Name: Stewart Holdsworth
Job Title: Senior Performance Manager
Organisation: Serco UK&E Local Regional Government
What do you actually do?
Working within Serco’s Employment, Skills & Enterprise business, my primary role is to oversee the delivery and performance of our Work Programme contract in South Yorkshire, which involves working with a diverse range of supply chain partners to support long-term unemployed individuals into sustainable employment.
What issues are in your employability inbox?
With the current Work Programme in its final year of receiving referrals, not only have caseload sizes dropped but the customer-mix and their employability needs have changed too. At the same time the market is naturally shifting its focus towards gearing up for what comes next. This environment can create certain pressures and potential constraints on delivery in the here and now. One of my main areas of focus, therefore, is trying to find new and innovative ways of working to continuously improve the performance and quality of our employability offer - something that is as critical both today and in the near future - for the delivery of new programmes such as Work and Health.
What do you think the employability sector is doing really well?
As it always has done I think the sector continues to be extremely resilient and adaptable to the ever changing demands placed upon it; either driven top-down by the government of the day or directly to the frontline by the diverse and complex needs of the individuals we help. What makes our sector so resilient, is of course the people who work within it and what I see are a core of compassionate and caring people who carry on regardless. Given the recent levels of uncertainty in the sector created as a result of the EU referendum, devolution and ever decreasing values of government contracts; I think it is an absolute credit to the sector that in spite of all this, those on the frontline continue to find a way to help and positively respond to the people in front of them, literally changing people’s live on a daily basis.
Where should we be looking to improve?
I think there are two things:
Firstly, collaboration will continue to be key to the success of an effective employability service that puts the individual customer (jobseeker) at its heart. Whilst unemployment figures have gone down, those considered as long-term or with health and disability issues remain almost unchanged and so collaboration with the health sector, other specialist providers and importantly employers, particularly SMEs, will be paramount. Central to this however is the critical role we in the sector can play in promoting the health related benefits that employment can have, particularly for those suffering with mental health issues. We need to do more to demonstrate that we are all effectively working towards the interests of the same individual.
But why stop the collaboration at health providers and employers? Whilst there are pockets of good practice I think there is much more we can do to work better collaboratively with the VCS, Local Authorities, housing associations and our colleagues in JCP, not to mention explore what more we can do as a collection of primes and supply chain providers. Furthermore, it is extremely likely that the innovative delivery solutions we seek in these times of “do more, do better and do it all for less” will in fact, come from our effective collaborations.
Secondly I think we can improve the investment we make in the development of frontline staff. Not only will this be vital as we continue to support customers with ever challenging and complex needs, but investing in CPD by allocating the time and resources needed to encourage the progression of our teams demonstrates we take the sector seriously. It is also an important step towards minimising the high employee turnover experienced by the sector and attracting new talent. All of which is essentially about the sector’s commitment to its own professionalization - and that is of course why the IEP is so important.
What is the best piece of advice you have been given?
To be the best you can be and to do that you must always be prepared to take the first step.
For me being the best that you can be is about understanding yourself and what you want to change. Inevitably making that change will require taking a step forward, often into the unknown, untried and untested. Change can be scary and choosing to take that first step fearful. However, more often than not, hidden in the fear of taking that first step lies opportunity, and making a choice - however difficult it may be - is always empowering.
This advice was given to me when I started out in the sector as an Employment Adviser - something I remember being very nervous about! This advice helped me then and it was something I used to share with customers on my caseload as they took their first steps towards employment. The reason I think this advice is the best I’ve been given is because it is applicable no matter who you are or what you do!