In view of NIACE’s on-going aspiration and support for a fully integrated employment and skills system, it was helpful to receive Ofsted’s insights into the delivery of the Unit Offer for the Unemployed in their recently published Skills for Employment report. The NIACE Survey of providers delivering skills provision for unemployed adults showed, when the Unit Offer provision began in the autumn of 2011, that this type of provision required providers to break very new ground. Therefore we were not surprised to read in the Ofsted report that nine months into the provision, many providers were still finding it challenging to deliver. The Ofsted report describes in detail many of the challenges associated with moving into this new territory, such as providers having to:
- Work in close partnership with Jobcentre Plus.
- Engage employers to determine local labour market priorities and skills needs.
- Make the most of the potential within the Qualification and Credit Framework to provide single units to provide learners with labour market relevant skills.
- To effectively engage unemployed learners.
- To offer flexible provision which can support learners as they progress through the acquisition of skills into work.
Despite knowing how challenging it would be, as testimony to the courage of providers and their commitment to meet the needs of their local communities, many colleges, independent training providers, community learning providers and other types of providers elected through their new freedoms and flexibilities to deliver this type of provision. To overcome the challenges involved, providers have made diverse and significant investments such as establishing purposely designed premises in new and accessible locations, arranging the co-location of their staff in Jobcentre Plus offices, developing appropriate curricula, establishing new systems to track job outcomes and providing training for existing and newly recruited staff to enable them to effectively support learners and engage employers.
Through these investments and their increasing understanding of the needs of the learners and local employers, providers are getting better and better at delivering the provision. However, as the Ofsted report points out, despite progress, there is still some way to go. It also helpfully identifies key areas for improvement such as:
- Promoting the programme within Jobcentre Plus to generate an increased and reliable number of referrals.
- Identifying the means to support learners to develop English and Mathematics skills linked to their specific and realistic job goals.
- Ensuring that support increases learners’ chances of acquiring sustained as opposed to short-term employment.
Although NIACE feels that many of the areas requiring improvement could be viewed as ‘works in progress’ due to the newness of the provision, it was a little disappointing that Ofsted identified that the use of initial assessment was weak – with only 15 of the 45 providers visited having effective systems for initially assessing and recording participants’ prior knowledge, barriers to employment and employability skills to inform training. We feel this was something all providers could have got right from the start.
Because the provision breaks new ground, we feel there is a lot providers can learn from sharing effective approaches especially around how to translate the acquisition of labour market relevant skills into jobs for learners. As the Ofsted report identified, some providers are doing this extremely well, one provider being reported achieving a 46% job outcome rate for its learners despite the incredibly tough labour market. We need to find out if their approach can be applied elsewhere.
Ofsted’s timely report and findings will continue to support providers to develop their provision of skills for unemployed adults. Recent work undertaken by NIACE in close collaboration with providers resulted in the publication of two provider guides on engaging micro-employers and managing challenging behaviour within skills provision for unemployed adults. If you would like to receive news of the work NIACE is undertaking in this field and to possibly be involved in this work in the future, please join our Skills for Employment Network by contacting Rob Gray at email@example.com.