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Employability and beyond

November 29th 2017

Victoria Winckler argues that the emphasis in policy needs to move beyond employability to create an inclusive labour market that benefits everyone.

Tony Blair was right – at least when he said that work is the best route of poverty. Work is, without question, one of the most effective ways of reducing a household’s chance of having a low income. But, good though work is, it is not a panacea with growing numbers of people working but still having a poverty-level income.

So what to do?

A major study by academics at the Universities of Birmingham and Coventry, and the LSE, have come up with some important pointers about what should be done. They’ve crunched the numbers and digested the evidence, with the details results over at the Public Policy Institute Wales website.  What it all means for policy in Wales is summarised in a short  report published today.

We need strategies to create an inclusive labour market

The most important finding is that policy needs to focus on all aspects of the job market and aim to make it inclusive. It isn’t just about pay, it isn’t just about employability, its about the whole system. And it’s also about what employers do as well as what governments and individuals do as well.

Within that strategy, there needs to be efforts to increase the sheer number of jobs, no matter what economic sector they are in, as well as actions to increase inclusion in specific sectors, especially those with either large numbers or proportions of people in poverty.

Some of these sectors are in the Welsh Government’s backyard – like education and social care.  If they want some easy steps to take to reduce poverty they need look no further than the public sector workforce.

We’ve suggested that the ideal opportunity to try out this approach is in one of the new ‘strategic hubs’ in the valleys.

Helping people into work

The Weldh Government is expected to publish is strategy for ’employability’ in the near future. There’s some powerful evidence that what works is a combination of pre-employment training, work placement and a guaranteed interview, combined with good, flexible advisors, excellent careers advice and agreements with employers.

Climbing the greasy pole

Correctly known as progression, helping people to move up the career ladder makes a big difference yet is rarely discussed in public policy. We’re suggesting there needs to be much for advice and support for adults, and that progression programmes should be developed in at least two growth sectors.

Job Quality

Some people say there’s no such thing as a bad job. I suspect they haven’t had one. The Welsh Government has made a code start with the Code of Practice on Ethical Procurement but it needs to be enforced and they need to do more.  Let’s see if the new economic action plan talks about the quality as well as quantity of jobs.

Delivery

There are some important findings about how to deliver all these good ideas. It turns out that geography matters, with some actions best being taken at local level – so not all-Wales, not economic regions but good, old-fashioned community and local authority-level delivery.

And at whatever scale that delivery occurs, its also all about partnership. This isn’t yet more meetings but effective, working relationships between the public sector, employers and unions. Good relationships between skills and advice providers matter too.

It remains to be seen what the economic strategy and employablity plan will actually look like. But with the evidence being pretty clear about ‘what works’ – and what doesn’t – we can only hope that the Welsh Government pays heed.

Victoria Winckler is Director of the Bevan Foundation. 

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