Memorandum submitted by Working Links
1. The following response emphasises the
need for Government to maintain a high level of investment in
continued development of greater labour market effectiveness even
at a time of low overall levels of unemployment. Positive intervention
is essential to maintain business competitiveness, support social
development and reduce the poverty gap.
2. It sets out the argument for equalising
opportunities for jobs between those only recently released into
the jobs market and those with a long record of unemployment and/or
significant barriers to gaining work.
3. It seeks to define the contribution of
employers, educationalists and Government who, by working together
in an outcome focused way, can raise skill levels across the workforce
including core employability or "soft" skills.
4. It concludes by describing the unique
Working Links model for public/private sector partnership that
raises performance and reduces costs. It is a model capable of
much wider application and answers many of the current objections
to increased private sector engagement in public services.
5. We are delighted that the Work and Pensions
Committee is addressing this issue and stand ready and enthusiastic
to contribute further to the development of policy in this field.
6. The Government is challenged by its own
success in tackling unemployment. In the minds of the public and
on the pages and screen images of the media, unemployment is off
the agenda. Health, education and transport have leapfrogged to
the top of the "get it sorted" list.
7. We see this as an immensely dangerous
time for policy development. Neither economic slowdown nor declining
national levels of unemployment should persuade policymakers that
this is the time to cut back on employment related spending. The
economic success that is essential to funding all policy initiatives
depends upon wealth creation and at the core of that is an effective
and efficient labour market. At the same time there is ample evidence
that wide scale unemployment within a specific community creates
social conditions that damage progress in health, education and
crime prevention. Working Links is closely associated with those
parts of the countryinner city, urban and ruralwhere
unemployment generally, or within specific ethnic groups, is unacceptably
high despite the much improved national picture. This drives social
division, the United States illustrates that a healthy economy
can widen rather than diminish the poverty gap if there is not
active intervention through effective labour market policies.
8. Finally from the competitive advantage
viewpoint it is widely acknowledged that we need to improve the
skills of our UK workforce. Yet there are still very large numbers
of people bouncing along the bottom of the labour market, drifting
in and out of low skill and low pay jobs where employers see attrition
rather than training as the way to maintain productivity. The
cost to the welfare budget of this group, who do not show in the
long term unemployed statistics, and the squandering of human
potential, demands continuing Government engagement in these issues
or the huge advances made over the last five years will begin
to be eroded rather than enhanced.
9. At the time of submission the prospect
of a significant national economic slowdown seems rather less
likely. The fact remains that there are local and regional economic
conditions that still match exactly the circumstances that this
enquiry seeks to address. The concern we have in Working Links
is how these conditions impact on those least able to compete
effectively in the labour market.
10. Economic slow down puts more people
back into the jobs market, while employers become more cautious
about recruitment. Working Links experience confirms that there
almost always remains a steady supply of vacancies. Also, that,
while those only recently laid off with current skills and continuity
of work experience have a clear competitive advantage, longer
term unemployed applicants can win through with the right support.
If we are to avoid a growing population of severely deprived individuals,
families and communities we have to create greater equality of
opportunity in the labour market. Working Links has developed
an approach that is now proven to work, based on individual solutions
not generic panaceas, flexibility for our consultants within a
firm framework of values rather than rules and a true partnership
approach within the communities where we operate instead of a
loose co-operation guided by self interest.
11. We firmly believe that we are producing
results that increasingly demonstrate that we can achieve welfare
savings, income growth and job creation that significantly outweigh
exceed the cost of development and delivery. To maintain this
it is vital that the Government continues to direct adequate funding
into employment initiatives such as the Employment Zones either
directly or through other agencies such as the LSCs and RDAs.
12. There is also an important role for
employers. In difficult economic conditions investment in training
is always the victim. Yet there is clearly evidence that companies
that invest in people during a slow down are in the strongest
position to exploit improved business conditions when these emerge.
The people released into the labour market often do not have the
specific skills sought by those still recruiting. Yet recovery
and future competitiveness depend on access to employees with
the right skillsnot just hard skills but the soft ones
employers so often find lacking. Examples include team work, problem
solving and accepting instructions.
13. Success stories exist where agencies,
such as universities or training organisations, develop strong
practical links with employers. In developing a demand-led approach
and maintaining these relationships, agencies and employers can
work closely to address skills shortages and fill skills gaps.
The recent introduction of Foundation Degrees is a move in this
direction, though this needs to be accompanied by some rationalisation
of the existing network of qualifications. Many employers, especially
SME's, feel overwhelmed by the myriad of qualifications available.
Where training and education, Foundation Degrees included, will
succeed will be in replicating that employer-agency relationship,
similar to KLM and Kingston University's partnership training
aircraft engineers. Similarly, one of our three Shareholders,
Manpower is working with local training organisations in Glasgow
and Liverpool training long-term unemployed people for field engineering
work in the IT sector. This method of addressing shortages by
linking business with education is proving successful in training
people in the right skills and qualifications that lead to sustainable
jobs. Currently however there are too few examplesthe challenge
for Government is to actively engage employers in activity of
this sort and to demonstrate the business case for it, possibly
supported by appropriate tax breaks in respect of investment in
14. In our view the challenge of maintaining
adequate investment in employment while addressing other policy
imperatives can to some extent be addressed by the right forms
of public/private co-operation and to a further extent by eliminating
duplication and under-performance in current delivery of employment
15. Working Links is a uniqueand
highly successfulfully-fledged Public/Private Sector Partnership,
founded by Jobcentre Plus (then the Employment Service), Manpower
PLC, and Cap Gemini Ernst & Young. We couple a strong adherence
to the principles of public service with a commercial awareness
and outcome oriented urgency to deliver sustainable solutions
in employment led regeneration.
16. Our culture of joint working, of keeping
focused on the best way to work with others to maximise results
(jobs), is a natural corollary of the way the company was set
up. And it carries into the working relationships we have established
in each of our operations. We do not try to replicate what is
already there. Instead we have worked hard to understand and complement
the work of others by, for example:
(a) Forming in each of our operational
locations a Local Management Board to provide strategic guidance
and practical support relevant to the local community;
(b) Understanding, influencing and working
with the grain of existing employment and wider regeneration strategies
which have often been agreed by long-standing partnerships and/or
(c) Bringing our own strengths to these
existing arrangementsamong them a firm focus on results
(sometimes absent in even the most established and well-meaning
partner organisations), an appetite for innovation, a willingness
to take risks and a "can do" approach, wide experience
gained through delivering employment initiatives successfully
across the UK, and a skilled and proven management and delivery
Working Links (Employment) Limited
Public/Private Sector Partnership
Manpower PLC Cap Gemini Ernst & Young
17. Working Links was created in April 2000
to help long-term unemployed people into work in a way that was
both innovative and consistent with the Government's Welfare to
Work policy. Our goal was, and remains, to achieve outstanding
levels of performance in helping unemployed people into real,
sustainable jobs. Under the nine Employment Zone contracts we
have run since April 2000 we have placed 40 per cent of those
referred to us into work and more than 80 per cent of those are
still in work 13 weeks latera significant achievement.
In addition, through open competition, we have increased the number
of contracts we hold to deliver Action Teams for Jobs to eleven.
Further activity is supported by SRB, LSC, ESF and private sector
18. Working Links is now a major, established
player (turnover last year was £28 million and this year
will be £40 million) with an effective, tightly-run operation
delivering superb performance in helping over 12,000 long term
unemployed and disadvantaged people into work through innovation,
flexibility and a desire to continually improve and succeedfor
our jobseekers and hence for ourselves.
19. The key features of our approach are:
(a) Strong focus on helping participants
find work and remain employed. Over 40 per cent of the people
referred to us find work within four months. But there are few
"easy wins", many of the people we place into work have
been unemployed for a very significant period and almost all face
major perceived barriers to work. Neither are these jobs "quick
fixes"almost 85 per cent of people helped into work
by our Zones are still in work 13 weeks later.
(b) Commitment to treat every person
we see as an individual and to address their individual needs,
and barriers to employment, flexibly. Our commitment to a
"one size does not fit all" approach has empowered our
consultants to do whatever is needed to help people back into
work. Each person who walks through our door is allocated a consultant
to guide them along the road back to work. The consultant becomes
an advisor, a motivator and a confidante, working in conjunction
with the job seeker, to make each step to employment happen.
(c) Commitment to all our jobseekerseveryone
gets help. We believe that the best way to demonstrate that
we have improved someone's employability is through actually helping
them find work. However, even those individuals for whom we cannot
find work are moved significantly closer to the labour market
through our use of individual Action Plansmonitored and
audited for quality by the Department for Work and Pensions. We
have produced over 20,000 such plans. In addition, largely through
our partnership arrangement with the Royal Bank of Scotland, the
majority of our jobseekers have their own bank accounts, improving
their access to a range of services.
(d) Reputation for innovation.
We find creative and novel ways to address and overcome the barriers
to employment faced by our jobseekers. We maintain an environment
where our consultants are expected to overcome and challenge barriers
to work starting from a blank page, not a limited, fixed menu.
We have bought and leased cars and scooters, flown people to jobs
in other countries, used problems as solutions (for example solving
child care problems for some jobseekers by training others in
child care), challenged established colleges and providers to
do what they initially believed could not be done, and quickly
shared good ideas across the company.
(e) Commitment to equal opportunities.
We have achieved unparalleled results in helping people from ethnic
minorities access work. Across our four locations where there
are significant populations of ethnic minorities, our entry and
retention rates into work are consistent across all ethnic groups.
We believe this to be unique, and it is an achievement which has
attracted significant levels of attention and recognition from,
amongst others, the CRE, TUC, CBI and Cabinet Office;
`Giving people a real chance
to succeednot a half-hearted or token gesture but a genuine
opportunity to discover and use their potentialis incredibly
valuable and plays a vital role in strengthening local communities.
I am heartened by the achievements of Working Links and the vision
the team have shown which has led to so many people gaining a
job, and with it the chance to make a contribution to their community.'
(f) Synergyworking with others
to maximise success. Working Links could not have achieved
this success alone, but has done so by working with other organisations
to create high levels of synergy. In fact, the whole Working Links
concept is based upon the principle of synergy: of bringing together
the commercial acumen, public service ethos, abilities, skills,
drive and experience of three leading organisations who are major
sources of expertise in the labour market and achieving results
which are greater than the sum of the parts.
12 April 2002
1 Gurbux Singh, Chair of the Commission for Racial