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.

5. Outcomes & impacts

This chapter discusses outcomes and impacts for FSS participants. First it looks at their employment status since taking part in the service. The chapter then explores the impacts on job search skills, the overall benefits of participating, and effects on wellbeing and wider life.

5.1 Employment outcomes

Some respondents were in work at the point of interview. The majority were in relatively lower skilled roles[13], 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.

One individual who was specifically looking to get into the healthcare sector, was now working as a support worker, and hoped to work for the NHS in the future.

"I wanted to give back to the community and I wanted to help people… I didn't want a 9-5 job."

FSS Participant, Glasgow

Another individual had been diagnosed with a health condition that limited their ability to do physical work or stand for long periods, meaning their previous job was no longer suitable. They were pleased to get a job in a call centre, as they would be able to work sitting down, and wouldn't require any physical exertion.

"Anything that involved sitting down!"

FSS Participant, Highlands and Islands

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.

"It was not what I was looking for but just took the job and to get out of the benefits system […] so I'm not going to the Jobcentre […] [it gave] me confidence… Ok I'm working!"

FSS Participant, North East

There was a mix of full-time and part-time arrangements for those respondents in work. Most working part-time were happy with this arrangement as it suited their childcare or health needs, however one individual said they would prefer more hours but it just was not possible with school pick up times.

Some of those who took part in the interviews remained unemployed after receiving support from FSS. This was more likely for disabled respondents who were interviewed, and several respondents identified their health as the reason for continuing to be out of work. Some had experienced a deterioration in their health during the period of FSS support and were no longer looking for work at all. This included respondents who reported being or were in the process of being 'signed off' long-term sick, or had taken the decision themselves to focus on their health.

Others were still searching for work, but their disability or health condition made job searching more difficult. For example one respondent's health condition meant they were restricted in terms of the types of jobs they could actually do, whilst another had started training for a job but had had to stop because it proved too difficult with their disability.

"I was very limited for what I could look for […] It was frustrating, I know I'm capable of doing things [...] but due to my condition I want to do things but I can't."

FSS Participant, Lanarkshire

Other reasons for respondents not being employed reflected the barriers that respondents reported experiencing prior to joining the FSS service. These included a lack of driving licence, a lack of public transport, not having qualifications or certificates, an inability to transfer professional qualifications or certificates gained abroad and a lack of biometric identification (requested by employers to prove the right to work in the UK).

These all narrrowed the number of suitable opportunities. The circumstances of the local job market also continued to play a role – one individual lived in an area where this fluctuated hugely throughout the seasons due to the tourist trade. They had managed to gain a couple of periods of short-term seasonal employment, but were now looking for employment again.

5.2 Effect on job search skills and soft skills

Respondents were asked what effect they felt FSS had had on their job searching skills. Those who felt FSS had improved their job search skills most commonly mentioned improvements to their CV writing skills. One respondent specifically attributed their current employment to the support they had with their CV, as it made them stand out in the application process. This respondent was a single parent from a minority ethnic background who had moved to Scotland a few years prior to joining FSS. They were often asked by potential employers if they had prior experience working in the UK, which they did not. Their qualifications from overseas were not recognised and they had uncertainties about how applying for jobs worked in the UK. They had applied to many jobs previously and not heard back.

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

FSS Participant, North East

Several respondents also described improvements to their general job searching skills, for example by FSS directing them to a range of websites advertising jobs. Others felt they now had a better idea of what they were looking for in a role, and how to spot these aspects when searching.

"Definitely benefited me. It helped me narrow down what exactly I should be looking for in things that I was actually interested in."

FSS Participant, Tayside

Another described attending a seminar on finding hidden jobs that are not well advertised – this helped them get a summer job as it gave them the confidence to approach local businesses directly about opportunities.

Others said their job application or interview skills had improved as a result of FSS support. The respondent above attended a FSS interview skills session, and they used what they had learnt from this in the interview for a seasonal job they went on to get. They received feedback from their employer that theirs was one of the best interviews they had seen lately. Another described attending practical training and a Q & A session on interviews, which boosted their confidence. One respondent mentioned receiving support filling in job application forms, and felt they had gained a better understanding of what was needed for these.

"Some of the training from FSS was really really useful and I did notice a change in my demeanor from when I started."

FSS Participant, Highlands and Islands

"[It] made a huge difference. I'm so much more at ease in job hunting than I was before."

FSS Participant, Highlands and Islands

Respondents who felt FSS had not led to an improvement in their job search skills tended to say this was because the support offered to them was not relevant or tailored to them. For example one respondent felt they were good at looking for jobs online and was hoping for FSS to give training in new skills to broaden the opportunities open to them, but this was not offered. Another was offered support with their CV, but nothing needed to be done to improve it. One respondent had wanted support with interview skills but had not received this, whilst a few had struggled with the remote sessions during the pandemic and felt this had limited their ability to learn.

"If it's just how to do an interview and fill in an application, it's not much help." FSS Participant, Glasgow

Respondents were also asked about any changes to their soft skills. These are non-technical workplace skills, such as communication, time management and problem solving. They generally found it hard to identify improvements to their soft skills, however improved confidence was frequently mentioned by respondents in other areas of the interview, suggesting this is the largest soft skill impact of the service.

"It did give me the motivation to apply for things and the confidence."

FSS Participant, North East

"Boost your confidence and reduce your stress."

FSS Participant, Glasgow

A few respondents did identify soft skills they felt had improved. One respondent said that the support from FSS encouraged them to be more confident and value themselves more, and that their improvements in these areas have also led to an improvement in their social skills. Another said they had more confidence when interacting with managers in their new employment, as a result of learning more about body language through FSS – they find it easier to look them in the eye and speak confidently. Another had done an FSS session on problem solving, and had found this beneficial, whilst one highlighted the improvement to their digital skills.

"[…] using your brain, helping you think outside the box."

FSS Participant, Glasgow

Similar to job search skills, some respondents felt there was no effect on their soft skills as this was not something they needed to improve or focus on.

5.3 Overall benefits and drawbacks

Respondents were asked about the overall impact of taking part in FSS, including benefits and any drawbacks.

5.3.1 Overall Benefits

The most commonly mentioned impact was increased confidence and motivation in job searching. Some described how the supportive nature of FSS encouraged them to persevere when they'd previously found job hunting quite disheartening. Others described increased confidence, feeling more at ease, or a change in their demeanour.

"You get a bit lacklustre [after rejections]. They [FSS] boosted my confidence and my self worth."

FSS Participant, Lanarkshire

Linked to this was the personalised nature of the support, with respondents praising the way the service and key workers adapted to their circumstances, needs or preferences. This included key workers understanding the individual barriers to employment respondents faced, as well as the difficulties being out of employment presented[14]. For example, one respondent talked about support specific to their career aspirations, whilst others raised support for their mental health, and the flexible pace of the service as key benefits.

"They've been very good at easing me through what was a very difficult time for me [...] Very understanding – [they] didn't push too hard, then pushed a bit [...] and always very happy when I achieved something."

FSS Participant, Highlands & Islands

5.3.2 Overall Drawbacks

Not all respondents felt that taking part in FSS had helped them - a couple felt the service was not tailored to their circumstances. In one case the respondent found the support very generic and inflexible, and not specific to their needs, which included autism.

"[The mindset felt like]... right we are going to do this, this and this...not really with any feedback from me... if it doesn't work we'll move on [...] [It felt] very superficial and I could not relax."

FSS Participant, Lanarkshire

As several of the positive respondents praised the individualised support they received, this suggests a need to ensure this approach is applied consistently across the different areas and providers.

Another felt the service did not offer them anything new, as they already knew how to search and apply for jobs, and felt the service might be more suited to younger people who had not yet developed these skills. They also felt their age (over 50) often counted against them with employers, as well as a large gap in their work history due to caring for their parents, challenges they felt younger people would be less likely to face.

Others said that FSS had not benefitted them much, as they had found a job through other means, or had had to leave the service due to personal circumstances.

5.4 Influence on wellbeing

Several respondents stated that their improved confidence as a result of the service had positively impacted on their wellbeing. A number described or alluded to low mood, stress, or feelings of depression prior to the service, and how they were now feeling more positive as a result of taking part.

"[I was] moping around the house - I don't do that anymore!"

FSS Participant, Highlands & Islands

For some, being out of work had seriously affected their self-esteem and their outlook on life in general, and the service had helped them regain this.

"I dont feel completely useless like I did at times [...] It's helped me reassess myself."

FSS Participant, Highlands & Islands

"Having a job and feeling more useful, being able to think about other things as well and how to move forward with my life, before starting the service I was in a bit of a rut"

FSS Participant, North East

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. Several compared the supportive environment and individualised nature of FSS favourably to previous employment support they had received, which had felt more pressurised.

This improvement in wellbeing was more common in those who had moved into employment. However, some who were not currently employed said they felt the service had improved their wellbeing, through helping them understand that there are different employment options open to them than they previously realised. One of them is currently focused on their health, but felt more positive as FSS helped them realise that there are options for people in their situation when they are ready to return to work. The other described how the one-to-one support from their key worker was really valuable in a difficult year for them as they would come away from meetings with their key worker with a more positive outlook on their situation.

Some respondents said taking part in FSS had no effect on their wellbeing. These broadly fell under two reasons already discussed – either their health had deteriorated since beginning the service, or the help offered by FSS was not tailored to their needs.

5.5 Influence on wider life

In addition to the benefits to personal wellbeing, respondents often saw positive changes in other areas of their life as a result of taking part in FSS.

Amongst those who had found employment, most noted the improvement to their finances, which had previously been a source of worry for some. One respondent spoke of the relief of knowing the money is now there when the bills need to be paid at the end of the month. Another individual was pleased to now have a more 'stable' income, and felt this had a positive impact on the whole family. Some mentioned a positive impact on their family life and relationships now they had a job: one individual said they were more relaxed and this had improved their relationship with their wife and family.

"They helped everything – every way."

FSS Participant, East

Other benefits mentioned by respondents as a result of their improved finances included greater independence. One had now been able to get a driving licence, something that had previously proved a barrier to employment and caused difficulties with family life. A respondent with a physical disability reported that they were now able to visit friends, as the money from their new job had enabled them to buy a scooter. Another was doing an online training course as their finances were more stable, to work towards to becoming a Mental Healthcare Assistant.

"The confidence that I can still work even though I'm disabled now […] It was not just the work front - it affected my personal life. [Now] I can afford to have transport of my own […] It's made me a lot more independent."

FSS Participant, Highlands & Islands

As previously, respondents who had not gained employment felt the influence on their wider life was limited, with some saying it had had little impact. However for some taking part in the service had prompted them to address other factors impacting their ability to work. One had decided to step away from looking to work for the time being to focus on their health, whilst another had realised they needed to get a new immigration lawyer to help them get their identity ratified with the Home Office, so that they could get the biometric identity required by most workplaces for those who are not UK citizens.


Email: employabilityresearch@gov.scot

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