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.

7. Participants' reflections

This chapter examines participants' overall reflections on FSS, focusing on what they felt worked well, things that worked less well, and their suggestions for improvements. Whilst participants were speaking about their experiences of FSS in particular, these aspects are likely to be useful considerations for other employability services, including the No One Left Behind approach.

7.1 Things that are working well

Many respondents were very pleased with their experience of the service, and said they would recommend the service to others; in fact, a couple had already done so. A few respondents had a less positive experience, but even then some felt the service would be helpful for others, just not in their particular circumstances. The points below cover the common themes that emerged from the qualitative analysis conducted on what participants felt worked well about the service.

1. Kind and friendly staff. Respondents praised the staff that worked at FSS as kind, friendly and helpful. This helped put respondents at ease about accessing the service, and meant they were able to build a rapport with their key worker. This encouraged continued engagement with support, and helped respondents' wellbeing at what could be a stressful time.

2. Supportive environment. Many respondents praised the supportive nature of the service, whereby individuals were provided with help to address their difficulties finding work, and were encouraged and motivated by their key workers. The voluntary nature of the service was also important here, meaning respondents did not fear sanctions or other impacts to any benefits, and therefore felt more able to discuss their circumstances and ask for help. This environment, where the sole purpose was to support participants in their steps towards employment, also meant participants were more motivated to engage with the service, and could approach their appointments in a positive mindset, rather than view them as an obligation.

3. Personalised support. Respondents who were positive about the service had usually experienced support tailored to their needs. For some that was help finding a job that suited their health needs, or in their sector of interest. Several respondents highlighted that the service treated them with dignity, taking the time to understand their individual circumstances, and supporting them across different aspects of their life, not merely focusing on job applications. Some found being able to go at their own pace, and not feeling rushed a real positive – respondents often had low self-confidence or mental health problems as a result of being out of work, and this steady approach helped build back their confidence.

4. Support with CVs. This was the type of employability support that respondents found most useful, with one individual directly linking their improved CV to successfully gaining employment. This support was especially helpful for those who had been out of work for some time or who had career gaps, as well as respondents who were immigrants, had English as a second language, or who had worked overseas.

5. Practical support. There were several examples of practical support that proved helpful to respondents. Examples included helping respondents identify benefits they might be eligible for, assisting them with IT skills and financial support to travel to a new job prior to receiving their first salary payment.

7.2 Things that worked less well

As mentioned above, the majority of participants were pleased with their experience of the service, however a small number did highlight aspects of the service that they felt worked less well. Due to the small number, this cannot be presented thematically as above, and it should be noted that most of the following were only experienced by one or two people in the sample of 20.

A few participants felt communication from FSS did not work well. A couple had received no contact from FSS for some time, and were not sure why. They found this stressful and were unsure what this meant for their participation in the service.

"[I] feel really disappointed, am I even with them anymore? I have not heard from them in half a year…"

FSS participant, Lanarkshire

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

FSS participant, Glasgow

Another participant, receiving in-work support, experienced communication difficulties when their key worker changed. Their new key worker called at different times to what had been agreed, causing frustration for the pariticipant who was unable to answer due to work.

"She would not make contact when it was agreed they would...She would try to make contact at non agreed times, they were not suitable as I was at work...times had been arranged to fit around my work."

FSS particpant, Tayside

Another had several key workers throughout their time on FSS and found explaining their situation again each time very stressful.

A couple of respondents found engaging with the service online or by telephone difficult. One found a Zoom session difficult as they did not use technology much, and felt very self conscious on camera. Another participant, who had mental health difficulties, had their face to face sessions replaced by phone calls during the pandemic. Whilst they understood the circumstances, they found phone calls stressful and would become anxious when they knew a call was due.

"I felt a wee bit half pressurised about the phone calls…. and if it was face to face it'd be better…I was stressing out [because] I knew the phone call was coming."

FSS Participant, South West

A couple of respondents found FSS help limited, because of barriers, or a combination of barriers, outside of FSS's influence. Both saw positives in what FSS offered and felt it would be helpful to others, but felt their individual circumstances limited what FSS could do.

One was over fifty, and had a significant gap in their working history due to being the primary carer for their parents for many years. They were confident in where to look for jobs, but felt their gap in employment and consequent lack of recent skills and experience, as well as potentially their age, was leading to the rejections from employers.

"For other people younger than me that haven't got that gap, it's probably helpful…but just applying for the same old jobs and getting the same answers!"

FSS Participant, Glasgow

Another was a single parent with no family support, and therefore needed a job where hours would fit around childcare. They had also been out of the workforce for several years raising their children, and had limited experience on their CV. They found the local job market had very few opportunites that had suitable hours and matched their skills and experience.

"When I was looking for jobs, they were still the same jobs… there isn't a magic wand, it's not a click of your fingers."

FSS Participant, South West

7.3 Suggestions for improvements

Participants were asked if they had any suggestions for how FSS could be improved. One theme that emerged from this was the suggestion for FSS to facilitate opportunities for participants to gain experience or training. Participants felt this would benefit their CVs, especially where they had long gaps. Others felt this would help them understand what type of job might suit them.

In terms of gaining workplace experience, participants had different suggestions for how this could be achieved, though most would require FSS to partner with local employers. One suggestion was for FSS participants to shadow existing employees to learn about their role and type of workplace. Another suggestion, put forward by a couple of participants, was work trials, whereby participants could trial a job to see if they are suited to that type of role. One suggestion that would not require employer engagement, was for FSS to put on training workshops related to particular sectors or types of role. Participants could undertake this to increase their knowledge and experience, which they could then demonstrate on their CV or at interview.

One participant suggested that FSS could make links with local employers, whereby a representative from those businesses would come and give a talk to participants about how their business worked. They felt this could help participants learn about the different sectors and jobs available in their local area, and help them narrow down what might suit them.

In terms of training, some participants felt their lack of qualifications (or recent qualifications) was a barrier to employment. They had hoped their participation in FSS might include training in a new skill or type of occupation, or upskilling their existing knowledge.

For example, one participant with experience of caring for family wanted to move into the care sector but found they needed certain qualifications, and would have liked support from FSS to undertake these.

"Would have liked some training in new skills…. thought that was what I was signing up for…. to learn a new trade or vocation."

FSS participant, Glasgow

Another respondent suggested FSS forging links with local employers, as well as colleges and universities to offer apprenticeships. They suggested that if the employer identified a skills gap, the participant could then undertake a course at the university or college to learn this. It is likely that these partnerships between employers and institutions already exist, however the respondent may not have heard about them. And they may be primarily aimed at young people in their current form.

There were several other suggestions made, however as with the previous section, were mostly only mentioned by one or two respondents.

One of these suggestions was ensuring that FSS reaches the people who could benefit from it. This came from minority ethnic respondents, suggesting that FSS may be reaching them less effectively than other groups.

One participant had already been looking for work for a year when they heard about FSS on Facebook. Despite being in regular contact with the Jobcentre they had not suggested it to them. They found the service really helpful, and felt there should be more awareness of FSS and what it offers.

"It should be more obvious, the help and the support that they provide, nobody told me I could go and ask for help, it was a big issue, I felt like I was left by myself to deal with it."

FSS participant, Lanarkshire

Another found out about FSS through a friend, and suggested it needed to be advertised more.

"I'd think of how to meet the people that need my services."

FSS participant, Glasgow

A few respondents also suggested FSS could offer more support in relation to childcare, which presented a challenge in terms of availability and affordability. One felt employment and childcare is not joined up, despite the fact that childcare can be a huge barrier to parents returning to work. They would have liked information on what local childcare options were available, and guidance on how to apply for or obtain it.

"It would have been quite useful to have had something that supports parents, something that could actually help you find childcare options because there wasn't anything for that."

FSS participant, North East

They also suggested financial support for childcare would be helpful, for participants meeting certain criteria. Another respondent suggested that FSS could link up with the local council to provide advice on what was available.

Several other participants mentioned lack of availability of childcare, or issues with affordability as an ongoing barrier, but acknowledged this was out of FSS's remit.

In contrast with the majority of respondents, a couple felt the service was too generic, and not tailored to their needs. One said they were not give choice in what sessions to participate in, nor the method through which their key worker contacted them. They also didn't receive an introduction with their key worker. Overall they felt the impersonal approach hindered their ability to built rapport with their key worker, and did not take account of their disability.

"People need to be comfortable so you need to show someone that you [the service] are not just doing this for the money or to get the day over... I want to feel heard and seen rather than just...OK that's cool onto the next thing."

FSS participant, Lanarkshire

Another felt the service focused on general job search skills that they knew how to do, rather than the particulars of why they were being rejected so often.

"[I wanted] in the one-to-ones…[to] get into the 'nitty-gritty 'of my applications and why I'm not getting interviews."

FSS participant, Glasgow

One final suggestion was for FSS to have something akin to a jobs board, where local job opportunities are available specifically for FSS participants.

"I would have jobs there for people, that were available, and work with people to help them get that job and what is needed."

FSS participant, Glasgow


Email: employabilityresearch@gov.scot

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