ERS practitioners can now have their skills and expertise properly acknowledged. About time too, says Helen Richardson

FE colleges are playing a greater role in the delivery of employment related services (ERS) to jobseekers claiming Jobcentre Plus benefits (more than 200,000 unemployed people undertake education or training at colleges).

The introduction of a single adult skills budget two years ago, and the subsequent New Challenges, New Chances report, have provided the flexibility that colleges need to develop programmes for the unemployed that meet what employers need.

Many are now developing and delivering ERS unit courses of their own. Some have gone further by getting involved in the delivery of government welfare-to-work schemes such as the Work Programme (more than 80 per cent of Work Programme supply chains have colleges within them; Newcastle College is a prime provider).

This reflects an accepted recognition that a qualification is not a final destination but just one component of a learner’s journey towards employment and career progression.

Resourcing such provision can be a challenge; traditional FE roles, such as tutors or assessors, have associated qualifications (PTLLS, CTLLS, TAQA).

Equivalent pathways have yet to be embedded for practitioners delivering ERS courses, with few staff having accredited skills that prepare them for their learners’ many barriers to work.

The challenge for FE colleges is wider than simply delivering programmes for the unemployed, it’s about prevention of further generations of worklessness”

This can lead to questions about the quality and performance of the courses and services offered.

But things are moving on. A framework of ERS practitioner qualifications and units at level three and above has now been accredited and The Institute of Employability Professionals (IEP) established.

For the first time, ERS practitioners are able to have their skills and expertise properly acknowledged. Early qualitative evidence suggests that staff with ERS qualifications are more productive and more likely to achieve performance targets.

The challenge for FE colleges is wider than simply delivering programmes for the unemployed, it’s about prevention of further generations of worklessness.

A local college has a major impact on its community’s long-term ambitions for economic and social success in the form of higher wages, higher aspirations and more stable and secure lives.

Recent research from the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (“The Impact of Further Education Learning”), suggests these benefits include greatly increased job security, higher pay and greater prospects.

In the same way that we should be educating our children from primary level up about the importance of a strong work ethic, so we should be educating our FE senior managers, lecturers, student support services and curriculum leads about the importance of getting and keeping a job.

FE leaders are looking at ways to instill and embed employability across their curriculum by ensuring that their whole workforce understands the importance of preparing learners for the world of work.

They understand that their key performance indicator of a destination is not just an Ofsted and funding requirement; it’s the right thing to do.

Helen Richardson,managing director at Workpays