The UK labour market is facing unprecedented challenges. A recession looms with risks to existing jobs and hiring freezes. The IES (Institute for Employment Studies) have just published up to November 2022 labour market statistics which shows that 21.5% or almost 9 million British working age citizens are currently deemed to be economically inactive (not in work and not actively looking for work). The November Learning and Work Institute report showed that post covid employment remains 334,000 below pre-pandemic levels. While job vacancies have fallen recently they remain at near record highs.
Hard working employability providers play a vital role in helping to deliver improved labour market outcomes. These outcomes not only impact the lives of job seekers but also the UK economy which is flagging across a range of metrics.
As part of Earlybird's goal to help people who are often overlooked achieve their career potential, we recently spent time conducting research with 16 UK employability providers. We encouraged a broad voice by interviewing stakeholders including Employment Advisers, Training Support, Managers, Directors and IT/Systems.
The research participants shared insights into their ways of working, challenges, best practices and opportunities to improve. What became clear as the interviews progressed were four consistent themes:
Challenges around the management of high volumes of caseloads was a common thread with almost 63% of advisers highlighting that caseloads were either too high, unmanageable or had been increasing significantly. One employment adviser spoke of having to manage a caseload of up to 300 participants whilst another told us that 100 in a caseload was considered a healthy amount. Another interviewee told us their caseloads had “increased from 65 to 110”. Are these numbers sustainable to deliver the support that is necessary? Employment advisers are multi-skilled individuals who not only coach, encourage and support their customers but find time to research jobs, programmes and services to refer their customers into. Our research suggests that current caseloads make it difficult for advisers to do their best work.
81% of interviewees spoke about time challenges around the initial onboarding of participants due to caseload levels but shared quotes that paradoxically “the initial assessment is very important” and “getting to know the participant is absolutely critical”. Some interviewees also spoke of “very manual onboarding processes” which ate away at time spent focusing on action plans. These time challenges also present further challenges around rapport building and demonstrating empathy which are both key ingredients to building relationships with job seeker customers.
Delivering outcomes was raised by 54% of respondents with interviewees asking “how can you shorten a caseload period to achieve a learning or job outcome”, and also that “employment outcomes are important for storytelling, to attract learners and to grow business”. Positive outcomes are paramount for both providers and customers as they deliver jobs to people who need support, funding to continue the work and a boost to the UK labour market.
Technology was raised consistently by those we interviewed with some saying “existing technology has been a poor experience” and there was a “need to look at digital platforms and find innovative ways to engage with people”. 81% of employment advisors said that automating the onboarding process would mean that they could spend more time signposting and providing solutions during their initial meeting and that it would lead to better quality outcomes. It has been great to see both ERSA and IEP using their 2022 conference platforms to facilitate important discussions about the use of technology. It is by continuing to pursue innovation in all that we do as a sector that will help drive the best outcomes for all stakeholders.
As a technology driven business, Earlybird is using these insights to drive our “why”. That is to build software tools for employability and skills providers so they can deliver the best scalable support for people in need of employment support.
Our research fuelled our desire to build technology that could deal with these challenges. Our new Earlybird software supports providers with the onboarding of candidates using voice technology - it will give providers a much deeper and richer understanding of their participant before they have even met. Voice recording is simple to use and more inclusive, for example, for those who are neurodiverse or for whom English is not their first language. It also removes a chunk of caseload paperwork. This gives advisers more time to focus on providing the much needed support that their job seekers need to overcome their challenges and access quality work.
Delivering positive employment and training outcomes has never been more important for the UK labour market and Earlybird is delighted to be a key partner in supporting providers who make this happen.