Transforming Lives: Helping People Move Towards and Into Work
In the UK, we are currently witnessing the highest levels of employment since records began in 1971. Last year (2018), the employment rate of individuals aged 16 to 64 rose to 75.7%. This year, from April to June, the UK employment rate reached 76.1%, higher than 2018 and the joint-highest on record.
Thanks to the work of companies like ourselves, many individuals who’ve experienced long periods of unemployment are now able to get back into work and find a career they love.
We’ve been helping individuals gain work for over 30 years through a range of tailored training and support. As a company, we strive to provide individuals with the skills needed to reach their goals and land their dream job.
On 1 April 2019, we became the parent company to Pluss CIC, which helps thousands of people with disabilities and health conditions into work each year. In June, we launched our latest business line, Seetec Pluss, to manage contracts previously delivered by Pluss CIC, as well as our existing DWP ESF subcontracts.
Chris Harrison, Executive Director of Employability at Seetec, talks about the opportunities and support we provide through our employability services.
How does Seetec support people who are struggling to find and sustain employment?
“There are many ways Seetec Pluss supports people who are looking to enter into and sustain employment. Seetec historically delivered Work Programme (now replaced by the Work & Health Programme) - a scheme that supported people into sustainable employment - in Greater Manchester, the East of England and East London.
"Since being superseded by the Work and Health Programme, it’s become a voluntary scheme with a larger focus on health and disabilities. The employment barriers of the people we're looking to support, in terms of health conditions and disabilities, are now much greater. With that comes some new angles. Sometimes we need to create a slightly different offer – including a bespoke offer for employers, which includes more about understanding health conditions and disabilities, what reasonable adjustments are needed and how to signpost to others for support.
"We also deliver a subcontract provision called Work Routes in Greater Cambridge and Greater Peterborough, Hertfordshire and Cornwall; the latter is a subcontract held and delivered by Pluss, although they’re all working closely together in the new business unit.
"The other angles of support we offer are through our major programmes in Pluss. Pluss delivers lottery-funded ‘Building Better Opportunities’ contracts, which focuses on people who aren’t currently accessing mainstream provision. Work and Health Programme and BBO are complementary of one another, and a big piece of work for us is looking at how we align the two contracts to ensure people are able to triage between the two when needed.
"Finally, we’ve got some lovely, niche contracts for Pluss. In Plymouth, we have two small contracts supporting people with learning difficulties into work, we run a DWP Challenge Fund Mental Health project, operate our own manufacturing business making bed frames, and operate ‘Project Search’ in Dereford hospital, which provides 8-10 internships to people with learning difficulties each year."
How does Seetec help people overcome barriers?
“We’ve got a strong employer engagement team, who work with employers like the South West Ambulance Service, Novatel, Tesco, Apple etc, as well as many local SME’s.
"Our employer engagement team run pre-screening workshops, while our case workers help to overcome all sorts of barriers, including interview techniques, clothing and travel. From something as simple as a CV to providing taxis, and accessing the tech that people need - you name it, and they will have done it at some point.
"In our two manufacturing warehouses, around 60-65% of the people employed have disabilities. We’ve also started running taster sessions in those warehouses so we can move people from BBO/Work Programme into work tasters to help get them ready for work. We delivered Work Choice, historically, by Pluss and Seetec, which had a number of supported placements where we were able to subsidise wages for employers to take on people with disabilities.
"The other element to these programmes is that they’re designed to be able to react to whoever walks through the door.
"One of our success stories from Building Better Opportunities features refugees, Khaled and Dalal, who fled Syria to provide a better life for their two young daughters. Through BBO’s Positive People Project, the couple has been able to enhance their skill set, from strengthening their English language to improving their technology/computer expertise. The skills and confidence Khaled and Dalal gained through the programme have provided them with many opportunities, including volunteering, holding a local event and even publishing a book! Khaled is also looking to go back to university to continue studying History - something he had to abandon when his family fled Syria.”
How does Seetec help individuals who are furthest from the labour market?
“If you take the Building Better Opportunities contract, for example, there’s a really big focus on people who are economically inactive and getting people participating in just something again. It’s a real diverse mix of what they do at BBO, from outdoor activities to volunteering at Glastonbury. Really starting from the basics - sometimes even just getting people out of their house again.
"Then you move into Work and Health and the bigger programmes. As part of the learning disability services we run in Scott Business Park in Plymouth, we have a contract where we take 6-8 people on day release as part of their personal EHCP plan - some who are unlikely to ever move into paid employment - to allow them to work in a real workplace with the support they need.
"With Work Programme, a lot more is now done by outreach. Historically, Work Programme was very office-centric - people came into the office to get their support. But, we’ve got a much bigger mobile workforce now, especially across the South West, which is a hugely rural region. Our caseworkers go out into communities and visit people in libraries and community centres, partner premises and JCP premises. So, in itself, outreach is a form of support, because you’re not asking people to travel massive distances to access help.
"Pluss and Seetec Pluss both have Disability Confident Leader status, which means that as well as being advocates for the employment of disabled people, we’re able to support other organisations through the Disability Confident application process. We recently supported the South West Ambulance Service to become the first Disability Confident Leader ambulance service in the country. It’s something we want to develop strongly over the coming months and years to build on what Pluss has done to support that agenda.”
How does Seetec ensure the ongoing success of its employability programmes?
“The people that we’ve got in the business are critical to its ongoing success - from the operational managers through to team leaders, the front line advisers and the assistant change coaches that support them. The recruitment, selection, induction, training, and the support of all those individuals through the business is what ultimately drives the success of the operations and is something we are currently working hard to define, design and improve.
"If we’ve got a happy, motivated and empowered workforce, the chances of them being able to motivate and empower somebody to move into employment increase exponentially.
"We’ve gone from top to bottom on a contract looking at the health and welfare of our teams. Everything from whether people have the right IT, to whether the offices are the right size and location or just simple things like looking at whether they are cleaned regularly enough or whether the desks are the right size.
"We’re lucky in Seetec, we’ve got a strong board and a business that’s committed to our industry. Taking Pluss into the Seetec Group was always going to be a challenge, but the business embraced the concept of the deal and took it on. What we need to do now is take the successes of Work Programme, Work Choice and past contracts from Seetec and Pluss, and combine the expertise and skills we’ve got across the two businesses with the new people we’ve brought in.
"The teams we’ve got now feature a mix of Pluss, Seetec and new faces - and it’s starting to work very well, we’ve got some really fresh ideas. The contracts that are running well are contracts where the relationship with the commissioner or prime contractor is great, the teams are the right size, they’ve got the right resources, they’ve got the right managers in post who are dedicated and driven, as well as having the skills and experience required.
"I don’t think there is a magic wand, but one of the biggest things is to understand that the answers don’t sit with any one individual, or in any one place.
"It sounds a bit cliche, but we need the sum-total of everyone's experience, and to constantly be looking to drive and challenge ourselves to do better. It’s a real team and group effort where Seetec is concerned.”
How does Seetec support individuals with in-work progression?
“In-work progression is something we are looking into, because it’s starting to come onto the radar of the DWP. Whilst it’s not a formal target, in-work progression can play a key part in increasing sustainability and the DWP is about to launch some funding to support this area.
"Seetec’s skills business has the adult education budget that they use to help unemployed people, along with their strong apprenticeship offering - including the cabin crew training for apprenticeships with BA, Virgin and EasyJet. The skills team gives people qualifications in their roles, and a lot of their contracts now have targets for progression and sustainment into employment.
"The proposition we’re trying to develop will need to be in partnership with our skills business, which is great because Seetec is one of the few welfare-to-work businesses which also has a successful, high-quality skills division, so we’ve got to join them up.”
What is your vision for Seetec’s employability services?
“We want to be the highest quality, highest performing provider of all the contracts we provide. We want to be the organisation that employers and commissioners come to for advice, support and input - be it Disability Confident or desired new programmes etc.
"We want to make sure that we evolve with whatever changes occur, and in advance of whatever changes come through the labour market over the next couple of years. I mentioned DWP’s move towards in-work progression - where five years ago we were seeing tens of thousands of people come through the doors of our Work Programme contracts looking for jobs, the focus of funding and politicians is now equally on skills and upskilling. So, it’s looking at how we transition our people into work and link them into skills, and how we develop those in-work support offers and employer offers. We also want to develop our health and disability offerings and become the best provider of health and disability support for people looking for employment.
"And then we need to be ready for all of that to turn around - if a recession comes, we need to be ready to support people at risk of redundancy and people coming back into the JobCentre. It’s about being the best we can be at everything we do and then being ready for anything.
"We are seeing people who are harder to support, and less funding available, which is counterintuitive to the mission to remove unemployment. Helping people with greater barriers with less money per person is a year-on-year reality for us right now, so we need to get better and more innovative. The money isn’t going to increase in the foreseeable future, so we need to roll with that and figure out how we maintain or improve the quality with less money. It isn’t exclusively an issue to us, but it is, ultimately, the reality of our industry at the moment.”
For more information about Seetec Pluss or any of our employability programmes, contact a member of our team today.