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Equal Brighton and Hove

The Engage Partnership: Equal Brighton and Hove – Finding working solutions for employment problems

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This case study is part of Place Spotlight, which supports local areas in successful place making by taking each of the each of the eight components of great places and provides criteria for good, great and exemplary performance. Equal Brighton & Hove demonstrates what place making means in practice and provides a good example of performance under the Economy component.

Find out more about Place Spotlight and how it can help you make great places.

Background

Improving the local skills base and matching job seekers with local job opportunities is an important practical challenge for many local areas, especially in the current context of economic instability.

Not everyone takes the same journey into employment, and for disadvantaged people the route to finding work is often unconventional. Brighton and Hove wanted to help individuals find employment, but its success was hampered by a lack of strategic co-ordination between the organisations already offering support.

Partners in Brighton pioneered a new programme to improve services to local job seekers, including people with low skills and little employment history, and services to local business, in a way that tackled the ‘disconnect’ between the organisations creating jobs and the people looking for them.

Equal Brighton and Hove, a citywide European Social Funding scheme, set up the Engage Partnership as a forum for those groups working with disadvantaged people looking for work. The Partnership staged monthly networking meetings between these groups to encourage sharing of best practice and services and also provided a single point of contact for employers. Together, the members were able to increase the number of unemployed and disadvantaged residents gaining work.

The programme is a good example of economic development, and links to a number of the other elements of great places:

  • Governance – developing a new multi-agency Engage Partnership to identify and address common needs and barriers around getting people into work
  • Equity – the partnership worked closely with the range of organisations which worked with vulnerable and excluded households who were furthest from the labour market and needed greatest support
  • Services – improving the quality of services delivered to job seekers and local businesses in tandem

Brighton is a thriving town, but hidden behind this success is an employment conundrum. Despite a wealth of small businesses and work opportunities, unemployment in the area is high. Local businesses actively seeking employees claim that it isn’t easy to find staff or to keep them. The situation pointed to a breakdown in communication between employers and job seekers.

Also, some disadvantaged sections of the community, such as the homeless or those with mental health issues, faced particular barriers to finding employment. Sometimes they lacked the skills required, but in other cases potential employers were unaware of the funding and training initiatives available for employing these groups. Both of these problems were solvable, but for progress to be made they needed to be tackled head on.

The other significant barrier to progress was a lack of co-ordination between the various agencies that were already working hard to find employment for those who need it. Sometimes different groups with the same aims were competing with each other, and chasing the same vacancies or companies for potential employees.

The lack of co-ordination was harmful as companies found that they were being approached repeatedly with similar requests for work placements and employment opportunities from competing agencies. This perceived ‘pestering’ made employers less amenable to working with those representing disadvantaged people.

If the situation was to improve, it was critical that the co-ordination issue was solved. Furthermore, it was recognised that by coming together more often, these groups would benefit from valuable networking opportunities. Each organisation had a wealth of experience which could be beneficial to the others and which otherwise would not be capitalised upon.

These failings added to the disconnect between those trying to find work and those offering it. This was potentially damaging to community cohesion, as Brighton’s wide and varied community was simply not being reflected in the workplace. Something needed to be done.

Project

Equal Brighton and Hove was set up to help adults into training and employment. Its primary goals were to improve the employability of disadvantaged local people and provide a skilled labour pool for employers. With the help of some European Social Funding, it helped to establish The Engage Partnership (the EP).

With funding of around £140,000, the Employment Engagement Co-ordination Project (Engage Employment Solutions Ltd) was formed. Its aim was to work with and co-ordinate the many existing organisations which represented disadvantaged groups or those wanting to get into work.

These organisations were already connecting with businesses to find placements or employment for a wide variety of disadvantaged people. These included:

  • Those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and those unsure of their sexuality or gender identity (LGBTU)
  • The homeless
  • Those with mental health problems
  • Ex-substance mis-users
  • Ex-offenders
  • People with disabilities
  • Those from black, minority ethnic communities (BME)
  • Young people not in education, employment or training (NEET)

The EP wanted to bring all of the agencies that represented these groups together so that they could:

Approach the businesses in Brighton and Hove which could offer their clients work or work placements, in a co-ordinated way. A more professional way of dealing with potential employers would guarantee the best outcomes for everyone. It would also prevent businesses from feeling frustration at multiple and sometimes competing attempts to engage with them.

Network with each other. The EP thought that if they all became aware of what they did they could work together for mutual benefit. They could also adapt themselves to become specialists rather than duplicating each other’s work.

Share their aims and standards. Regular meetings and sharing success would help them establish best practice.

One spokesman from one of the agencies voiced the problem with that last issue very succinctly:

“I guess what particularly sparked it was a specific event that took place with AMEX who had five separate agencies in the lobby on the same day queuing up unaware that each of them were there to see the HR business partner . . . Now with someone like AMEX, they can recover from that, they’ll probably sort of curse us all individually behind our backs afterwards, and take a deep breath and then get on with life, but when that sort of thing happens on a smaller scale with small businesses in particular, the chances are that they’ll then block everybody in future.”

The EP went to great efforts to address the problem. It set up monthly meetings for all the agencies and supported those meetings with an ‘e-forum’. The different groups soon became aware of what they were doing and began to help each other.

In addition, the EP set up training for the groups. It taught them, for example, about the issues around employment law, or how to carry out a detailed risk assessment for both potential employer and employee. It held CV writing workshops and seminars. It circulated information about how to carry out good marketing and PR. It outlined all the health and safety issues around getting disadvantaged people into work.

It also made the case to businesses as to why they should employ people from disadvantaged groups. It made them aware of government funding that would support them. And it highlighted the fact that a business can benefit from reflecting its surrounding community – and that includes those who might have an unconventional route into employment.

Impact

The immediate result of the Engage Partnership’s efforts was a sharp increase in the number of groups joining it. The number leapt from 23 to 40 within a year.

Those who participated in the monthly meetings found that they all received great benefit from the quality contact. It enabled them to build up relationships with other agencies over a period of time, and to build up a clearer picture of the local employment ‘landscape’. The meetings helped them become more efficient and to develop what they did.

As one member said: “It’s a really useful group to share ideas with . . . I had to go out and network by myself before – there was no other group of providers, just more social-work-based groups.”

Another confirmed that the EP helped realise the potential of their individual initiatives and share the knowledge: “Having a better understanding of the ‘landscape’ of other providers, which helps me to understand what’s unique about my project, and also means I have been able to utilise the expertise in other projects to help our understanding of particular issues.”

Just under two-thirds of the groups involved said that the EP had had a positive impact on the work placements that their organisation delivered. Some had found work placements as a direct result of being attached to the EP.

But the main impact was the coherence that the EP provided – which was previously lacking. The EP worked as a single point of contact for employers, which has raised awareness of how participating groups should engage with employers.

The local press was brought on-side, too. The Brighton Argus ran a regular feature of how local businesses were performing in providing placements and helping the disadvantaged into work. The EP supplied the information and was name-checked each time it appeared.

One particular success story stands out and illustrates well what the EP could achieve. Jury’s Inn, a local hotel, teamed up with EP to offer 15 employment positions. The organisation offered training in IT, catering and customer care. Ten of the placements – all of them from disadvantaged backgrounds – went on to secure full-time employment at Jury’s. Claire Mitchell, the EP’s organiser said of the Jury’s success: “This is an excellent example of how the EP works with businesses, getting them the right staff at no cost to their business.”

Lessons Learned

You need the right skills to do the job. The Engage Partnership made use of various skills. Project management was co-ordinated by Claire Mitchell who made sure that those involved got the most out of their involvement. Communication between those participating was vital – but it was also exploited in a wider sense through the local press and other organisations. Breakthrough thinking was employed to find partners for the project.

Evaluation is important. The EP recognised a need to evaluate how the project was doing as it was progressing. Evaluation during, rather than after, the event can be put to good use. As the project approached its mid-point, the EP commissioned an external consultant to ensure the project was maximising its potential within its given timeframe, and also to identify how to develop it further.

A co-ordinated approach benefits everyone involved. It provides the impetus for people to work together and encourages valuable networking. It reduces confusion for people at the receiving end – in this case both the employers and potential employees. It also improves the effectiveness of the people working at the front line.

Don’t ever underestimate how useful networking can be. Good quality contact – and regular sharing of information – can bring about startling results.

Employers like to work with one point of contact. Specific organisations are still needed to help different disadvantaged groups, but multi-approaches to companies can be counter-productive. One co-ordinated point of contact can prove invaluable in achieving the desired outcomes for everyone.

Reference

Claire Mitchell
Employer Engagement Consultant

Engage Employment Solutions Ltd
46 Guildford Street
Brighton
BN1 3LS

P: 07812 177427
Claire.mitchell@engagesolutions.org.uk
www.engagesolutions.org.uk

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