The Work & Pensions Select Committee published an extremely interesting report last week looking at Employment Support. They looked at the success (or otherwise) of schemes intended to support those who are “economically inactive”, that is people of working age who are not actively seeking work. 

The Committee concluded – having drawn on evidence from over seventy expert organisations and individuals – that it is a mixed bag. Some schemes have shown success with some groups but there remain a number of barriers which keep people from the labour market. 

Three themes emerge in the report which seem especially attuned to the WEA’s approach to Skills For Work: 

  • Poor mental health as a barrier to work 

  • Ageism and over-50s outside the work force 

  • Support for people with disabilities and those with long-term medical conditions 

The Committee noted how the least successful approaches were those which attempted to move people quickly into work without determining whether that work was suitable or the person actually being ready to hold down a job. Not only did this put undue pressure on people it also discouraged employers from using the schemes as appointments were not sustainable. 

The more successful approaches were “person-centred”, providing “wrap around support”. In other words they properly understood the person’s needs and considered their route towards employment in the context of their wider support needs. This might include support for their mental or physical health, respite from caring responsibilities and, of course, learning and training. 

WEA courses adopt many of these same approaches and as our impact report shows, progression into work is a great outcome for around 45% of our unemployed learners. Learners who fall into the “economically inactive” definition (as opposed to “unemployed” which usually means also actively looking for work) also tend to be well-represented among WEA learners – those over 50, learners with needs relating to their physical or mental health and learners with disabilities. So it is relatively straightforward to extend our Skills for Work courses to learners who are currently “economically inactive” but who want to progress towards employment in a way that suits them and meets their needs. 

A good example of this is the WEA’s “Get Ready for Catering and Hospitality” courses in Leicestershire, which enable adults with learning disabilities to seek voluntary and paid work in local coffee shops and cafes. Some students progress on to Setting Up A Catering Enterprise course, showing that adult learning can also support self-employment and community enterprise as well as employment through existing companies. 

Courses do not need to be directly connected to sector-specific skills. Also in Leicester, digital skills courses have been supporting young women from the Somali community who have not returned to work after giving birth due to untreated post-partum depression and PTSD as a result of being displaced from their country as a result of civil war. Some of those on the course have progressed to studying Early Years and Childcare qualifications with a view to become self-employed childminders or work as nursery workers.   

The Select Committee’s report provides some very helpful context to the sorts of barriers that economically inactive people face. The WEA and other providers can learn from that as we design our Skills for Work courses of the future and look to support those currently furthest from the job market to find employment that works for them. 

The Work & Pensions Select Committee report, Plan for Jobs and employment support can be found here. More information on the WEA’s Skills for Work courses are here


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Simon Parkinson, Chief Executive and General Secretary of the WEA
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Simon Parkinson

Chief Executive and General Secretary

Simon Parkinson is the Chief Executive and General Secretary of the WEA.