While coronavirus may have put a halt on all in-person training courses for now, that doesn’t mean housing associations need to stop providing the resources and training our customers need. We’re adapting to ensure our customers continue to receive the support they deserve, moving to online courses for the foreseeable future and offering phone appointments for our employment advice and support services. Normality will resume and it’s important we continue to focus on closing employment gaps, helping to prepare our customers and ensure they can reach their full potential when opportunities arise. Whenever that may be.
Closing the gap
Despite record employment in the UK, there are still significant differences between, and within groups in terms of employment rates, pay and career progression.
Housing associations can play a huge role in closing this gap, providing they get it right.
Due to the COVID-19 situation, it has been important for the Employment Team to move quickly and adjust its current offers. The team are in the process of transferring its training and support to online initiatives and hope to launch this over the next two weeks – this will include Wellbeing workshops which we hope will help our residents to cope with the current lockdown procedures.
Getting it right is about more than enabling people to be more financially stable. When employment support and training work is successful, we see people who:
- Have confidence in themselves and their ability
- Feel more secure and self-sufficient
- Are less vulnerable to change and financial risk
- Have a positive outlook
- Have improved health, wellbeing and happiness
Parents often talk about the pride they experience when they realise they are again, or for the first time, able to provide security to their children and lessen their dependency on benefits.
Yet, closing employment gaps is not easy and there is certainly no ‘one-size fits all’ method. It can be hard to reach communities, and different people have different needs.
Closing the gap through employment support and training is ideal in theory, but the reality is challenging. We want to be investing our time and resources in the right projects at the right time.
But every individual has different skills, qualifications, ambitions, barriers, circumstances and interests. This makes targeting or concentrating resources difficult.
How do we effectively reach as many people as possible while keeping initiatives relevant and engaging, without spreading resources too thinly?
- Market research – read about, research and speak as often as possible with employers, academics, people who are short and long term unemployed and other employment related service providers. You’ll spot patterns and so find it easier to target your resources. Surveying residents, customers and participants can also shape your offering in a way that naturally increases engagement and participation.
- Accessibility – the easier it is for someone to get in contact, the more likely they are to do so. Which is why we provide a range of ways to connect and don’t expect people to come to us:
- Our monthly email newsletter details the latest opportunities and initiatives available.
- Running Careers Cafés and other informal programmes out of community hubs, where no appointment is necessary, children are welcome, and chats, help and advice can be given informally
- Working with the job centre and similar organisations who recommend our services
- Working in partnerships with employers, training providers, support organisations and project partners who will actively promote our services as much as we do theirs
- Partnerships – actively looking for opportunities to work with councils, universities, charities and employers who have their own goals for helping disadvantaged people is one of the best, most time efficient ways to help our communities. Not only can we pool resources and expertise, but doing this means we can:
- Ensure we have contacts and opportunities for every individual, regardless of their interests or ambitions
- Provide real opportunities to clients – often a course, programme or apprenticeship scheme run by a local employer will have a job at the end of it for the right candidate
- Continue to provide someone with support and encouragement without expending too many resources that can then be used elsewhere
Paid work is the result, not the goal
Successful employment support and training is about more than helping someone write a CV or find a specific job. These are still incredibly valuable but, on their own, are only a quick fix if successful. Job markets are ever changing; required skills change, people get made redundant, want a change in career or simply move areas.
Short term fixes are resource intensive for little long-term gain, with individuals potentially finding themselves back in the same situation in the future.
The goal is to provide people with the skills, knowledge and opportunities that mean they can adapt to change, be independent and continue to learn and develop without support.
- Offering variety – people will get more out of a course, training or work experience opportunity if they have a genuine interest in the subject. It needs to resonate with and inspire them. This means providing variety:
- We’ve created our own self-employment course which runs throughout the year
- Help find and support individuals through apprenticeships, training, qualifications, work experience and voluntary opportunities
- Provide support with the more typical CVs, job-hunting, interview preparation and general advice and guidance.
- Active rather than passive participation – underpinning our work is a strong and mandatory element of self-ownership. We promote an environment of strong and consistently refreshed self-belief, resilience, determination and pride in one’s own accomplishments. In truth, it is our clients who do the hard work, with support, feedback and encouragement from our team. Active participation in interview preparation and researching potential employers and opportunities in the marketplace means our clients learn to understand local labour market dynamics. This allows them to pitch their efforts where most effective and differentiate themselves from their work seeking competitors.
Building homes means nothing without opportunity and the chance for people to improve their quality of life. Housing associations are in a unique position to be able to help close employment gaps across our communities and it’s vital that we get it right.
– Chris Adams, Employment and Training Manager