The role of skills within the Work Programme

12th December 2012

Today, NIACE has published a new free guide – The Work Programme: What is the role of skills available at – to help many more Work Programme Prime and sub-Prime providers make skills provision available to their programme participants through working in partnership with learning providers.

As well as offering advice on how to work alongside learning providers, the guide describes the range of skills provision commonly available to unemployed adults and their eligibility for funding. Case studies are used to provide real life examples of how skills provision has led to Work Programme participants securing sustained employment.

Whilst researching the guide, it was very heartening to see how well Work Programme providers and learning providers are working together. The combination of holistic, long-term support from a Work Programme provider and intensive labour market focused skills intervention through a learning provider appears highly effective. I was particularly struck by the enthusiasm and commitment of all the staff involved and the efforts to which they went to make the provision a success. These efforts ranged from providing bespoke skills provision for Work Programme participants, co-locating staff in each others’ premises and accompanying participants to the learning provider premises on the first day. The participants interviewed for the case studies appeared confident, self-assured and optimistic as a result of gaining new skills and finding secure work.

Although some Work Programme providers do offer their participants access to skills provision, many do not. This is despite widespread recognition that many Work Programme participants have skills needs in English, maths and employability that act as a barrier to getting and sustaining employment. Ultimately all any of us have to offer an employer is our skills. Therefore, where skills needs exist amongst people who are long-term unemployed, it is vital we address these if we wish to make a permanent difference to their position within the labour market.

Addressing the skills needs of Work Programme participants seems even more necessary givenresearch that indicates literacy and numeracy skills actually deteriorate whilst people are unemployed. Therefore Work Programme participants who already have skills needs may find that these needs get greater if they remain unaddressed.

Although some participants benefit from intensive, short-term skills provision to acquire labour market relevant vocational skills, many participants need much longer term provision to address English, maths and employability skills needs. However, the maximum two year duration of the Work Programme gives scope for longer term skills interventions.

Following the recent release of Work Programme performance statistics, the Department for Work and Pensions announced that it is ‘going to look at what can be done to get improved access to skills support’ for Work Programme participants. This is very welcome and very timely, alongside the intention of BIS and DWP to have a joint dialogue with skills providers early in the New Year to scope ways to further respond to the skills needs of the unemployed.