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As we have been reporting since the beginning of the lockdown, the economic impact of the pandemic is being felt very differently across the country. Many weaker economies, places like Blackpool, Hull and Bradford have almost double the share of unemployment claims than the national average. Meanwhile, Crawley, Burnley and Slough have high unemployment matched with high take-up of the furlough scheme. In Derby and Aberdeen jobs affected are predominantly high-skilled roles, while it is the reliance on hospitality and retail that is hitting hard the economies of York and Bournemouth.
These differences matter when thinking about the recovery phase and suggest that solutions must be locally tailored too. For this reason, we spoke with over 20 of our cities to understand how best they have been supporting people during this economic crisis.
This is what we found:
Thanks to their understanding of the local economy and their links with local businesses, city leaders can play a better role in coordinating the Covid-19 response at the local level.
Derby for example is in close conversations with Rolls Royce and other businesses involved in aviation, while Slough is working closely with Heathrow to mitigate the effects of job losses created by the sharp falls in air travel. Both cities are setting up online portals to help people find new job opportunities locally and for businesses to post their vacancies. Mansfield is also working in a similar direction, specifically focusing on opportunities for young people while Exeter set up a job fair for workers made redundant by the closure of Flybe.
These initiatives, together with efforts to provide timely local labour market information to residents can provide quick support for those in need to bounce back into the labour market, protecting people from the scarring effects of long-term unemployment.
Many of the activities aimed at supporting people find a job and develop their skill sets were forced to a halt due to the pandemic. Social distancing meant face-to-face coaching support was no longer viable and that learning activities had to change.
Some cities have tried to overcome these challenges by moving provision online. Basildon for example recreated their one-stop-shop for employment and skills support on an online platform, while Hull has been focusing on how best to support apprentices to continue their learning experience online as plants and colleges were shut.
While these initiatives went some way to tackle the gaps created by the lack of face-to-face interactions, service provision is still facing significant challenges. There is a concern that digital illiteracy means people that would normally qualify for support from one-stop-shops cannot be reached through an online platform, while the very practical nature of some apprenticeships, for example in manufacturing, means online learning is no good substitute for on-the-job experience.
Despite facing different challenges and adopting different solutions, cities all agree that red tape and too many eligibility criteria are the biggest barriers to supporting people to train and find a job.
The number of conditions a candidate must meet to qualify for employment and skills support, as well as the paperwork required to sign up, mean that people miss out on early interventions. This in turn makes it even more challenging for cities to provide adequate support. Yet, given the uncertainty in the current economic landscape, the timing of support is arguably as crucial as its scale and criteria set by central government for specific programmes should be relaxed.
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