them in the job search process, including providing help with CVs. Some respondents expected FSS to help them complete relevant training courses and gain qualifications. One individual mentioned they thought FSS would help them develop their soft skills, for instance with telephone and interview skills as well as with overall confidence. Some respondents thought FSS would be able to help them with a career change and 'broaden [their] horizons' by pointing them to new job opportunities. These respondents wanted to change jobs for a variety of reasons including no longer enjoying working in their current role or industry, wanting to become self-employed and wanting to find more stable employment.

"I've been doing this now [working in hospitality] for 27 years. so I didn't have a clue what else I could do, where else I could go…"

FSS Participant, Tayside

Indeed, another common expectation was that FSS would be able to help respondents move into more permanent work. Other expectations of the service included help in dealing with mental health issues, help with IT, English language help for job applications, advice on how to combine work with childcare, intensive one-on-one support and for FSS to advocate for them to employers.

Having received support from the service, some said they would now recommend it to others, or have done already.

"I would definitely recommend it. I think it's great […] especially because you […] aren't charged for it and it's very inclusive."

FSS Participant, Tayside

4.2 Types of pre-employment support respondents received

From their responses to the quantiative phone survey, most of the respondents interviewed had received help with job search activities and applications, had a dedicated key worker or employability advisor assigned to them and had one to one appointments with regular support and contact. Around half recalled benefitting from the development of a personalised Employment Action Plan.

Responses from the phone survey also indicate that some of the respondents had also received other types of support, including help with managing finances, access to work tasters or work experience and being provided with a laptop or tablet.

Further details about pre-employment support received emerged in the qualitaitve interviews. In terms of managing finances, one individual had received guidance in applying for a £200 government benefit during Covid-19 which they were previously unaware of. They were also provided with vouchers for household essentials like electricity bills as they were struggling to cope on benefits alone. Some reported receiving financial assistance from FSS to pay for their travel to job interviews or travel to their job in the period before they received their first paycheck.

One individual described receiving specialist support for a mental health condition through FSS. This individual was assigned to a different key worker after expressing they were having issues with their mental health; they assumed this was because this new key worker was more experienced in this area. Another individual had received support for a physical health condition. One individual had received help with an addiction.

A few described receiving other types of help on top of the types of support mentioned above, for example one individual described dedicated help with interview skills or confidence-building. A couple of respondents described support akin to pastoral care, including being invited to come into the office for coffee and a biscuit if they needed to, or having staff reach out and check on their wellbeing (including via text message). Finally, one individual expressed the desire to become self-employed and was consequently assigned a different key worker within a different department dedicated to self-employment.

4.3 Most helpful types 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, and more indirect help with knowledge of job-searching, and emotional or psychological support, to develop respondents' overall abilities to find work. The impacts of support received are detailed further in chapter 5. Outcomes & Impacts.

4.3.1 Practical (direct) help in applying for jobs

Firstly, many respondents found that the help FSS provided in creating or updating their CV was helpful. This included advice on what areas of experience to make the focus and how to account for different circumstances such as gaps or employment abroad, as well as improving formatting and layout. A couple of respondents also mentioned assistance with formal written English, and text editor ('MS Word') processing.

"They got all of my experience [abroad] and down here in one place [on my CV]."

FSS Participant, North East

Another described encouragement from FSS to 'sell themselves' more in their CV, with FSS reviewing drafts of their CV and providing feedback on how to make improvements. One respondent described receiving advice on how to tailor their CV to target different types of jobs and industries, whilst another praised the CV support from FSS as 'a lot more professional' than previous support they had received in college.

"Completely different with FSS - a lot more professional."

FSS Participant, Highlands and Islands

Another practical way in which FSS helped was by sending respondents links to relevant job postings. Respondents found this helped them apply to more jobs than they would have otherwise, both by the regularity of the emails they received and by increasing the scope of their search.

"The emails were really handy. I'd go into these jobsites and apply for a job." FSS Participant, South West

On a related note, respondents found it helpful that the help provided was tailored to their wants and needs. For example, several respondents found it helpful that FSS had directed them to training courses that were relevant to the specific type of work they wanted. The training gained through FSS in general was considered helpful – respondents highlighted transferable skills training and interview preparation in particular.

Respondents also cited other more direct ways in which FSS had been helpful. These included FSS organising interviews with an employer for a participant, communicating with the Home Office on a participant's behalf, supporting a individual with a grant application and providing financial assistance for travel. For example, one respondent had received a job offer shortly before joining FSS but was unable to accept as they could not afford transport to travel to and from work. As they were still unemployed, they joined FSS thinking they would need to look for alternative opportunities. However, FSS were able to support them financially with transport to enable them to take up the role they have previously been offered[10].

4.3.2 Developing job search skills

Another aspect of support which respondents found helpful was how FSS helped them develop their knowledge of job searching. In particular, respondents appreciated being directed to specific websites (e.g. Indeed) rather than just being told to search for job postings online, as one individual had been previously advised by another service.

"[I didn't know] which websites to choose from."

FSS Participant, Glasgow

Respondents also found the support around job applications themselves helpful – for instance, one individual noted they had received guidance which helped them understand application forms and the questions that were asked better, while another appreciated that someone had checked through her job applications.

Furthermore, one individual was looking for a job that was accessible by bus or walking because they needed to be able to pick up their children from school. FSS showed them how to find out where specific jobs were based so that they could apply to jobs fitting this criteria. Another individual was concerned that they would be discriminated against due to their age, but their FSS key worker assured them that employers are prohibited from doing this, and this knowledge helped the respondent to feel more confident about making applications.

"I thought the age thing would have an effect but FSS reassured me no no no they can't do that."

FSS Participant, Lanarkshire

Finally, an individual who had recently been diagnosed with a physical health condition thought they wouldn't be able to continue working, but FSS showed them several jobs which would be suitable for them which was considered very reassuring and helpful.

4.3.3 Emotional, social and wellbeing support

Many respondents indicated that their single point of contact (key worker) and the regular one-to-one appoinments they had with them was the most helpful aspect of the service they received from FSS.

"I just knew there was someone there.... I just knew there was some looking out for me.... It wasn't just on me."

FSS Participant, Tayside

Respondents' interactions with their key worker had a range of benefits: their key worker reassured them with regards to their future prospects, and pushed them to go beyond their comfort zone in encouraging them to apply for a wider range of job vacancies. Respondents also highlighted the kindness of staff and how they caring they were.The feeling of being valued and having someone else see potential in them was inspiring. The combined effect of these actions was to boost respondent confidence and motivation.

"The 1-2-1 support was really good. It's just nice having someone that's continually following your progress, checking in once a week. Nice having someone to talk to. […] I have a much more positive feeling when it comes to looking for work. They've shown me I've got more value than I thought I had [...] boosted my confidence."

FSS Participant, Highlands and Islands

"The people I talked to were genuinely nice people - wanting you to move forward in your life."

FSS Participant, South West

"I think it's beneficial if you have a dedicated person or so checking on you, it makes you feel quite valued."

FSS Participant, Tayside

One individual appreciated how FSS accepted and showed understanding of their circumstances when they explained that their mental health was fragile and they didn't feel ready to go back to work. They were grateful to keep receiving check-ins despite this. Another individual was struggling after having been diagnosed with a chronic physical health condition, and appreciated how FSS helped them change their outlook to a more positive one.

"It took me some time to come to terms with it […] FSS helped me understand it wasn't such a big deal and changing jobs wasn't so bad. When you're alone, you build things up in your head […] It takes an outside voice to say it's not that bad."

FSS Participant, Highlands and Islands

Some respondents emphasised the social aspect of the FSS service they received as particularly helpful to them. Respondents enjoyed speaking to people with similar experiences. One individual found group sessions 'therapeutic' as they helped them open up.

4.4 In-work support

Most respondents who were in employment at the point of the interview had received phone calls, emails or texts from FSS, checking on their progress in their new job and more generally on their wellbeing. These check-ins varied in frequency and ranged from once a week when respondents first started their job to once every six weeks. The check-ins became less frequent over time and were gradually phased out when respondents didn't feel they needed the support anymore. Respondents generally found these check-ins to be helpful – some had stayed in contact with FSS to explore training courses or look for new avenues of employment. Even when contact stopped or became less frequent, respondents knew they could reach out to FSS in the future if they needed support.

"It was very important to know they were there if I needed an advocate on my health."

FSS Participant, Highlands and Islands

A small number of respondents had received financial support from FSS to pay for travel expenses to their workplace within the first few months. This was appreciated, with one individual noting it would have been tough on their family and the food budget without this help.

4.5 Less helpful types of support

Many respondents said they considered all the support they received from FSS to be helpful. However, other respondents mentioned a range of services (e.g. online training courses) that were not helpful to them because they felt they already had the relevant skills or knowledge. This included knowing how to look for and apply to jobs, how to update a CV, how to handle IT and how to communicate well. One individual who had received support around self-employment found this to be unhelpful because it was too basic and designed for people just starting their career.

A few respondents had received support that was not tailored to their needs. For example, they were sent links to jobs which were too far away to be viable for them, or they were given advice around part-time work which was not their goal. One individual found a group session designed to motivate respondents 'off-putting'. They attributed this to the mismatch between what the course offered and their needs as an autistic individual. They also felt they had to attend as it was perceived to be mandatory. Another found an interview skills training delivered by Zoom to be unhelpful as they were uncomfortable using technology and felt 'camera shy'.

A few felt that the support provided by the key worker could have been improved. One individual was frustrated by the fact that their key worker kept changing (they had had three key workers in their time at FSS); repeatedly explaining their situation to new people made them nervous. Other respondents had highlighted the continuity of their relationship with their key worker as a strength of the service, so the absence of this diminished the impact of help offered by the key worker(s).

For some respondents appointments felt too rushed, with one respondent speculating that key workers' caseloads were too high to allow for longer appointments. A few felt that their appointments with key workers would have been better delivered face-to-face, although typically the pandemic was the main barrier to this.

"The time that they spent with you, they always seemed to be under pressure time wise. [This] restricted the amount of 1:1 support they could give."

FSS Participant, Lanarkshire

Another respondent felt that they would have benefited if their key worker (or another contact provided by FSS) had experience 'first hand' in their industry of interest, as they felt the key worker did not have enough understanding of the unique aspects of their situation.

"Very rarely did they say something that I had not seen, heard and done in my professional career."

FSS Participant, Glasgow

4.6 Support respondents would have wanted

Respondents were asked if there was any support they would have liked to have received, but did not. They were also asked why they thought this type of support would have helped them.

Firstly, some respondents would have wanted more extensive work experience and apprenticeship options. They felt this did not form a big enough part of the service, as for some it could have offered the opportunity to discover a new career path.

"To experience something in a different industry [...] to dip my toes and see what's out there."

FSS Participant, Tayside

Secondly, another common type of support respondents would have wanted more of was training, particularly training specific to their strengths, needs or aspirations. For instance, one individual with a physical health condition would have wanted to develop new skills in management, as they felt they had a strength in this area and they wanted to get a job that wouldn't be so physically demanding.

A couple of respondents expressed they would have wanted to receive specific forms of financial support from FSS, namely to help them with childcare costs (via direct funding and information on childcare options available to them) and support to manage their debt (through additional advice).

Other types of support respondents would have liked to receive included support in getting a driving licence, and being put in touch with someone experienced in the industry they were interested in to learn more about whether it might be a good fit for them. Others with particular needs had hoped for more tailored support, for example a respondent in a later stage of their career who was already experienced at job searching, and an autistic respondent who would have liked support tailored to their disability.

4.7 Why respondents left early

Respondents who had left the service withouth achieving a job outcome and before the 12 - 18 month period of pre-employment support had elapsed[11] were asked why they had left early. Respondents had their own individualised reasons for leaving, however a common theme was not feeling ready/able to find (more) work.

One individual was content with their part-time job even though it was under 16 hours per week[12].

One individual did not feel ready to return to work because of their poor mental health at that time. They were not resolved in wanting to find employment at that stage and felt they were 'taking someone's place' in continuing to receive help from FSS (though they noted FSS had never given them this impression).

One individual reported they were found 'unfit to work' in a mental health assessment initiated by the Jobcentre.

One individual needed to care for a relative.

"One minute I was happy to do it, the next minute, I can't do it."

FSS Participant, South West

One individual had not consciously chosen to leave the service but had stopped receiving calls.

"They used to call me and then it stopped…. due to the pandemic? No response from them or no idea why…"

FSS Participant, Glasgow

Among those who had chosen to leave the service, it was clear that their discussions with their key worker had informed this choice. For these individuals, their involvement with FSS had improved their self-awareness and ability to assess what the right course of action was for them at this stage in their lives.


Email: employabilityresearch@gov.scot

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