Fair Start Scotland employability service - year 4: focus group discussions

Findings from a series of focus group discussions with participants of Fair Start Scotland (FSS) employability service who are disabled or have a long term health conditions or are from minority ethnic groups. It covers year 4 (April 2021 to March 2022) of FSS delivery.



Fair Start Scotland (FSS) is Scotland's first fully devolved employability service. FSS launched in April 2018 to support those facing significant challenges accessing the labour market. Up until September 2022 there have been 51,076 starts to the service.

Four focus group discussions with FSS participants took place in Summer 2022 as part of an ongoing evaluation of the service. Two were with participants from minority ethnic groups and two with disabled participants or those with a long-term health condition. The aim of these focus group discussions was to explore views, experiences and impacts of participating in FSS for those who joined during Year 4 (April 2021 – March 2022) of the service delivery.

The analyses of focus group discussions centred around exploring:

  • participants' barriers to employment including those linked with disability and minority ethnic status
  • whether participants felt they were treated with dignity and respect
  • participants' experiences of the service and how the support received helped to address participants' barriers to employment
  • what outcomes and impacts were associated with taking part
  • participants' views on future delivery of FSS service and other employability services


Focus group participants experienced a range of barriers to employment linked to their specific circumstances. Commonly mentioned barriers to employment included: unsuitable working environment, discrimination, lack of access to training and qualifications, low confidence and lack of access to suitable childcare.

Focus group participants were referred to FSS service either by Jobcentre Plus or other services, or had self-referred after viewing an advert for FSS in social media or hearing about the service from a friend. Reasons for joining the service included wanting to find a job and hope that the service would help with realising specific career aspirations.

When discussing what being treated with dignity and respect meant to them, participants spoke about the importance of their key worker and other individuals delivering the service being polite and respectful towards them and other service participants. Participants also talked about the importance of the staff delivering the service actively listening to them, showing interest and acknowledging their specific needs and circumstances. The perception of being treated with dignity and respect was associated with positive impacts including better engagement with the service. Not being treated with dignity and respect was linked with negative impacts including feelings of distress.

Many focus group discussions participants described positive experiences of working with their key worker. This was mainly in the context of developing employability related skills and applying for jobs. These positive experiences were often linked to the key worker acknowledging participant's specific needs and circumstances, and personalising the support and coaching offered. Staying in regular contact and returning calls was a critical factor shaping participants' experiences.

A good working relationship with the key worker was linked to a range of positive outcomes including improved confidence and employability related skills, such as searching for jobs or taking part in job interviews or securing a job. Negative experiences were linked with adverse impacts including negative perception of the service, risk of disengagement and leaving the service early and not having access to the range of support offered through the service.

Participants also described other forms of support they received and the impact it had on them. This mainly centred around experiences of attending courses and group activities offered through the FSS service. Courses and group activities were judged more positively if they were perceived to be of high quality, including having the "right" person deliver the course and if they offered opportunities for face-to-face interactions with peers. Courses were judged less favourably where there was a perception of a mismatch between the participant's level of skills and the course material or where participants perceived the quality of the course to be low.

Numerous positive impacts were associated with taking part in courses and workshops offered through FSS including improved employability skills including skills related to preparing a CV, taking part in job interviews or searching for jobs online. Developing these skills in turn helped with moving towards sustained employment. Improved confidence in the context of looking for a job but also more broadly, as well as positive changes in mental health and wellbeing were also described by participants as positive impacts arising from taking part in the service.

Focus group discussions participants highlighted a number of areas which would enhance future delivery of FSS and other employability service. These include:

  • accessing jobs across a wider variety of sectors through employability services
  • ensuring support helps participants find or move towards a job that better matches their skills and aspirations
  • helping service participants access jobs which offer sufficient income to help keep participants out of poverty
  • providing more support in relation to mental health conditions including depression and anxiety
  • ensuring the space where services are being delivered is welcoming and accessible, and allows for privacy if needed.
  • having a clear and well communicated procedure for raising complaints by service participants.
  • raising awareness of the service including through the use of social media so that it reaches as many potential future users as possible, including personal stories of past participants to give an idea of what to expect from taking part in the service


This research set out to achieve a better understanding of the experiences and impacts of taking part in FSS for two specific groups - disabled service participants or those with a long-term health condition, and those who were from minority ethnic groups.

While the findings cannot be easily generalised, the three broad themes that emerged from the analysis of the focus group discussions were:

  • barriers to employment are complex and arise from a combination of a range of factors, including but not limited to being from a minority ethnic group, discrimination, unsuitable working environments and lack of access to suitable childcare
  • participants want jobs which match their skills, professional aspirations and individual circumstances
  • positive experiences of the service including regular contact with the key worker, receiving personalised support and access to high quality courses and group activities are linked to positive impacts including improved confidence and employability skills, a positive impact on wellbeing and mental health and securing suitable employment


Email: EmployabilityResearch@gov.scot

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