Working across the East Midlands I get the opportunity to work within a number of different public sector governing organisations, supporting inward investment. With the emerging trend of marketing towns and cities, everyone wants businesses and people to settle in their area. Great, if you win the business there are meant to be all sorts of benefits, but are they truly helping the local population grow and thrive or is the inequality gap widening further?
Business engagement is difficult. Understanding the area’s strengths and the support businesses need is paramount to achieving this. So what does successfull business engagement look like in reality? Many Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) have localised, business support units. Short term unemployment has dropped in many areas and with growth funding from Europe, infrastructure development is also progressing. But long-term unemployment, much to everyone’s frustration doesn’t seem to be budging.
Local Authorities are trying, where possible, to encourage inward investment through business engagement, to create local job opportunities. They are doing this through the creation and application of employment and skills plans. They focus primarily on entry-level jobs and training opportunities such as traineeships and apprenticeships. We are yet to see the benefits of these new initiatives. Whilst this is a great idea, it currently only applies to building and construction projects. When businesses look to open new offices or storeson existing premises, Local Authorities don’t set any conditions such as targetting recruitment on long-term unemployed people.
A lot of businesses now are also using zero hours contracts to create flexibility in their workforce. Allowing businesses to call on staff as and when there is a need, creating fluidity to business demand. On the flip side this creates uncertainty and stress for workers as they have no steady stream of income. Consequently individuals get in to debt or stagnate spending, neither of which is good for the local economy. Whilst universal credit is taking steps to support workers holding this type of contract, we are yet to see the full impact.
Many of individuals claiming financial support are categorised by the government depending on the reason they require the support. A number of support programmes have been commissioned to support those seeking support in to or closer to the job market. However as the institutions delivering the support have little involvement with private sector employers it is questionable whether the support they are receiving is doing what is intended. For employers it is irrelevant why people are receiving financial support, they just want to ensure that the people they employ can do the job. Many large employers have their own systems in place to identify and support future employees. These include apprenticeships and graduate programmes. However these organisations only account for 2% of the total UK business population.
So it seems there is a need to encourage local business to employ local people, discourage or even abolish zero hours contracts and plug the communication gap. The question is how do we do this? Enable holds the contract for Northamptonshire Talent Match. This programme offers one to one support for young people aged 18-24. The support is bespoke to the individual and targets are flexible. The idea being people are put first, at the centre of the support provided. Enable’s employer engagement officer has a constant and effective dialouge with employers.
Talent Match is a hugely effective project that has changed many young people’s lives. Whilst it may not be practical to roll out on a national scale, under the same premise as the Talent Match programme, intensive support to particular towns and cities with high long term unemployment levels may not be such a huge challenge.
Whilst I am aware it may be a time intensive and costly project to roll out nationally, in the long-term it has the potential to become cost effective and overall reduce long-term unemployment significantly. Isn’t it time to break the cycle, include employers and learn from our mistakes?