Helping individuals into employment through improved policies and programmes

Impact Area: Employment and Employability

Institution: Leeds University Business School

Leading Academic: Dr Jo Ingold, Associate Professor of Human Resource Management and Public Policy


Helping unemployed people to obtain work is of critical concern for both public policy and society. Successive post-war British Governments have struggled to get people without jobs into work. Since the 1990s, across European countries and elsewhere, Active Labour Market Policies (ALMPs) have been popular policy responses to this problem, involving interventions to increase individuals’ employability, such as work placements and training.

Dr Ingold and colleagues surveyed more than 1,500 employers in Denmark and the UK, and carried out more than 100 in-depth interviews with employers and provider organisations delivering ALMPs in both countries. They looked at whether the programmes did what they were supposed to do, and employers’ attitudes to taking on individuals with particular barriers to work (such as disabled people) who came through these programmes.

ALMPs have the potential to put people who are out of work into jobs. Amidst increasing talk about workforce diversity and corporate social responsibility, ALMPs can also help employers to access individuals from underrepresented groups. A significant finding from the research was the importance of relationships and trust to employer engagement, both at the organisational and inter-personal levels. Employers in both countries were positively disposed towards unemployed candidates but were critical of ALMPs, which they considered unsuited to their needs.

Benefits and Impact

To date, this research has led to improved policies and programmes to assist individuals outside the labour market into employment by facilitating the design and delivery of programmes to better meet their needs. In a broader context, the research has contributed to policy discussions on skills, devolution and the replacement of European Social Fund provision post-Brexit and the continuing implementation of Universal Credit.

Examples of changes made as a result of the research:

  • A key multi-national business delivering the UK government’s flagship ALMP, the Work Programme (total cost £5bn), used a model that involved individuals spending defined amounts of time with different providers. As a result of the research, the provider altered their delivery model, creating a framework which enabled longer-term relationship building with individual clients with mental health conditions and helped them to make more sustained journeys into employment. The research also highlighted the need to better equip frontline case advisers with the skills and understanding necessary to provide more effective support to people with health conditions in general, and with mental health problems in particular. The provider addressed this through the provision of a range of developmental programmes for staff.
  • In Denmark, workplaces with a high number of employees who were covered by collective agreements (contracts brokered by trade unions in dialogue with companies) were more likely to engage in employability programmes. Based on this discovery, a large Danish Jobcentre changed their employer engagement strategy. Previously, they had used a simple segmentation model based on company size or sector to identify companies to approach. Based on the research findings, they altered this to focus on companies that had the highest collective agreement coverage and the highest potential for engagement.
  • The UK’s Employment Related Services Association (ERSA) utilised research findings that showed the importance of ‘coopetition’ (collaboration amidst competition) in employability programme delivery by restructuring its Evidence Hub, to allow better sharing of research evidence between service providers.

Influencing conversations and leading to potential future impact:

  • The research highlights the need for employers to be clear about the support needs of disabled people when hiring them. The importance of the role of specialist employability providers to act as intermediary advocates for individuals, as well as to support employers, was cited in the ERSA’s official submission to the Government’s Improving Lives Green Paper.
  • Dr Ingold has worked with the Irish government in relation to their measurement of employer engagement in their employability programmes. Evidence was also provided to the Scottish Government as part of their review focused on reducing the disability employment gap, as well as to the Department of Health/Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) Joint Work and Health Unit as part of the 10-year government strategy.
  • Evidence about employers’ views on DWP’s ‘digital by default’ strategy was cited in the House of Lords Select Committee on Intergenerational Fairness[1]. The research demonstrated that employers prefer personal contact from Jobcentre Plus and other intermediaries and that they are frustrated about receiving large numbers of online applications as a result of benefit conditionality.
  • Evidence about employers’ frustrations with programme complexity was cited in the Work and Pensions Select Committee on the Youth Obligation[2].

Dr Ingold and colleagues are currently working with a number of external partners in central and local government and industry to test a Toolkit for Employer Engagement, based on the research data. This testing will lead to the refinement of the Toolkit, which will eventually be freely available as an online resource for commissioners, providers and employers.


Employer Engagement in Active Labour Market Programmes in the UK and Denmark