Tackling the Employability crisis

Despite widespread economic turbulence, unemployment may not reach the crisis levels predicted last year. But issues such as underemployment, a hiring slowdown and inclusion look set to impact economic growth. Dr Deborah Talbot talks to Tony Wilson, Director of the Institute for Employment Studies, about economic and employment trends, and what a holistic employability strategy might look like.

Dr Deborah Talbot: Unemployment has been a huge source of concern over the past year. What are the macro trends currently?

Tony Wilson: The good news is that we’ve almost certainly avoided an unemployment catastrophe. Last year many of us were fearing unemployment levels of above three million, maybe even reaching five million, which would have been devastating. Largely because of the job retention scheme, the latest forecast for unemployment is suggesting that it’s going to peak at about 2.2 million, which is still 800,000 higher than it before the crisis, but far, far below what it could have been especially because given GDP shrank by 10% in 2020 – the biggest contraction on record.

However, there are three big warning signs at the moment. One is that long-term unemployment is rising because people who became unemployed or started to look for work last summer have had very little chance to get back into work. The second issue is that there are signs that the crisis may be causing existing inequalities in the labour market to widen, with black and Asian young people, those with disabilities and lone parents faring worse. And thirdly, there are growing signs of job insecurity and underemployment, and people being stuck in work that’s a lower occupational level than their skills. In any recession there’s a growth in what you call ‘second choice jobs’ – jobs you take because you need the money – and we need in the longer term to help people find the right job for their skills level.

Deborah: Brexit has caused difficulties with trade, although some say it is only temporary. How will that affect unemployment?”

Tony: It is a risk, yes, particularly if we were to look at what was missing from the budget. The budget retained the job retention scheme and that’s welcome. But the main challenge for the year ahead is not the firing but hiring. If we don’t get hiring up to well above pre-pandemic levels, we won’t reduce unemployment, we won’t improve job security and job quality and so on. And both the pandemic and Brexit look likely to affect hiring decisions.

We all know that once the economy opens up, we’re going to see more people out spending money, travelling around, seeing people and taking domestic holidays, so there is a lot of pent-up demand and a lot to be optimistic about. But the budget is gambling on a strong private- sector jobs recovery in the second half of the year, and that may not happen. Brexit will be one of the big factors which hold that back, alongside the spare capacity in the labour market as people come back to work from furlough.

There is much that the budget could have done to help hiring: reducing the national insurance burden for employers, introducing a hiring subsidy for employing unemployed people as examples.

Deborah: The government has many initiatives around skills at the moment. What do you think the strategic underpinning of these policies are and what does that say about where they’re taking the economy and the Plan for Jobs?

Tony: To the government’s credit they have introduced an enormous range of measures in their Plan for Jobs to support employment and skills. The government moved far quicker last summer than we did during the 2008-09 recession and they invested a lot more than we did back then as well.

Within three months of the crisis, we’d had a pretty comprehensive Plan for Jobs and significant investment, and we will see the benefits of that with more work coaches in Jobcentre Plus, and through the Restart programme and Kickstart jobs. In time, I think we’ll see improved access to apprenticeships and traineeships for younger people too.

What’s missing is how all this hangs together, and how we make sense of this for individuals, employers, service providers and local communities. Government initiatives can be quite rigid and quite difficult for employers to access; for example, if you’re not prepared to release somebody for a full Level 3 course or you’re not prepared to take on an apprentice, there’s relatively little for you so far.

On the broader labour market planning, there is a risk that we end up with a lot of provision and delivery but strategic confusion about who’s looking after the individual, who’s working with that employer, who’s supporting local growth in that area or industry. So we’ve advocated for a better joined-up approach at the local level, and by that I mean local economic areas (cities and regions).

Deborah: Is it an issue of how well we tie labour market demand into skills training, that is, use good data?

Tony: I think labour market data is a major issue, and there are a few projects that have been in development for a while although they haven’t evolved quickly enough to be directly useful to this crisis. For example, the LMI for All21 initiative and work by the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (Nesta) have both been looking at how to make better use of data to support local labour markets. And, of course, there’s now a pretty vibrant private market providing labour market insights.

Useful though this is, we need more central coordination and management so we can get a consistent and single version of the truth that can be used to support all areas with the insight that they need. And our funding systems, our public policy, don’t really incentivise having really good labour market intelligence (LMI). Unlike the US, our skills system is not outcome-led in terms of jobs; its success is measured in enrolments and qualifications. That’s not a criticism, and there are strengths to taking that approach, but it means that there just isn’t the same demand for good-quality LMI within public services as you see in some other places.

Deborah: It’s likely that there will be a significant restructuring of the economy post-pandemic and because of Brexit. What sectors do you think should be prioritised to either help them survive or grow that would most benefit the UK’s economy and culture?

Tony: It’s clearly crucial for any economy to have an industrial strategy, and the fact that we wound up the Industrial Strategy Council is a worry as it means that we are once again revisiting and reinventing what the UK approach should be.

For me though, any strategy needs to be focused on how we can maximise employment opportunities, support job growth and reduce disadvantage, so it needs to try to take a ‘whole economy’ view and not just focus on specific favoured industries, many of which ultimately don’t employ a lot of people.

One positive that we can definitely build on, though, is that employment grew by four million in the 10 years before the crisis, and over 3.5 million of those jobs were in highly skilled work. I think the challenge therefore is how we help more people get from lower skilled to higher skilled work quickly.

Deborah: The ladder of progression.

Tony: Yes, exactly.

Deborah: If there was one policy that you think would make the most difference to employability, what would it be?

Tony: I think the most important policy would be one-to-one personalised individual support for people who are unemployed or underemployed to improve their lives. That won’t always be about a rapid re-entry into employment; it might be about social connections, it might be about learning, it might be about helping to address a health condition or other things that might be making their life hard.

Deborah: Functions that, for example, the Sure Start Centres used to perform for parents.

Tony: Exactly.

Deborah: What does the IES have planned for 2021?

Tony: Our first priority is evidence-based practice around labour market recovery and improvements to employment policy. Our second area will focus on how to make work better, particularly as we move to hybrid forms of working, and in particular thinking about how we ensure that supports health and wellbeing, productivity and inclusive growth.

And then the third area for us is to support a more inclusive and diverse labour market. I don’t think anyone could have lived through the last year and not been impacted personally and professionally by the Black Lives Matter movement and in the past month the death of Sarah Everard. These events have been a wake-up call for all of us, I think, in looking at how we recognise and promote diversity and inclusion in our lives and in our workplaces too.

Deborah: That sounds very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us.

MWS Technology, Aptem: British Data Awards Winner 2021

MWS Technology has been named winner at the British Data Awards 2021 in the ‘SME of the Year’ category.

Our entry centred on our long-standing contribution to SaaS innovation around skills and employability, citing the evolution of MyWorkSearch into Aptem Employ and our transformation of the EdTech learning delivery space for apprenticeships and skills. We highlighted our resilient performance during the pandemic, growing customers, staff and billable learners and relaunching our employability platform to help tackle unemployment and under-employment.

Richard Alberg, CEO of MWS Technology, said:

“We are delighted to have been declared SME of the Year by the British Data Awards judges. Our achievement is testament to all the hard work our staff have done from the founding of MWS Technology Ltd to now.

“I am particularly proud of how we have survived and thrived throughout the pandemic, offering training providers and the employability sector a platform that enables them to deliver programmes online and remotely. This has not been without its challenges, but one thing we can say for sure is that MWS Technology will always be looking to problem-solve, improve and innovate for the benefit of its customers.”

The British Data Awards is an annual campaign that celebrates the organisations and people that are deeply passionate about data, and helps to uncovers data success stories. Organisations taking part this year include FTSE 100 giants, tech unicorns, innovative start-ups, large public sector bodies, agile not-for-profits, and everything in between.

Jason Johnson, Co-Founder of Predatech and British Data Awards judge said:

“I’d like to extend my congratulations to all our 2021 winners. With 149 entries received this year, being named a winner is a great achievement, and all organisations should feel immensely proud. I’m really excited to see what the next 12 months holds for our winners.”

Every region of the UK is represented among the British Data Awards 2021 finalists, although organisations based in London make up 35% of the winners and runner-ups. 13% are based in the South West, while the South East, Yorkshire and the Humber and Scotland are each home to a further 10% of the winners and runner-ups. 

The 2021 judges included: Neil Carden, COO of Forth Point, Jason Johnson, Co-Founder of Predatech, Mahana Mansfield, Data Science Director at Deliveroo, Tej Parikh, Chief Economist at the Institute of Directors, Harriet Rees, Head of Data Science at Starling Bank and Dr Jo Watts, CEO and Founder of Effini.

The British Data Awards are run by Predatech, a cyber security company that helps organisations to protect their businesses, their customers, as well as their data.  

Aptem product feature: Sub-programmes

Learners are unique and their requirements for learning journeys vary, which is why flexible, personalised approaches to learner programme delivery are essential in ensuring successful learning experiences for all.

Within any programme, there are elements of a learning plan that will be applicable to all learners, some to a subset of learners, and then some that apply to individual learners.

To enable the delivery of a best-in-class learner experience, Aptem has simplified the process of managing curriculum delivery through the creation of sub-programmes. Sub-programmes provide the ability to manage learning plan content more easily, without the need for excessive administrative load. Learning plan delivery is significantly more flexible with sub-programmes, and individual elements of your learning plan can be broken out, for example, Functional Skills or optional qualifications, which eliminates the need to have multiple versions of an individual programme for the same apprenticeship. The elements of the programme that are not needed for every learner can instead exist as a sub-programme, ensuring that every learner’s need is catered for within a single fluid programme.

Tasks that may previously have been time-consuming are simplified using sub-programme functionality. Sub-programmes have multiple different use-cases but are particularly applicable in programmes that need to deliver to learners with different functional skills needs, e.g different IA results or prior learning. It is also successful when used to manage cases where all learners may have a core set of learning to complete, with some learners needing access to options outside this core offering such as different or additional qualifications. Learner programmes that include multiple different specialisms are also simplified through the use of sub-programmes.

How sub-programmes work

Learners can be enrolled on a delivery programme, and one or more sub-programmes, as needed. Take functional skills as an example. If learners require functional skills, they can be enrolled on the functional skills sub-programmes. If they are exempt, they will remain enrolled only on the core delivery programme. This process is also relevant for learners who want or need to complete an optional qualification. Enrolled learners will see a single learning plan that contains all the elements of both the delivery programme and any sub-programme as learning plan and individualised learner record (ILR) elements are seamlessly merged with the delivery programme in one view. 

Configuring the ILR template with component aims in a sub-programme means that when the learner is enrolled a single, amalgamated ILR will be generated with the main aim and any component aims from the selected sub-programmes. This saves significant time and effort on having to update them manually. Sub-programmes also enable you to add qualifications for Awarding Body registration, in a similar way to the ILR. Any qualifications from the delivery programme and selected sub-programmes will be added to be registered in the Awarding Body registration section, unless marked as exempt at enrolment.

Personalisation can enhance the effectiveness of learner programme delivery. Identifying and implementing digital technology that enables learners to follow individualised learner pathways should be a priority for all programme providers.

Aptem named as a British Data Awards 2021 Finalist

We’re delighted to announce that we’ve been named a Finalist in the British Data Awards 2021.

The British Data Awards is an annual campaign that aims to uncover data success stories. Organisations taking part this year include FTSE 100 giants, tech unicorns, public sector bodies, newly launched not-for-profit organisations and everything in between.

The British Data Awards was launched to help discover and celebrate the most passionate data-led organisations, no matter their size. Some organisations named as Finalists have the potential to change the world, while others are having a much more local, but nonetheless important impact. And with some 149 entries received, competition to be named a 2021 Finalist proved to be particularly tough.

Jason Johnson, Co-Founder of Predatech and British Data Awards judge said: “We set-off on a quest to find our Finalists back in February, and it’s been quite a journey! Judging the entries has been a challenge due to the number of high quality entries, but it’s also been a great privilege. It’s reminded us of the sheer talent and ingenuity that makes the UK such a global powerhouse for all things data. All our Finalists should be very proud.”

Richard Alberg, CEO and Founder, Aptem said: “We are delighted to have been selected as one of the Finalist’s for the British Data Awards. At Aptem data underpins everything we do as an organisation. Our data strategy provides us with deeper insights about the markets we operate. This allows us to create market-leading solutions across the Apprenticeships, Employability and Skills space.” 

The 2021 judges include: Neil Carden, COO of Forth Point, Jason Johnson, Co-Founder of Predatech, Mahana Mansfield, Data Science Director at Deliveroo, Tej Parikh, Chief Economist at the Institute of Directors, Harriet Rees, Head of Data Science at Starling Bank and Dr Jo Watts, CEO & Founder of Effini.

The winners of the British Data Awards 2021 will be announced on Tuesday 4th May.

MWS Technology wins EducationInvestor Award

EducationInvestor Award

We are thrilled to announce that we have been judged to be
the winner of the ICT – platforms and applications category of the
EducationInvestor Awards.

The judges commented: “Aptem is innovative, challenging the market leader and is a focused scalable ed tech business. The company makes good use of data and machine learning without overhype of artificial intelligence. MWS/Aptem stands out as an innovative offer that works in one of the most difficult educational spaces – apprenticeships. It solves the muddle that existed in this market pre-Aptem and it looks as though MWS has created a one-stop-shop solution. Very impressive.”

“To win an EducationInvestor Award is a tribute to the accomplishments of our dedicated team. We are delighted that the judges recognised Aptem’s unique ability to transform apprenticeship delivery, affecting citizens, employers and government, and materially advancing the education sector,” commented Richard Alberg, MWS Technology’s Chief Executive.

Greater insight, seamless compliance and more control over your apprenticeship delivery

Aptem clients now have more detailed insight, seamless compliance and greater control over their apprenticeship delivery with Power BI dashboards.

We are delighted to announce that we have developed four integrated Power BI dashboards. This means they can instantly access the end-to-end data that sits within their Aptem system and have the information that helps ensure compliance and puts them in control of their business.

This is a major and transformational enhancement. No other technology platform can deliver this as integrated dashboards since Aptem is the only end-to-end system, with a separate database per training provider. View our short explainer video here.

The four Power BI dashboards are:

Compliance Dashboard – live
The Compliance dashboard provides an overall picture of how compliant your learners are in regards to a number of key compliance elements. MIS/compliance officers can see, at a glance, where there may be gaps in your compliance documentation and, used alongside your own internal compliance audit procedures, will assist towards ensuring compliance for ESFA funding purposes.

Caseload Dashboard – live
The Caseload dashboard has been designed to allow you to get an overall picture of each of your case owner’s (assessor’s) learners. The dashboard will provide the key delivery metrics needed to ensure that each learner is being seen and progressed as required and should identify learners who may need additional resources in order for them to achieve their qualification in a timely manner.

Ofsted / Quality Dashboard – live
At a snapshot and in real-time, you can see your data for Ofsted at any point, before, during or after a visit. The information provides details on previous Ofsted reports and ESFA funding allocations (if published) and is filterable on the fly. As you move around the data, it dynamically moves with you, so you can drill down wherever you want. Don’t wait until Ofsted ask – be prepared and pre-empt questions from Ofsted.

Financial Dashboard – live

This dashboard allows you to see an indication of the funding that should be due to you for learners completing Standards or Frameworks. The dashboard shows estimated income for previous and forthcoming claim periods and gives a high-level breakdown of the component elements of each learner’s funding claim as well as overall claim amounts and YTD figures.

Integrated Power BI dashboards are a transformational resource for your organisation. To learn more, please email hello@aptem.co.uk.