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How technology can deliver diversity and inclusion in employability

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Diversity and inclusion are pressing issues in employability. Technology can help deliver on this agenda by permitting real flexibility and personalisation. Read on to find our how.

Inclusivity in employment benefits society as a whole. Not only does unemployment carry a hefty price tag, but, according to studies by McKinsey & Company and the Peterson Institute for International Economics, diversity boosts corporate profitability. The benefits of employment stretch far beyond a monthly wage to increased confidence, happiness and self-worth, all of which also benefit the economy.

It’s therefore essential that work coaches are able to access the tools they need to help some of their hardest to reach clients: the long-term unemployed, people living with disabilities, single parents and carers, among others. Higher levels of personalised and individual support are needed to enable jobseekers such as these to move into and sustain employment.

Evidence so far suggests that the kinds of personalised services that could most boost inclusion are not yet operational. Research by Lindsay et al. (2019) on lone parents’ experiences of jobcentre employability revealed that they felt standardised employment services – strict welfare conditionality and ‘work first’ procedures that pressurised jobseekers to accept any job –  did not meet their needs.

Advances in technology offer a chance to close the unemployment gap and increase access to great employment opportunities to those who have traditionally been harder to reach.

Flexible employment support

A significant barrier for many people seeking employment is the requirement to attend appointments with their work coach, current pandemic notwithstanding. This may be due to responsibilities such as childcare or caring, the cost of travel or the lack of confidence or ability to get there alone.

For harder to reach jobseekers who already face many barriers to finding and sustaining employment, removing hurdles from their path will greatly enhance their chances of success. What’s more, unnecessary barriers like these might give rise to feelings of failure if they cannot be surmounted, diminishing confidence and ultimately undermining the jobseeker’s determination and desire to get a job.

One of the key advantages to digitising employability services is flexibility. Let’s take the example of a carer searching for part-time employment. A carer cannot dictate when their assistance is needed. Being able to access employment support digitally can make their lives infinitely less stressful. Instead of trying to accommodate appointments while worrying about their responsibilities, they can access employability services at a time that suits them. 

Job searches, learning resources and work coach appointment requests can all be conducted digitally. In fact, digital provisions can enhance the effectiveness of these services. For example, advanced machine learning algorithms can offer jobseekers opportunities from a vast range of sources that best match their skills and requirements. Work coaches would be able to check on the progress of their clients, sending them encouragement and reminders when required, through intelligent, personalised automation.

Having access to essential employment support and services anytime, anywhere, breaks down a significant barrier to getting back to work for this harder to reach section of society.

Data informs better interventions

In complex cases, work coaches make use of the free text notes in a jobseeker’s record to detail their circumstances and the measures being taken to support them. Using technology to aggregate and analyse data is essential to improving employment outcomes. However, in the case of free text, analysis is more complex. Technology is currently being developed to unlock the insights hidden in written records and, when ready, could be used to support work coaches to identify the most effective interventions for jobseekers facing a particular set of challenges.

In addition, machine learning can be used in employability systems to recognise patterns in jobseeker behaviour, while sentiment analysis can pick up on emotional cues. These systems can alert work coaches when engagement levels drop or when a jobseeker needs additional support. Harder to reach jobseekers are likely to have lower levels of confidence and are less likely to ask for additional support. These technological developments can, therefore, enable work coaches to effectively direct their limited time to support those who need it most.

Tech facilitated accessibility

For adults with a wide range of learning and physical difficulties, sophisticated technology can enable them to access a service that is otherwise unnavigable. Open and inclusive technology offers jobseekers opportunities to personalise the digital environment to suit their needs. Integrated screen reading services, audio descriptions, larger text, the option to invert screen colours, and the choice between different formats to receive information – such as written text, video or audio – are all methods that can enable people living with disabilities to access employment services.

As it stands, according to government statistics, between April 2018 and March 2019, “Less than a fifth of people with learning difficulties as their main health condition were in employment”. By changing the way information and services are delivered, this can be addressed.

Addressing the digital skills gap

People from the most disadvantaged backgrounds are also those most likely to lack the skills they need to get into work. Furthermore, they are less likely to have access to the learning opportunities that could provide them with those vital skills.

Jobseekers with low qualifications face greatly diminished opportunities. According to the Centre For Social Justice(CJS), “there is a clear positive relationship between higher-level qualifications and earning potential”, while “Almost half of adults from the lowest socioeconomic groups have not received any training at all since they left education”. Inequality will increase unless disadvantaged adults are given access to the skills training they need to enhance their prospects.

This problem is not just one experienced by the individuals who are at a disadvantage, but it has significant ramifications for the state of the economy. The CSJ found that “a quarter of workers in the UK are underqualified for their jobs, and 11.3 million adults do not have the full set of basic digital skills”, while, “Working adults with basic digital skills are paid an average annual salary that is 38 per cent higher than those without these skills”.

Digitising employability services can have a dual impact. Firstly, by virtue of using a technological platform to access employability services, jobseekers will be honing vital digital literacy skills. This will give them access to a broader range of work opportunities while also increasing confidence, an essential ingredient in any successful job search.

Secondly, delivering training digitally can bring down the cost of learning while also standardising the learning materials jobseekers have access to. This means that high-quality hard and soft skills training can be delivered to all jobseekers without the high price tag of in-person training. As all jobseekers can access the same materials and guide their learning according to their own requirements, equality and accessibility will be greatly improved.

Digital training that makes use of a variety of content types and can be accessed via a phone or laptop at any time, enables all jobseekers including those facing the biggest barriers, to enhance their skills and improve their prospects, in their own time and at their own pace. As 84% of UK adults own a smartphone, services that can be accessed through these devices are well placed to address inequality, including in employment.

Many people in the UK are not getting the help they need because of a ‘one size fits all’ approach to employment services. Technology can help to deliver the ‘levelling up’ our society so desperately needs.

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