Local government has a crucial role to play in jobs and skills recovery after the pandemic.
After a year like no other, the success of the COVID-19 vaccine programme means thoughts are now turning to recovery.
By the end of 2021, unemployment is projected to be almost one million higher than before the crisis, though this would have been much worse without support such as the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.
The effects of the crisis have been unequal, with unemployment rising most sharply in cities and areas that started with higher unemployment. Young people have been particularly hard hit, accounting for three-fifths of the falls in employment.
Groups including single parents, disabled people and people from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds were also more likely to become unemployed, or face drops in income that have made managing money hard.
On top of this, we know that, while employment was high overall, many local areas had pockets of unemployment or of low basic skills in things such as literacy or numeracy.
Building back better needs to be about tackling these underlying challenges, as well as recovering from the economic effects of the pandemic.
The pandemic is likely to have accelerated changes in our economy, such as online shopping and remote working, meaning more people may need to retrain for new jobs and careers. Together, this means the crisis has created new inequalities and exacerbated existing ones. We will also be living with the after-effects of the pandemic for years to come: the labour market has taken up to seven years to recover after previous recessions.
Local government will be central to supporting and accelerating this recovery: as place-makers, engines of growth, deliverers of services, important local employers, the local glue joining up a complex web of support and provision, and much more besides.
To support councils in doing this, the Learning and Work Institute and the LGA are developing five new guides.
These look at the big jobs and skills challenges: supporting youth employment; responding to job shocks, such as the closure of a large local employer; enabling retraining; improving basic skills; and tackling long-term unemployment.
The guides pull together the evidence on what works, and give a framework for identifying the local challenge and potential responses.
A key first step is to map existing support. The complexity of employment and skills policy means there will often be disjoints or areas where better join-up would deliver better results. Given all delivery is ultimately local, this can only be done locally, and is a key role for councils.
There will always be issues where the evidence on what works is more limited, or where there are gaps in support. So, another step is identifying these gaps in evidence and support, and thinking about how best to fill them.
Perhaps the biggest message across all the guides is the role local government can play in making sure local growth, development and regeneration delivers good job and skills opportunities, and that local people can access these opportunities.
We face a big year, to help increase employment, skills and growth. These practical guides aim to help local government play its leading role in doing this.
Jobs and skills recovery: six key questions
The LGA and Learning and Work Institute guides identify key questions for local government to explore in identifying a challenge and working out how to tackle it:
- What is the objective? This helps to focus effort and identify success measures.
- Do we understand the challenge? Understanding the cause of the challenge can help to shape the potential solutions.
- What works? You need to understand and build on the evidence of what works in addressing the challenge you are facing.
- What support and services are already available? This can help to identify key stakeholders, as well as any gaps or disjoints in support.
- What are the options? These may include new support from the council, better joining up of existing support, or trialling something new.
- How will we know it’s working? Councils need to track success as support is live, linking back to the objective, as well as building in evaluation from the start.
Council case studies
Disabled people are less likely to be in work. Local authorities and a local enterprise partnership (LEP) in the south of England supported more than 1,100 long-term workless people with health problems and disabilities through a 2016-18 project funded by the European Social Fund. The project included a transitional employment programme, providing temporary work combined with work search, from which 28 per cent of participants moved into open employment – higher than comparable programmes.
A combined authority in the north of England developed a youth employment gateway. This provided young people with personal advisers to help build their confidence and motivation, and support job applications, plus a flexible budget to spend on each participant. It exceeded its targets for helping young people find work and stay in employment.
In the south-west of England, councils and the local LEP developed a skills launchpad. This is an online hub for skills, careers, training and jobs support. It includes Train4Tomorrow, funded through the National Skills Fund, offering 12-week training programmes focused on growth sectors such as cyber, data science, welding, and engineering. Those completing the training are guaranteed a job interview with a local employer.
Local economic shocks
Following a rise in redundancies during the pandemic, a south-west England local authority set up a redundancy support team. It aims to be the ‘joining glue’ for local support, including linking recently redundant workers to training support, through both the adult education budget and a £750,000 fund to provide training focused on transition to growth sectors.
The Citizens’ Curriculum focused on co-designing a community learning programme with local people, for core capabilities such as literacy, numeracy, digital, and citizenship. A pilot in the north-west of England saw increased participation in learning and £3.68 saved for local public services for every £1 invested, through increased use of preventative services, leading to reduced need for emergency or reactive ones.