Background and objectives
Partnership Action for Continuing Employment (PACE) is the Scottish Government's strategic national partnership framework for responding to redundancy situations. Skills Development Scotland (SDS) leads on the delivery of PACE on behalf of the Scottish Government, in conjunction with a number of key partners including the Department for Work and Pensions. The Ministerial PACE Partnership brings 22 organisations together with the Scottish Government to oversee a continuous improvement programme to enhance the operation of PACE.
Hall Aitken were commissioned by Skills Development Scotland and the Scottish Government to deliver a qualitative research study looking at the customer experience of individuals who have recently been made redundant. This covers both those who have received support through PACE and those who have not received any PACE support. The aims and objectives of the study were to:
- Explore the customer journey taken by PACE customers and non-PACE customers;
- Identify the needs of the individuals at different stages of the customer journey;
- Gain an understanding as to why some individuals have decided against accessing support;
- Explore what the key influencers are on how they progress, and how these influencers affect outputs;
- Identify where in that journey PACE support/private sector support currently fits, and whether this comes at the right time in their journey;
- Determine how well the current PACE/private sector support meets the needs of those who have recently been made redundant;
- Determine how well PACE support met customer expectations and identify any gaps in current provision;
- Identify what private sector service does well and what PACE could learn from them; and
- Make recommendations on how to develop PACE support to improve service and increase its relevance.
This is a qualitative study gathering insights around the issues surrounding redundancy in Scotland. It is based on qualitative interviews carried out with individuals across Scotland who had been made redundant since April 2018. A total of 23 semi-structured telephone interviews were conducted across three groups:
- Those who have recently been made redundant and used PACE (7);
- Those who have recently been made redundant and used an alternative redundancy service (4); and
- Those who have recently been made redundant and not used any service at all (12).
We also interviewed six representatives from local PACE Partners, including SDS PACE Advisers and staff from DWP Jobcentres to gather insights from their perspective as to how customers navigate the redundancy process.
Our research shows that there are common "touchpoints" along the customer journey. These are:
- Finding out about the redundancy;
- Identifying support needs;
- Accessing support;
- Looking for a job;
- Leaving employment; and
- Getting another job or starting a business.
In a "typical" customer journey, an individual may travel through the touchpoints in a linear fashion. But each customer navigates around them in different ways, often repeating certain touchpoints, or bypassing some. Customers' needs change as they progress through the redundancy process and will be influenced by a range of personal and external factors.
The first stage of the journey is when a person is first informed about their redundancy. This is an important stage, and how this is handled by the employer has a big impact on subsequent support needs and emotional wellbeing. Notification periods vary depending on length of employment and circumstances. However, if a company goes into administration and ceases trading, there is sometimes very little notice given. Following notification, the first response is often shock followed by anger. People also experience a sense of shame or worthlessness alongside confusion and frequently face a lack of information. The most commonly identified immediate support needs following the notification are:
- Information on redundancy, the process and what they are entitled to;
- What it means for them financially (redundancy payments and benefits implications); and
- Emotional support – having someone to talk to and reassurance.
The PACE presentation is generally the first stage of contact that customers will have with PACE services and normally takes place in the workplace. It is the most frequently accessed element of the PACE services. The presentation provides much of the basic practical information that customers need, but importantly provides an opportunity for customers to consider what further employability, training or personal support they might require. It also provides opportunities for individuals to discuss their needs through one-to-one sessions with an adviser and signposting to other services such as Business Gateway. Often the initial presentation and guidance is enough to provide customers with the support, direction and motivation they need to look for another job.
There is a wide variation in the approach to providing emotional and mental wellbeing support through PACE, ranging from basic signposting to statutory services or local third sector provision; through to direct referral to a provider. The amount of support needed varies from person to person, and at different stages, but overall customers spoke of needing this type of support at some stage in their redundancy journey; even if only as a safety net that provides reassurance that there is someone to turn to.
Many individuals feel initially daunted by the prospect of looking for work; particularly those who have been in their present job for a considerable length of time. Older workers will be unfamiliar with the current jobs market and wary about online approaches to job search and applying for jobs. Others will need help to write or update their CVs or to develop interview skills. PACE provides initial group sessions on CVs and job search, these will involve SDS and employability services coordinated by local authorities. Most customers value this opportunity to update their CVs and job search skills.
One-to-one sessions with an Adviser are offered in all cases following on from the PACE presentation. Some customers will take time to request one-to-one support on careers options and may wish to pursue other options first. From our interviews there are several different reasons for this:
- Taking time to reflect and think through what they really want;
- Not knowing what they want to do;
- Underestimating the difficulties of getting a job; or
- Overestimating their own employability.
The ultimate goal of PACE support is to move customers into a new job or another positive outcome as quickly as possible. However, the move into a new job does not necessarily mean that the support need ends. This stage of the journey can be stressful, with individuals worried about whether the job they access is right for them or doubting whether they can sustain their new job.
Private sector outplacement services
Some employers do not engage with PACE services and choose to bring in private sector redundancy support from one of a number of outplacement services. These tend to be larger, multinational companies or employers who are headquartered outwith Scotland. While private outplacement services have the same objectives as PACE in terms of ensuring employees transition to new jobs as smoothly as possible, they also have the overarching goal of reputational and brand protection on behalf of the employer. Employers will generally buy in packages that include varying levels of support which is usually time-limited, with a clear end date for employees. In some instances, PACE teams do work alongside these outplacement services to provide a more locally tailored and comprehensive service and, where this is coordinated effectively, it can work well. Essentially the core elements of the service delivered by outplacement services are the same as through PACE; although they use different tools and approaches for some elements.
Those not using any support
During the research, several participants were interviewed who had not received external redundancy support of any kind. These individuals faced several issues when trying to navigate the redundancy process. Employer attitude is important for those not getting support and they were more likely to identify issues around inconsistent information, lack of clarity and a feeling that their employer did not know what to do. They relied on friends, family and existing networks for support, or had to find information through self-directed searches on the internet. Most individuals who had not accessed any redundancy support services highlighted that if emotional support had been made available they would have taken it. Those ending up at the Jobcentre have generally not found it helpful in getting them the support they need to find appropriate job opportunities.
How well PACE services meet needs
Overall, PACE customers reported that the presentation was a useful starting point and the information provided in the Positive Steps booklet was valuable. Customers welcomed the initial information session which addressed some of their immediate needs around employability issues, job search tips and benefits advice. Customers were also reassured that further support was available and that they could access it when they felt ready. Group sessions around CVs and job search were also popular. For many PACE customers, help with their CV was all the support they wanted, as they felt more confident following this in progressing along the journey.
PACE customers generally rated the one-to-one support and advice as the most valuable element of the PACE service. The value attached to it relates to the personalised nature of the support, and the feeling of being listened to, that helps build confidence and addresses the worry and stress of the situation. While, in most cases, direct support for mental wellbeing is not part of the PACE provision, the offer of one-to-one sessions with an adviser can help in this respect. PACE customers were more likely to have reported positive experiences of engaging with advisers, and that the encouragement and tailored support provided made a difference to their confidence and motivation. It seems that feeling that they are being supported through the process and being given some agency and options helps to build resilience that supports a more positive outlook.
The PACE customers we interviewed had mixed experiences of using Jobcentres. Several had pre-existing poor perceptions of the Jobcentre which meant that they were reluctant to use the services. More senior employees felt that the services offered would not help them secure the right kind of job opportunity. However, some customers found the support and advice of the Jobcentre to be helpful in moving towards a new job.
One of our interviewees had started a business after struggling to find work following her redundancy. She attributed this decision directly to the advice and guidance she received through PACE. PACE support provided her with both the confidence to consider new options and the practical guidance needed to make the first steps.
How well private sector services meet needs
Customers who had accessed support through a private outplacement service had very mixed experiences of the service. One key aspect that differentiates this service is its time-limited nature, and this adds an additional pressure to those having to deal with redundancy. The employability materials and support were considered to be high quality by some customers, while others found them to be inappropriate and condescending. However, the main issue with private service customers (identified by those who had both a positive and negative experience) was the quality of the support available from the advisers. One felt that they were being 'treated like a number' and that the adviser was just going through the motions rather than making any genuine effort to move them into work.
Influences on engagement
Through the dialogue with both customer groups, we have identified several factors which influence whether an individual accesses support, and the level of support an individual decides they need. The research shows that the key influencing factors when it comes to accessing support are:
- Employer attitude and support;
- Awareness about what support is available;
- Confidence and resilience;
- Availability and capacity of services; and
- Geographical access.
The employer attitude in engaging with or responding to local PACE teams is important in getting support in quickly, agreeing what is needed, and enabling employees to access it. While most employers are happy to engage, we came across several instances where employers have either not engaged, or not fully cooperated in allowing employees to take time off to attend PACE sessions. This can delay or hamper service delivery and can, in some circumstances, mean those who need support are not getting it.
Participants not using any kind of support service cited that they did not know what was available to them. Partly because their employer did not offer them any support and partly because they didn't think to look for anything. Most people will not know about PACE services before they are faced with redundancy, and it is a challenge for partners to make sure that they make people aware when they need to. The majority of non-PACE customers highlighted that had they known about PACE it is likely they would have accessed the services; to varying extents.
Confidence was a key theme running through the interviews across all customer groups. The most commonly identified factor for not accessing support was that they were confident in their own skills and abilities and so they didn't see support as necessary. This was the main issue that differentiated them from those who did access services. However, there were several people who had initially felt confident in their ability to access a job, but who later recognised that they would have benefited from help. This reinforces the need to have an 'open door' approach rather than time-limited support.
Timing and availability are also important. The research highlighted several instances where individuals needed support and were unable to access it. For example, one participant spoke of being unable to access PACE support because the redundancy date was moved forward, and PACE were brought in two days after she had left her job. Geographical proximity of services is a particular issue in more rural parts of Scotland, where location is more critical because of the time and cost of travelling to access services further afield.
Factors that influence progress
The ability of those facing redundancy to navigate through the process and get back into work or self-employment depends on several inter-related factors. These include personal factors such as:
- Confidence levels;
- Emotional wellbeing;
- Relevance and transferability of skills; and
- Financial security.
Confidence is a key factor that helps people to engage and progress with PACE services. But customers also report that getting support through PACE increases their self-confidence, making further progress more achievable.
Linked to confidence is the level of emotional wellbeing experienced by individuals. Customer mental wellbeing is a key influencer along the journey and can make the difference between a positive and negative outcome, as well as how quickly someone progresses into new employment. Having the necessary support or signposting in place to promote good emotional wellbeing is viewed as a core necessity for redundancy services.
How relevant the skills and experience of an individual are in the current labour market is another factor that influences both their journey and their outcome. This appears to be more of an issue among older workers aged 45 and over, who appear to struggle more during redundancy.
Having a financial buffer, or not having immediate financial concerns around redundancy, can provide a bit of breathing space for individuals facing redundancy. Not having to be forced into making snap decisions, or pursuing the first opportunity they come across, reduced the stress felt by individuals and gives them time to take stock.
But outcomes are also influenced by the quality and range of support networks and services, including:
- Employer support;
- Quality of the support provided;
- Services that are delivered in a personalised way; and
- Access to wider support networks.
In addition to support provided through their employer and through personal support networks, employees can often support each other. This can be through emotional support and by sharing practical information and advice on job opportunities. The key elements of external redundancy support (whether through PACE or private services) are good quality guidance and advice, alongside personalised support tailored to individual needs. The open-ended nature of PACE support is also a factor that supports progress.
These practical elements of support can serve to strengthen and build the personal elements to enable customers to navigate through the redundancy process effectively.
Employer awareness and engagement
Where PACE Partnerships are aware of redundancies taking place, they have effective approaches for engaging with employers and working with them to deliver effective support. However, there are still many instances where PACE Partnerships are not aware of redundancies taking place. These are mostly smaller scale redundancies with under 20 employees affected. In other instances, employers are aware of PACE but choose not to engage with the services.
Among our interviewees, several of those made redundant without recourse to PACE support worked for large voluntary sector organisations. The scale of redundancies is unlikely to be large enough to require an HR1 notification, which may mean that PACE teams are not made aware of them. The lack of engagement with PACE among these organisations is perhaps surprising, given that many of them will work closely with the public sector and will receive public funding to some extent.
The first few weeks after someone finds out about redundancy are the hardest for them to deal with. The shock and emotional impact come alongside the need to consider the immediate practical impacts on finances, family and relationships. The earlier that PACE teams can engage with employers to support this process, the more likely it is that emotional impacts can be minimised, and positive outcomes maximised. One of the positive elements of the private sector offer is that they can provide support to the employer even before redundancies are announced. While this can also happen with PACE, it is not usually the case.
Take-up of PACE support among individuals is limited by lack of awareness of the service generally. Where employers are not engaging directly with PACE services, individuals are less likely to find out about what services they are entitled to. Many people who did not engage with services feel they could have benefited from some of the support available. Awareness and referrals, even among other PACE Partner organisations such as DWP Jobcentres appear to be inconsistent.
A vague brand
Awareness of PACE is hampered by having a weak brand identity. The PACE identity comes across most strongly through the workplace presentation, but this is not the case for the other linked services. Many individuals we interviewed said they were not aware of PACE; even some who had accessed support. Even among individuals who had found out about PACE through their own self-directed searches, their recollection and awareness of the service and PACE brand was limited. This lack of clear identity is perhaps exacerbated by the partnership nature of the services, where individuals can access component services without any knowledge of PACE.
The Value of PACE Advisers
PACE customers tended to have a more positive experience, with all those we interviewed rating the support they received highly and feeling more confident after engaging with the service. It is clear that the real benefit from engaging with PACE was the positive change in confidence and mental wellbeing. This was achieved to some extent through the practical support offered, but where PACE really adds value is the interaction between customers and advisers. In comparison, those who used an alternative service did not feel the support they received was tailored to their needs or empathetic. And those who received no support from their employer would have appreciated and benefited from having someone they could speak to, during the redundancy process.
Time to reflect
The open-ended nature of PACE support has been highlighted as a positive feature that reduces the pressure on customers to make quick decisions. Those facing redundancy need time to come to terms with the news, deal with the immediate practical and financial concerns and reflect on their longer-term options. The knowledge that support will still be there for them once they have taken time to consider their needs is a significant reassurance.
One important role of SDS PACE Advisers is to provide customers with advice that reflects the current realities of the labour market. This research has identified that those in senior roles facing redundancy are sometimes over-confident and unrealistic about how easy it will be to get a job. So, having guidance and advice through PACE has benefited individuals who would not have sought support if it had not been delivered to them at their workplace.
A more joined up service
PACE is a partnership approach to coordinating services, and not a service in itself; and this confuses individuals who might be accessing the services. For example, some individuals will access component services (Jobcentre, SDS, local authority employability) without necessarily associating this with PACE. This may be partly linked to the lack of awareness of PACE, and the weakness of the 'brand'. But there is also a need for the individual services involved to recognise the added value of PACE as an overarching coordinating structure.
Mixed reputation of the jobcentre
It appears from this research that people are not fully aware of the support services potentially available through the Jobcentre and are also wary of using it. As a PACE Partner, the DWP Jobcentre should be an important route into the PACE service; particularly for individuals involved in smaller-scale redundancies who do not receive workplace PACE support. This negative perception of Jobcentres and a reluctance to use their services among certain groups suggests that there could be many potential PACE clients falling through the cracks.
Peer support networks
The customer experience of redundancy is a turbulent one that can see an individual experience a whole range of emotions in a very short space of time. People spoke of a need to share stories and information, to talk to someone about their concerns, and also of a need to support other colleagues who are going through the same thing. These support networks provide additional (or in some cases alternative) support that gives the customer confidence to progress along the journey more quickly.
A clear offer on emotional wellbeing
While there is generally no 'badged' mental wellbeing offer provided through PACE, there is information and signposting to potential sources of support. It is clear from our interviews that having access to one-to-one sessions with SDS PACE Advisers provides a degree of emotional support that is highly valued by customers. Notwithstanding this positive role in emotional wellbeing, sometimes individuals do require more support with mental health issues as they go through the redundancy process.
Follow-up and aftercare
It is important that customers feel they have support as they transition into a new job and that they can come back for further support if they need it. Customers have identified the importance of the 'open door' approach, and this is a clear advantage which PACE has over private sector services.
The Scottish Government and SDS PACE Team should consider how to improve awareness and publicise the positive benefits of PACE to employers (particularly SMEs). There may be a need to promote PACE specifically to the Voluntary sector through umbrella organisations such as SCVO.
There are also common misunderstandings that PACE support can only be delivered through employers and that the support is only available for larger scale redundancy scenarios. These need to be addressed through providing clear and consistent information to partners, and through wider marketing.
Making sure that the PACE Partners are clear about the overall PACE offer will enable them to provide a more coherent service to customers. In particular, DWP Jobcentre should review how it deals with those coming through redundancy and ensure a more standardised approach linked to PACE.
The Scottish Government and SDS PACE Team should consider the overall branding of the service. Having a clearer brand and marketing message (alongside strengthening partnership links) would help to ensure that people knew about what PACE does and associate this brand identity to the service offer.
Most customers report that the open-ended nature of support is communicated clearly to them by SDS PACE Advisers. However, there is still some confusion as to the ability to access support after they have left employment which could be addressed through marketing and partner communication.
PACE Partnerships should recognise and encourage the role of peer-led support as part of the broader offer. This is particularly important for larger-scale redundancies. Tailoring some training and support materials to enable this will help to expand support being offered.
Having a more clear and consistent approach to providing access to mental health support would ensure that individuals were able to make progress. Signposting people to mental health services isn't always enough, as individuals are often unwilling or unable to make the necessary call. The Scottish Government and PACE National team should explore ways of strengthening mental health support.