Select Committee on Work and Pensions Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Working Links (ES 07)


  1.  The following response emphasises the need for Government to maintain a high level of investment in continued development of greater labour market effectiveness even at a time of low overall levels of unemployment. Positive intervention is essential to maintain business competitiveness, support social development and reduce the poverty gap.

  2.  It sets out the argument for equalising opportunities for jobs between those only recently released into the jobs market and those with a long record of unemployment and/or significant barriers to gaining work.

  3.  It seeks to define the contribution of employers, educationalists and Government who, by working together in an outcome focused way, can raise skill levels across the workforce including core employability or "soft" skills.

  4.  It concludes by describing the unique Working Links model for public/private sector partnership that raises performance and reduces costs. It is a model capable of much wider application and answers many of the current objections to increased private sector engagement in public services.

  5.  We are delighted that the Work and Pensions Committee is addressing this issue and stand ready and enthusiastic to contribute further to the development of policy in this field.


  6.  The Government is challenged by its own success in tackling unemployment. In the minds of the public and on the pages and screen images of the media, unemployment is off the agenda. Health, education and transport have leapfrogged to the top of the "get it sorted" list.

  7.  We see this as an immensely dangerous time for policy development. Neither economic slowdown nor declining national levels of unemployment should persuade policymakers that this is the time to cut back on employment related spending. The economic success that is essential to funding all policy initiatives depends upon wealth creation and at the core of that is an effective and efficient labour market. At the same time there is ample evidence that wide scale unemployment within a specific community creates social conditions that damage progress in health, education and crime prevention. Working Links is closely associated with those parts of the country—inner city, urban and rural—where unemployment generally, or within specific ethnic groups, is unacceptably high despite the much improved national picture. This drives social division, the United States illustrates that a healthy economy can widen rather than diminish the poverty gap if there is not active intervention through effective labour market policies.

  8.  Finally from the competitive advantage viewpoint it is widely acknowledged that we need to improve the skills of our UK workforce. Yet there are still very large numbers of people bouncing along the bottom of the labour market, drifting in and out of low skill and low pay jobs where employers see attrition rather than training as the way to maintain productivity. The cost to the welfare budget of this group, who do not show in the long term unemployed statistics, and the squandering of human potential, demands continuing Government engagement in these issues or the huge advances made over the last five years will begin to be eroded rather than enhanced.


  9.  At the time of submission the prospect of a significant national economic slowdown seems rather less likely. The fact remains that there are local and regional economic conditions that still match exactly the circumstances that this enquiry seeks to address. The concern we have in Working Links is how these conditions impact on those least able to compete effectively in the labour market.

  10.  Economic slow down puts more people back into the jobs market, while employers become more cautious about recruitment. Working Links experience confirms that there almost always remains a steady supply of vacancies. Also, that, while those only recently laid off with current skills and continuity of work experience have a clear competitive advantage, longer term unemployed applicants can win through with the right support. If we are to avoid a growing population of severely deprived individuals, families and communities we have to create greater equality of opportunity in the labour market. Working Links has developed an approach that is now proven to work, based on individual solutions not generic panaceas, flexibility for our consultants within a firm framework of values rather than rules and a true partnership approach within the communities where we operate instead of a loose co-operation guided by self interest.

  11.  We firmly believe that we are producing results that increasingly demonstrate that we can achieve welfare savings, income growth and job creation that significantly outweigh exceed the cost of development and delivery. To maintain this it is vital that the Government continues to direct adequate funding into employment initiatives such as the Employment Zones either directly or through other agencies such as the LSCs and RDAs.

  12.  There is also an important role for employers. In difficult economic conditions investment in training is always the victim. Yet there is clearly evidence that companies that invest in people during a slow down are in the strongest position to exploit improved business conditions when these emerge. The people released into the labour market often do not have the specific skills sought by those still recruiting. Yet recovery and future competitiveness depend on access to employees with the right skills—not just hard skills but the soft ones employers so often find lacking. Examples include team work, problem solving and accepting instructions.

  13.  Success stories exist where agencies, such as universities or training organisations, develop strong practical links with employers. In developing a demand-led approach and maintaining these relationships, agencies and employers can work closely to address skills shortages and fill skills gaps. The recent introduction of Foundation Degrees is a move in this direction, though this needs to be accompanied by some rationalisation of the existing network of qualifications. Many employers, especially SME's, feel overwhelmed by the myriad of qualifications available. Where training and education, Foundation Degrees included, will succeed will be in replicating that employer-agency relationship, similar to KLM and Kingston University's partnership training aircraft engineers. Similarly, one of our three Shareholders, Manpower is working with local training organisations in Glasgow and Liverpool training long-term unemployed people for field engineering work in the IT sector. This method of addressing shortages by linking business with education is proving successful in training people in the right skills and qualifications that lead to sustainable jobs. Currently however there are too few examples—the challenge for Government is to actively engage employers in activity of this sort and to demonstrate the business case for it, possibly supported by appropriate tax breaks in respect of investment in human capital.


  14.  In our view the challenge of maintaining adequate investment in employment while addressing other policy imperatives can to some extent be addressed by the right forms of public/private co-operation and to a further extent by eliminating duplication and under-performance in current delivery of employment related services.

  15.  Working Links is a unique—and highly successful—fully-fledged Public/Private Sector Partnership, founded by Jobcentre Plus (then the Employment Service), Manpower PLC, and Cap Gemini Ernst & Young. We couple a strong adherence to the principles of public service with a commercial awareness and outcome oriented urgency to deliver sustainable solutions in employment led regeneration.

  16.  Our culture of joint working, of keeping focused on the best way to work with others to maximise results (jobs), is a natural corollary of the way the company was set up. And it carries into the working relationships we have established in each of our operations. We do not try to replicate what is already there. Instead we have worked hard to understand and complement the work of others by, for example:

      (a)  Forming in each of our operational locations a Local Management Board to provide strategic guidance and practical support relevant to the local community;

      (b)  Understanding, influencing and working with the grain of existing employment and wider regeneration strategies which have often been agreed by long-standing partnerships and/or local authorities;

      (c)  Bringing our own strengths to these existing arrangements—among them a firm focus on results (sometimes absent in even the most established and well-meaning partner organisations), an appetite for innovation, a willingness to take risks and a "can do" approach, wide experience gained through delivering employment initiatives successfully across the UK, and a skilled and proven management and delivery team.


Working Links (Employment) Limited

Public/Private Sector Partnership


Manpower PLC Cap Gemini Ernst & Young Jobcentre Plus

  17.  Working Links was created in April 2000 to help long-term unemployed people into work in a way that was both innovative and consistent with the Government's Welfare to Work policy. Our goal was, and remains, to achieve outstanding levels of performance in helping unemployed people into real, sustainable jobs. Under the nine Employment Zone contracts we have run since April 2000 we have placed 40 per cent of those referred to us into work and more than 80 per cent of those are still in work 13 weeks later—a significant achievement. In addition, through open competition, we have increased the number of contracts we hold to deliver Action Teams for Jobs to eleven. Further activity is supported by SRB, LSC, ESF and private sector funding.

  18.  Working Links is now a major, established player (turnover last year was £28 million and this year will be £40 million) with an effective, tightly-run operation delivering superb performance in helping over 12,000 long term unemployed and disadvantaged people into work through innovation, flexibility and a desire to continually improve and succeed—for our jobseekers and hence for ourselves.

  19.  The key features of our approach are:

      (a)   Strong focus on helping participants find work and remain employed. Over 40 per cent of the people referred to us find work within four months. But there are few "easy wins", many of the people we place into work have been unemployed for a very significant period and almost all face major perceived barriers to work. Neither are these jobs "quick fixes"—almost 85 per cent of people helped into work by our Zones are still in work 13 weeks later.

      (b)   Commitment to treat every person we see as an individual and to address their individual needs, and barriers to employment, flexibly. Our commitment to a "one size does not fit all" approach has empowered our consultants to do whatever is needed to help people back into work. Each person who walks through our door is allocated a consultant to guide them along the road back to work. The consultant becomes an advisor, a motivator and a confidante, working in conjunction with the job seeker, to make each step to employment happen.

      (c)   Commitment to all our jobseekers—everyone gets help. We believe that the best way to demonstrate that we have improved someone's employability is through actually helping them find work. However, even those individuals for whom we cannot find work are moved significantly closer to the labour market through our use of individual Action Plans—monitored and audited for quality by the Department for Work and Pensions. We have produced over 20,000 such plans. In addition, largely through our partnership arrangement with the Royal Bank of Scotland, the majority of our jobseekers have their own bank accounts, improving their access to a range of services.

      (d)   Reputation for innovation. We find creative and novel ways to address and overcome the barriers to employment faced by our jobseekers. We maintain an environment where our consultants are expected to overcome and challenge barriers to work starting from a blank page, not a limited, fixed menu. We have bought and leased cars and scooters, flown people to jobs in other countries, used problems as solutions (for example solving child care problems for some jobseekers by training others in child care), challenged established colleges and providers to do what they initially believed could not be done, and quickly shared good ideas across the company.

      (e)   Commitment to equal opportunities. We have achieved unparalleled results in helping people from ethnic minorities access work. Across our four locations where there are significant populations of ethnic minorities, our entry and retention rates into work are consistent across all ethnic groups. We believe this to be unique, and it is an achievement which has attracted significant levels of attention and recognition from, amongst others, the CRE, TUC, CBI and Cabinet Office;

          `Giving people a real chance to succeed—not a half-hearted or token gesture but a genuine opportunity to discover and use their potential—is incredibly valuable and plays a vital role in strengthening local communities. I am heartened by the achievements of Working Links and the vision the team have shown which has led to so many people gaining a job, and with it the chance to make a contribution to their community.'[1]

      (f)   Synergy—working with others to maximise success. Working Links could not have achieved this success alone, but has done so by working with other organisations to create high levels of synergy. In fact, the whole Working Links concept is based upon the principle of synergy: of bringing together the commercial acumen, public service ethos, abilities, skills, drive and experience of three leading organisations who are major sources of expertise in the labour market and achieving results which are greater than the sum of the parts.

Keith Faulkner

Managing Director

12 April 2002

1   Gurbux Singh, Chair of the Commission for Racial Equality. Back

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