Today’s skills policy landscape is confusing, with many different organisations introducing overlapping initiatives that are often ended abruptly. There is also a lack of local flexibility, long-term funding and robust evaluation, meaning there is little evidence on what types of initiatives are the most effective.
Given that low skills tend to be concentrated in areas with high levels of social housing, housing associations work closely with a key target group of skills and employment policy. As such their work can give an insight into how policies impact on this group. Experience from housing associations tells us that when designing polices to improve skills and reduce unemployment three themes are key:
1. Generating demand for jobs
Demand is crucial. Housing associations are major employers in their own right, spending millions on contracted services and suppliers. This provides opportunities to offer a variety of ‘real’ jobs and work experience in-house or within their supply chain, something which could be replicated in public sector organisations.
2. Flexibility and local tailoring
Local flexibility, coupled with a clear understanding of the local employment market, helps to identify and target pockets of low skills levels and high unemployment. For housing associations, their knowledge of the area they work means they have first-hand information of the main barriers locals face in finding work. They have used this information to design skills programmes to overcome these specific barriers. Their local positioning means housing associations are also well placed to develop relationships and partnerships with other organisations across both the public and private sector, including LAs, LEPs, Jobcentre Plus and employers, leading to the identification and creation of employment and training opportunities outside of their own organisation.
Long-term relationships are needed to successfully support those furthest from the labour market into work. Housing associations have a unique relationship with their residents in that they are trusted by tenants and are able to take a long-term approach to moving them into work. This allows them to develop long-term plans to help those furthest from the labour market take steps to move closer to, and eventually into, work. It also has the additional benefit of placing housing associations in a strong position to observe the long-term impacts interventions have on individuals.
3. Use of data and evaluation
Relaxed rules on data sharing among organisations would reduce duplication and make for a more coherent service. Given the current lack of data sharing individuals seeking skills and employment advice have to go over the same questions with each different organisation they visit. This is not only repetitive for the individual but a waste of limited resources. Data sharing would produce a more efficient service, with all parties in a position to help aware of an individual’s circumstances and the support being provided by other organisations.
Evaluation is a key part of policy design and local organisations need to invest in robust assessments to understand what works in their city and why. In order to improve programmes, robust evaluations that access the long-term impacts on individuals are needed. This involves looking beyond the number moved into employment or training to determine if there were future spells of unemployment, if the individual completed their training and whether they were able to hold down a job long-term.
The experiences of housing associations in these three areas should be used to better design skills and employment policies in the future