Scottish Government – Work Experience Programme with the Social Justice Strategy Unit

Hopes, fears and impressions

I love the idea of coming into Glasgow city centre to work, as it is very interesting compared to school which is often rather boring and repetitive.  The office was light, bright and open plan which isn’t what I was expecting it to be like as it is very modern.  Everyone in the office has been very welcoming and willing to help or answer any questions or queries that I had.  Most of my friends were working in shops and schools and didn’t know what they were going to do whilst on their work experience placement.  As I was told in advance what my work timetable for the week would be I was less stressed about going to my work experience placement.

Through my work experience I hope to gain an understanding of how the Scottish Government works.  I think the initial plan for the week is good as it is a varied workload and it will give me a varied insight into the working life of a civil servant.  The part of my schedule that I am most looking forward to is Thursday as I am traveling to parliament to watch First Ministers Questions (FMQ).  I am looking forward to this as I love watching political debates and speeches as they are engaging and sometimes rather amusing.  My favourite part of my first day was talking to Karen about what the Scottish Government does and how the interact with government ministers.

Tuesday working and beginning to settle

On Tuesday I did some research for Karen and went to seminar on ‘family friendly working’ which aimed to give workers more flexible hours of work allowing them to spend more time with their family.  In the seminar there were employers from many businesses who were interested in family friendly working schemes.  The seminar wasn’t the most interesting however, it highlighted a key issue in society which is the work life balance.  The aim of the seminar was to show employers how they could improve employees work life.  After the seminar I continued some research for a ministers briefing which Karen had asked me to do, which isn’t the easiest thing to do as all the information sources contradict each other.  After this I attended their team meeting where they discussed what the aims for the months and weeks ahead were and how they were going to achieve them, although half of the graphs and tables representing information about poverty in Scotland were rather confusing.

Once the meeting had finished I went to meet the Rent Services department and they told me about all the different work that they under take on a daily basis. Rent Services deal with issues such as private rental accommodation by dealing with rogue landlords and survey properties and give them a rental  estimate of how much a property should rent for based on the number of bedrooms and living rooms; the aim of this is to avoid people being overcharged for a property.  I learned that they also have the power to stop a landlord from renting out a property if it is not fit for human inhabitancy and therefore they will condemn the property meaning that it cannot be rented out until the owner completes the necessary repairs.  Over all I feel that Tuesday has be a more relaxed day and I feel that I have begun to settle in a bit more  as I have been introduced to more people in the office and I am more aware of the work that I will have to do whilst my work placement.

Wednesday hump day with a lot of speed bumps

On Wednesday morning I helped Karen and Andrew with their Fairer Scotland presentation that they had created for pupils form John Paul Academy to answer questions that they had asked as part of their assignment.  When they ran through the presentation there were a couple of things that needed further explanation, but overall the presentation was gauged at a correct level of language and wasn’t too technical.

Afterwards I spoke to Matthew about Modern Apprenticeships (MA) with the Scottish government.  He told me about how he himself was granted a MA placement, and what he is required to do as part of that placement.  I then asked him if you had to have any exam passes to which the answer was no; this was good news as I was asking on behalf of my little brother who has dyscalculia (dyslexia with numbers),  as he would possibly be interested in this sort of job when he is older as he finds it very hard at school and wouldn’t be able to go to university.  After lunch Karen helped me create a CV so that if I look for a part time job then I would have a CV that would stand out from the rest.

After this I met with Donna who is a member of the Regeneration Unit.  I learned that the Regeneration Unit is very important and plays a vital role in eradicating poverty and in Scotland by helping communities take control of local buildings and working with them to help people from deprived backgrounds in their community.  I learned about all the work that is being undertaken to help deprived areas and communities and the different types of funding and government grants that are available to people to help their communities flourish.  I also learned about the role that the regeneration team played in the re-gentrification of the East End of Glasgow during the Commonwealth Games and some of the work that is still going on as part of the Commonwealth Legacy.

For the rest of the afternoon I sat with Andrew and Karen whilst they delivered their presentation on the Fairer Scotland project, to the pupils of John Paul Academy and they answered any questions which the pupils had about the government’s strategy to tackling child poverty.  Overall I feel that Wednesday was a rather good day as I didn’t have to do much work compared to Tuesday.

Thursday – non-stop learning


On Thursday morning Shona took me on a very early train to Edinburgh to meet the ‘climate change’ team at the government’s Victoria Quay office.  Whilst I was there I met Gavin who is a member the Scottish Governments climate change unit.  He told me about all the important work that Scotland is undertaking in order to lower its emissions in the effort to become a carbon neutral economy.  During our meeting I learned about ways in which First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon and her government will do in order to tackle climate change and stop the threat global warming poses.  He was very interested in the ways in which my school sources its water and heating as he didn’t know of schools which were doing these things in order to have a lower carbon footprint.  I also learned about the new offshore wind farms that are planned to be instated off the coast of Scotland and the technology and design of the turbines which will allow the government  to undertake this ambitious project.

After this we travelled to the Scottish Parliament to watch FMQ which was very interesting as I got to see all the politicians and watch them quiz the first minister who tried to dodge questions. My one complaint about the experience would be that the seats were wooden and didn’t have any padding which was rather uncomfortable.  After FMQ we walked to Saint Andrews house to meet the elections team, although I think Shona almost died as her short cut her phone told her about involved a massive hill.  When we eventually reached Saint Andrews house I met Rebecca who is a member of the elections team in the Scottish Government.  When we went in she told me about all the work that the elections team does and how they prepare for elections or referenda.  She told me about the role that her team is playing in the upcoming  council elections and their new electronic system which they have developed to count the votes and the breaking point of the system which is 200,000 votes; but it isn’t expected that it will be required to count that number of votes as council elections usually have a low turnout rate.  Overall I think that Thursday was by far the most exciting and interesting days I loved visiting the parliament and watching FMQ.

Finally Friday

On Friday I have finished at least half of my CV and looked over my week in the Scottish Government.  I will have completed this blog  and my school work experience booklet by the end of today.  After finishing some more of my CV I had a meeting with the employability for young people division. When I met Paul he started by telling me about what the employability for young people unit does.  I learned that his department deal with schemes such as the modern and foundation apprenticeships, he also told me about Skills Development Scotland and the careers advisers that work for them.  He also told me about the stigmas attached to apprenticeships and how they are tackling these.  I also learned that the number of school aged pupils staying on till 5th & 6th year is increasing which is a positive thing as it means that more people are going on to university and college therefore going on to get better jobs when they are older.

Looking back and looking forward

Throughout my week in the Scottish Government I have learned a lot about the structure of government and the work that goes on behind the scenes to help the government function.  By far the best part of my week was going to FMQ as I love watching debates and political question time.  I will be sad to leave the government as it has been so much fun and I have learned a lot and I would highly recommend it for other people looking to do work experience in politics and current affairs.

Work Experience in the Scottish Government

A Work Experience Student from James Hamilton Academy, Kilmarnock writes about ‘life as a Civil Servant’ for a week.

Why politics at 14?

At the age of 14, the Scottish Independence Referendum had a major impact on my outlook on life and my goals. As a strong Yes supporter without a vote I was extremely heartbroken when the results came through and Clackmannanshire set the tone for the night. After the vote, I didn’t give up, I became an activist. Over the last two years I have been extremely interested in politics and have been encouraged to do something about the huge unfairness on the working class of Scotland. I have been trying to improve my political knowledge and experience in any way possible. When I found out about the Fairer Scotland event in Kilmarnock, I knew I just had to go.

I was majorly impressed to hear that Government were going out and about into communities to let them have their say on a Fairer Scotland. When have the government previously journeyed to Kilmarnock to actually listen to the views of the people? I went along with a few friends from Yes East Ayrshire and was really amazed at the set up! I had the image of a formal meeting, suits, rows of seats and hushed silences not tables with sticky notes and pens, people in jeans and t-shirts and to actually have a discussion led by the people who were in the room not someone talking to us.

How did I end up in 5 Atlantic Quay for a week?

Being the youngest person at the event at 15, I felt this gave me an ideal opportunity to give my personal input on issues surrounding the youth and how the Scottish Government could help with this. After giving my views around the table and after some debating with my fellow participators Karen – an amazingly kind, hardworking member of the Social Justice team – mentioned the opportunity to do work experience in the Scottish Government if that would be of interest to me? Obviously I was delighted! I was hugely interested in the work of the Government and thought this would be a great opportunity to really find out.

I arranged my work experience with the school and was shocked at how bad the WorkIt system was for pupils. WorkIt is a ‘web application which provides pupils, school and local authority coordinators and Health and Safety officers with a single point of contact as they plan, prepare and take part in work placements. It ensures that everyone is kept informed and can track their involvement in the work placement programme.’.

It definitely doesn’t do what it says on the tin…….. It has hardly any work experience that related to pupils preferences and also their preferred future aims in relation to jobs. I was one of the extremely lucky pupils who got something which could be useful to them in the future. Most were stuck in Kilmarnock doing jobs such as cleaning a gym and being a barista for a week when they wanted to be a mortician or a graphic designer! I’m also very lucky as I have been able to travel to Glasgow to do this. I was the only pupil allowed to leave the Kilmarnock area! I was lucky I got out without being tagged.

The anticipation, visions and surprises

On the build-up to my first day I had formed a vision in my head of the building being immensely bland, and for the staff to be super formal, smart and very ‘yes minister’ type. Well, what I surprise I got, huge glass tower, funky décor, modern, spacious, good IT equipment and decent grub. And the civil servants of Atlantic Quay wore pink glittery lanywards, jeans, trainers, t-shirts, some suits, dresses, colourful  and even mosher style. All smart but casual and smiling, didn’t think that would happen! Everyone I met was so friendly and happy to talk to you! I was worried that they would look down on me as a working class girl from Ayrshire but it was the complete opposite. I was so lucky to be met with such an amazing team in the Social Justice and Regeneration Division. It was made up by some of the best people you could meet. They were all so welcoming and I felt part of the team straight away.

There was one thing though…

Despite the positives, there were a few things I noticed that I feel needs to be addressed. The lack of ethnic minorities within the government I feel is concerning, it’s an issue in politics in general but also in Scotland and the UK in general. Much more needs to be done to get those who wouldn’t normally be interested in politics or those who are deterred involved. Another thing I noticed was  the lack of those with disabilities within the government. I understand that people from within Government are trying to change these issues and I welcome this and give full support. I felt comfortable enough to feed this back this back to the division who seem to have taken it on board.

Day 1 – Antics and excitement

I was introduced to the House Team and was given a tour around the windowed roasting glass tower. I was happy to hear of the partnership between John Paul Academy, in Summerston, and the Scottish Government. We need more youth involvement in both politics and Government. My favourite part of the day and week was that I met with policy officials from zero hours contracts. I grasped this opportunity with both hands to engage in a debate and give my side of the argument. It was truly a memorable debate and feel that my points were listened to but understood the challenges that Scottish Government face and how difficult it is for them to change things for the better.

Day 2 – Unique Opportunities

On Tuesday my schedule was changed last minute to include a meeting with Jeane Freeman, the new Minister for Social Security. Believe it or not, not many civil servants actually meet the Ministers that they serve let alone having them come in and personally meet their team.

After my introduction to Minister I spoke to the Social Justice Delivery team who focus on food poverty and informed about the government’s plans and actions to help those in need. I was surprised to hear of the work Centrestage does within my area in Ayrshire. I had no idea of the work that went on literally up my street.

Despite not being able to meet those who focus on the Named Persons Act I had the opportunity to email them with questions as this is an area I’m interested in and sceptical on. I was glad that the team I was working with were doing all they could to give me as much experience as possible.

Day 3 – A trip to the Capital

Off to Edinburgh to meet the Elections Team and visit the Young Scot. When Shona – an energetic, spectacular team member with hope and real life experience – and I got to St Andrew’s House we spoke with the Team Leader of the elections team who Shona used to work with. She informed me about the work they do but also that the day was unique due to the issue of the registration to vote in the EU referendum had crashed and they had to prepare for the possibility of it coming up in First Ministers Questions. The whole building was buzzing and a bit more stressed than usual.  It really was a unique experience for anyone in Government but as an ‘outsider’ it was fascinating.

Next stop was to find out about the work of Young Scot as I had no idea of all the work they done.  Most young people my age just know about the card and the discounts available but I don’t feel that they truly showcase the other amazing work that they do. They do a lot of great stuff such as day schools and giving young people the opportunity to work in teams to create new innovative ideas.

Day 4 – My 15 minutes of fame

On day one and within an hour of starting they asked if I would be willing to deliver a presentation on my working week. It was to be delivered at a Divisional meeting and I had the scope to deliver it however was most comfortable for me. I chose just to talk and had a PowerPoint to speak to – the latter designed by Andrew, a diligent worker who was an incredible pleasure to be a fellow team member with. It went down a treat and I was thankfully for all the amazing and positive feedback. It was great to get this experience as I quite enjoy public speaking but being able to present to a division in the government is a very original experience for anyone let alone a 15 year old girl from Ayrshire.

After my 15 minutes of fame I found out more on the Modern Apprenticeships and Graduate Interns in the Scottish Government and thought this was a good opportunity for youth to get involved in areas like the government if they felt school wasn’t for them.

Day 5 – The end of this journey but the start of another

Friday was sadly my last day. I was truly disappointed that I had to leave such an amazing environment and team but was so thankful for the opportunity to actually get into the Government  and witness first-hand the hard work of the civil servants and how all the cogs work behind the scenes.

I feel that too much thanks and praise is placed on MSPs and ministers. In reality it is the civil servants that are the real cement in the government and keeping things together. Overall I have enjoyed my time at the Scottish Government so much and I am so glad I had the amazing chance to experience the ‘life of a civil servant’.

I am looking forward to the next part of my political journey whether it be in the Civil Service or challenging them. We shall see what doors and opportunities open for me as I start chapping away and having my voice heard.


To find out more please see the following links

The safety net or the spider’s web?

Hello Fairer Scotland! My name is Dane Thomson and I’m delighted to have been asked to write a guest blog for you today. My blog is going to be a no holds barred account of my short term experience of life on ‘benefits’.

First – the back story. I’ve worked hard since I was 14. I’m from Fife originally but moved through to Musselburgh to study at university. Despite a tough couple of years emotionally, I stuck in and succeeded in getting my 2:1 degree.

Fast forward to today. I’m now nearly 27. After securing a couple of very rewarding internships and making some great contacts, I’ve found myself unemployed.

Unfortunately, this is the case for so many other graduates.

So why am I writing and what do I have to say?
I’m going to be honest, before recently attending the Support in Mind Scotland Members’ meeting on the 30th October, I’d never really reflected on a Fairer Scotland.

Of course, I’ve always believed in treating people kindly (no less than the manner I’d like to be treated) and I’ve always gone about my daily business with that in mind. I have made an active point of being there for my loved ones.

However, having been unemployed for the first time in my teen/adult life this year, and having to make the pride shattering move to signing on at the job centre, it has really highlighted to me – first hand – how unfair the ‘system’ really is. For us all.

We need to travel beyond rhetoric:

“aye, this is terrible so it is” / *shakes head*

I see this on a daily basis on Twitter, mainly from political parties.

When it comes to ‘benefits’, we need to turn this all around and work hard to create the Fairer Scotland we all require. In any case – ‘benefits’?? Shouldn’t that be ‘social security’?

I don’t see any benefits to ‘benefits’. I’m skint, and I’m struggling.

Now, before I move any further – yes – I’m eternally grateful that there is a ‘system’ there which acts as a safety net for those in need.

But is this really a safety net designed to help you?

Graduation picture of Dane Thomson
In my experience the ‘benefits‘ system isn’t a safety net – it’s more akin to a spider’s web, which traps and binds you.
I’m going to call it out, and say that in my experience, it’s more akin to a spider’s web, which traps and binds you.

I have felt its hard grip around my neck on a number of occasions, in trying to better myself, in working hard to get myself out the financial mess I’m in just now.

Why a spider’s web?
I’m not trying to be overly negative. This is real life. Consider this:

1/ I’ve been driving myself hard to find a job. I approached the job centre for help. I badly needed shoes to go to an interview, as my own were in bits and over-worn. It was a graduate job interview and I wanted to make the best impression.

So, I went into the job centre so excited and proud of myself for securing the interview, only to be met with a very rude, snippy clerk who remarked patronisingly “and does this job have any prospects”. She then walked off, started talking about me to her colleague, before dismissively spitting “see the welfare fund”.

I stood, stunned, trying to reiterate that the head of marketing had called me personally for the interview – and that I was in need.

I came out in floods of tears, crushed if I’m being honest. My upset only increased when offers came flooding in from my friends to buy me shoes. Their kindness touched me, but embarrassed me, as I don’t like having to rely on anyone else.

2/ Another example. My payment was delayed for five days due to paper work processing etc. Five days. When you’re signing on, this is a life time. Detrimental effects? Try struggling to eat for 5 days!

During this delay, I was then signposted to the saviour that is the ‘welfare fund’. Only, they turned me away because I had £3.09 in my bank account – instead of 0.00!

How far would £3.09 have got me? Not very far!

The examples above highlight some of the steps I’d taken to get myself out of my current unemployed situation – securing an interview and scrutinising all forms of help available.

Only to be crushed and humiliated by an unpleasant clerk who treated me – by way of default – like a ‘sponger’.

I’ve paid tax and NI all my adult working life – surely £12.99 for a new pair of shoes for an interview was hardly a huge ask? It took all my courage to ask for this help. Soul destroying stuff.

Just to be clear, I’m not just sitting back and making comments about the ‘system’ whilst doing nothing to better myself.

I spend hours searching and applying for jobs, with each application tailored. I pluck up the courage and sign up for networking events with people I don’t know in a bid to get myself out there. I’ve made my job hunt public through creating my own employment campaign Employ Daney – opening myself up to criticism.

Employ Daney was all organic. The idea came from me. The hours of promotional content comes from me.

So, when I consider available support in order to find myself a job in the ‘grad’ real world, this does not come from the job centre.

It comes from a don’t give up attitude – and the support of my loved ones, who remind me every-day why I should never give up.

What three positives can I take from this experience?

  • I have learned to budget better than I’ve ever done before. You have to! There’s no choice! But I can say that I’ve learned a good couple of tricks to save money
  • By keeping my loved ones close at times like this, I’ve managed get by – even if it’s just a friend treating me to lunch. I honestly don’t know where I’d have been without my family and friends, and I’m eternally grateful to them
  • Whilst I’ve always had healthy respect for job seekers, I now have new found empathy and respect. I have been there. I have walked in their busted shoes.
    What does a Fairer Scotland look like to me?

  • People are helped in their time of need, instead of facing ridicule
  • People are listened to, really listened to – without pre-judgements. We should never assume anything
  • Our Government takes action on their promises to empower the poorer residents of our nation. It’s the same story, the rich are getting richer, and the poorer are getting poorer.

Thank you for taking the time to read my post on the Fairer Scotland blog. I feel very privileged to have been asked to take part.

Other websites
Website, Support in Mind Scotland
Support in Mind Scotland seek to support and empower all those affected by mental illness, including family members, carers and supporters

Website, Employ Daney

Website, Dane Thomson’s blog

Employability – Dawn’s story…


Having read some of the posts on the Fairer Scotland blog – particularly those focusing on employability – it made me think about my own journey.

I just wanted to share my story and some of my concerns about the employability discussion.

I stopped work in the hospitality trade in 2000 after having a bad episode of depression due to working long hours, and in a stressful environment. I was put onto medication, and seen by a psychiatrist, but had very little other support.

I lost my private rented accommodation due to loss of income. Moving over onto benefit was not a smooth transition, and added to the burden of being unwell, it was a very dark period of my life.

I was lucky enough to get a council flat after being made homeless. It was in an area of the social inclusion partnership in Aberdeen. I was unable to get a job – the address and my illness both counted against me. So I started volunteering… people were open to me volunteering, though reluctant to pay for it.

I volunteered at my local community project, and that led on to volunteering within the social inclusion partnership, which I ended up chairing – while also sitting on many other boards in Aberdeen and beyond.

Still, no one was willing to take the risk with my depression and actually employ me. Nevertheless, volunteering gave me purpose and structure.

Ten years later
Roll on some ten years, by this time I have my son, though the ongoing battle with depression continues.

My marriage breaks down due to the illness.

I’m now a single parent on benefits – and again stuck in an expensive private rental flat, but able to access housing benefit. In 2011, things got so desperate that I decided to take my own life.

I spent over 3 months in a psychiatric hospital – away from my son – being picked up, supported and put back together.

Between early 2012, following my release from hospital, I accessed many social care and health services – psychiatry, psychology, and social work support.

We ended up being made homeless from an expensive, below standard private rent. This led to a spell in homeless accommodation, and then we were lucky enough to be allocated social housing.

A dream job
Through this time, I started doing a little volunteering again… but with a much more positive outcome.

In 2013, I was moved from incapacity benefit onto Employment and Support Allowance [ESA], and was assessed as being well enough to work. This meant I was switched to income support as a single parent and jobseekers allowance.

I was told that would only last until my son was five – even though he was not in school at that time. In January 2014, my son turned five, and I started applying for jobs as per my jobseekers contract.

I sent out loads of applications, and many were overlooked – even applying for jobs like school dinner ladies, shop work and cleaning roles. In February 2014, I applied for what I saw as my dream job – a development worker… but thought I had no chance… no formal qualification, and big gaps in my work history.

Despite all of this, I was invited to interview, and then to my utter amazement, was offered the job!

Valued experience
On April 1st, 2014, I was lucky enough to start work my development worker role in a rural partnership – they saw the value of years of volunteering experience, and the skills I had built up over the years.

I was very fortunate that the board were able to look beyond the 14-year employment gap in my CV, and see the volunteering as valuable (after many applications had been overlooked).

I now get to support other charities, community groups and social enterprises to be active, vibrant and connected. We are also partners in community planning.

A question of support
What supports people to be employed? A belief that any ill health is not the end of usefulness. People can and do recover, or can be supported to work round their illness.

People need to be made aware of the help on offer to get them back into work. I did not know about any access to work packages, nor help with interview clothes, or assistance to buy clothing for work that can be offered.

Further challenges
The upcoming changes to the tax credit regime is a huge worry. As a working single parent (I work 18-hours a week) the changes are very stressful.

I am lucky not to be on minimum wage – but childcare accounts for a large proportion of our income, and we are no longer eligible for any housing cost assistance.

It is tough going to manage our budget. Aberdeenshire is a hugely expensive area to live in.

I rely on childcare to allow me to work. My job is not a standard 9-5 and includes evening work.

Sadly there is no affordable evening registered childcare, so I cannot claim for that against my tax credits (and looking at the changes coming to employment support and jobseekers, this is a huge worry for the future as many people may be pushed into anti-social hours [and outside core hours] working to meet their requirements.

What does ‘fairer’ mean?
For me, the Fairer Scotland debate needs to take into account all the other people like me, who are in jobs that do not fitstandard childcare provision times, but who want to work.

It also needs to address the tax credit changes coming up as my fear is the cuts there will push many families into poverty – or, even worse – force some people out of jobs entirely, as they can no longer afford the childcare.

I also believe that employability support services need to be very aware that it’s not just about a tick box – about just pushing people through.

We support many employability and community projects – and were quite sad, following a recent local authority update, to see timescales in their service contract for employability.

For some people – a job is not a practical outcome, but centres on having a secure and happy purpose.

Supported projects can do this, but often not within short timescales, on very low budgets.

Scotland can lead the way…
There are some amazing examples of great employability projects locally – doing great work, and supporting people to achieve the very best they can – which may not be paid employment.

I’m really enthused to see the conversations happening, and it’s wonderful to think that – once again – Scotland can lead the way in social justice and the inequalities battle.

With kind regards.

Time to make a difference

Maura Lynch (Depute Chief Executive, The Scottish Consortium for Learning Disability).

As we arrange the local events on the “Creating Fairer Scotland” consultation for people with a learning disability, there is a sense that we could really make a difference here.

One of the strategic outcomes of Scotland’s ten year learning disability strategy, The keys to life, is a commitment to active citizenship; taking part in all aspects of community and society.

Employment is one of the key delivery priorities for 2015-17.

Getting a job is not something that you fit in randomly on a Wednesday afternoon. It’s about being the same as everyone else.

Big changes have been made in schools, motivating our young people with additional needs to want more from life.

Part of that ask is about getting a job.

Making employment a priority
The real key will be to make employment for people with a disability a priority for all employability services, not just the “specialist support providers

We have much to learn from our colleagues promoting personalisation, recognising that an individual solution will get a better long term outcome.

It’s been really interesting to hear people talk about addressing the needs of those furthest away from the labour market, rather than those who require the least help and may well have got a job anyway.

It’s not the fault of the providers that they creamed off the most able when they are paid by results. The reality is that helping people with the greatest need into work will take more time and cost more money – but we have to agree that this investment is worth it.

For those of us who have worked in employability for a number of years, to see duplication of funding and employer incentives to companies [that quite frankly don’t need the money] is disheartening.

Getting people into work is about:

  • matching the right person to the right job
  • giving the person the skills to do the job
  • supporting the person to get the job and keep it.

In other words, giving them a future.

Getting a job doesn’t take away a disability. Support on the job when needed is vital whether it’s a change in role, location or responsibilities.

We know how to do this but we need to make sure we invest in it.

A chance to make a difference
Despite the tabloid caricatures, being unemployed means poverty, potential ill health and reduced life expectancy. We could have, at last, an opportunity to make a real difference in Scotland.

Let’s take this opportunity to invest our employability funds in Scotland in a way that all our citizens have their chance to get a job.

The size of this task is enormous, we need to send the message out that there are lots of organisations in Scotland that can support the Scottish Government to make the changes we need.

This is not a moment for simply maintaining the status quo.

Let’s use the opportunity to turn the rhetoric of inclusion into a reality.

We must take the time to do this properly, using the considerable knowledge and experience that we already have in Scotland – towards a Fairer Scotland.

Other websites
Website, The Scottish Consortium for Learning Disability
At The Scottish Consortium for Learning Disability [SCLD] we are ambitious for change. Our vision is for a Scotland where people who have learning disabilities are included and respected as equal citizens.

Website, The Keys to Life
The keys to life’ is Scotland’s learning disability strategy. Launched in 2013, it builds on the success of ‘The same as you?’, the previous strategy which was published in 2000 following a review of services for people with learning disabilities.

Website, Delivering The Keys to Life strategy
The Scottish Government has developed an implementation framework for The keys to life. The framework has four strategic outcomes which relate to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities.

Reflections – employability support

Kate Still (Director for Rathbone Training and In-training for Devolved Nations).

The consultation document on employability support is out, and causing quite a stir.

There are, obviously, many opinions on what does and doesn’t work – and what could work better.

I’d like to share some of my own opinions. These are not necessarily fully formed but contribute to the Fairer Scotland debate, and the Scotland we all want to see.

Towards a Fairer Scotland
Government intentions focus on creating a fairer, more prosperous Scotland by enabling everyone to make the most of their skills and develop their potential for a successful future.

I don’t believe in service segregation, but positive action and additional investment is needed. This would incentivise employers to offer more work experience placements for those that face the biggest equality challenges.

I am excited by the prospect of designing and developing something better than we’ve got as ‘making a difference‘ and tackling inequality has been a personal driver of my career within the skills and employability sector over many years.

However, to improve the current system further I believe a shift to a more person-centred system is required, for several reasons. We need to:

Focus on meeting the needs of people using the service
How easy will it be for someone to access services and to get personalised support based on individual needs and circumstances?

I believe that we should ditch the focus on bureaucratic eligibility rules and complex service segregation and make it simpler for people to access support on a voluntary basis based on when and how they want to engage – people focused, not programme focused.

There is a danger that we commission and implement what’s easiest to do in the timescales, thereby missing the opportunity to deliver better outcomes.

Integrate skills training and employment support
Many individuals seeking work require both skills development and employability support. Offering access to core skills and vocational skills both pre and post- employment is critical.

It’s not just about supporting people into work, but helping them with career progression away from low wage and insecure employment.

This will go some way to supporting the goal of a fairer employment market.

Invest most in those with greatest need and enable customer choice
Employment statistics continue to show a lack of real progress in equality of employment for people with:

  • mental health issues
  • learning disabilities
  • disabled issues
  • chronic health conditions.

Likewise, there are equality concerns with groups like:

  • young people
  • lone parents
  • offenders
  • young carers
  • young people leaving care
  • black and minority ethnic [BME] groups.

I don’t believe in service segregation, but positive action and additional investment is needed. This would incentivise employers to offer more work experience placements for those that face the biggest equality challenges.

In addition, personalised top-up budgets would enable individuals to purchase self-directed support from the provider of their choice, to assist with a sustainable working life.

Focus on positive attributes and assets of individuals rather than talk of barriers
The use of negative language to describe service users has become ingrained in the skills and employment sectors. This is primarily because it has often been a way of convincing funders to invest – we need to ditch this negative talk, as it stereotypes individuals and damages perceptions of self-worth and aspiration.

More information
Website, Scottish Government, Formal consultation – Creating a Fairer Scotland: Employability Support
From 1 April 2017, Scotland will have the power to design and deliver its own employability services for disabled people and those at risk of long-term unemployment. This paper seeks the views of those with an interest in employability services in Scotland, and everyone who has an interest in building our Fairer Scotland.

Website, Scottish Government, leaflet – Creating a Fairer Scotland: Helping you find your job
We recognise that the language used and questions posed in the formal consultation are technical in nature and tailored to those currently delivering and funding employability services. We are therefore seeking to stimulate a wider public discussion, engaging those with experience of employability services. This leaflet goes some way to help support that discussion.

Website, Survey Monkey online survey – Creating a fairer Scotland: Employability support
We recognise that the language used and questions posed in the formal consultation are technical in nature and tailored to those currently delivering and funding employability services. This survey aims to support that wider public discussion, and is open until 9 October 2015. Please let us know your views on how best the Scottish Government can support people into fair and sustainable employment.

Reaching for the Holy Grail

Holy Grail carving
We know that one of the main barriers to employment is, in itself, having been long term unemployed.
Kirsty McHugh (Chief Executive, Employment Related Services Association).

Question, what is the Holy Grail of employment support in Scotland?

Answer, there isn’t just one. However, early action with jobseekers who are most likely to become long term unemployed must be high amongst them.

Sounds simple doesn’t it? The benefits are obvious.

First, we know that one of the main barriers to employment is, in itself, having been long term unemployed. Indeed, one study has shown that once a jobseeker has passed the six month unemployed mark, they’re around 80% less likely to find work.

Why? Well, long term unemployment hurts jobseeker morale, whilst long gaps on CVs inevitably increase questions in potential employers’ minds.

Earlier action would also bring benefits to the wider public in Scotland.

Many service providers tell me that a big part of their job is helping the jobseeker believe in their ability to find and sustain work. But how do we assess that state of mind with any certainty?

First, the financial costs of long term unemployment are huge. Not only are we talking benefit costs and lost tax take, but we also know that there is a correlation between long term unemployment and use of public services, particularly health. And that’s beforewe consider the cost, financial or otherwise, to individuals, families and communities.

Who needs support?
It would therefore make sense for employment support in Scotland to intervene earlier.

However, the question then arises as to how we identify those jobseekers who need that support – after all 90% of jobseekers find work under their own steam and money is thin on the ground.

Many Scottish providers operate sophisticated systems of assessment, correlating a range of factors, including:

  • educational and skills levels
  • length of time unemployed
  • reported health conditions.

Put together, this can build a good profile of needs and provide an indication of the support people require.

Careful consideration required
However, it can miss things. For example, consider mental ill health, which can be a huge issue in preventing people working. Often, this isn’t disclosed or even self-acknowledged early on in the journey.

It can take long term relationships and trust with an adviser for a truer picture to be achieved.

Even, if there isn’t a specific mental health condition, we know that mental attitude and emotional health are hugely important factors in the journey into work.

Many service providers tell me that a big part of their job is helping the jobseeker believe in their ability to find and sustain work. But how do we assess that state of mind with any certainty?

Well, there are some interesting models out there.

One I came across recently as part of an international Behavioural Insights (think ‘Nudge Unit’) conference. Developed in Australia by Esher House, this drew on data from other research, including psychological studies related to smoking cessation in the States.

An assessment model was then developed based on ascertaining state of mind which was tested in partnership with the Australian government.

Crucially this wasn’t about making any value judgements about jobseekers’ mental state, but about better appreciating where emotionally they were at and marrying that with support that matched their state of mind.

It’s interesting stuff. It’s probably not quite the magic bullet, but – in a Fairer Scotland – it’s important that we build on this sort of learning.

Other information
Website, Employment Related Services Association
The Employment Related Services Association (ERSA) is the representative body for the employment support sector. Established in 2005, it exists to help its members achieve their shared goal: to help people gain sustainable employment and to progress in work.