In recent weeks I have had conversations with politicians of all shades of ideology and ranging from frontbench MPs to local authority leaders with everything in between. What struck me was the unanimity of their frustration with the way the current labour market was letting down so many people, especially the young.
The two recurring themes were:
1. The abdication by schools of any interest in preparing their pupils for the world of work. The education establishment is so focused on grades and higher education it is deaf to the increasingly vocal complaints of employers. I'm told some free schools are daring to challenge this orthodoxy, but that isn't much use to everyone else.
2. The failure of the Work Programme to deliver results and the loss of capacity of independent social enterprises as resources become overly concentrated.
Through FranchisingWorks we have always been part of the discussion on innovation in the labour market, and NESTA's work in this area is very welcome. In particular Jo Casebourne has highlighted how many government-led initiatives fail because of lack of flexibility and local ownership – sadly this has been repeated in the execution of the Work Programme.
Pulling the various strands together, we have identified three themes that we will be developing in the coming months, both in-house and with our partners.
1. Fostering local initiatives and intermediary projects. Work programmes are too large and have missed pockets of deprivation that need more co-ordinated, locally-led initiatives. We anticipate this trend will be accelerated by the development of local social investment and associated capacity building.
2. Making it easier to scale what works. This is not just about social investment, but rather addressing internal and external barriers to replication and social franchising. Lowering the costs to social enterprises of winning additional customers and contracts is critical.
3. Helping large employers support social enterprises through supply chain management, through our Social Business Partnership. This is going to be even more important if the job guarantee policy currently being developed by Labour comes into force, as it will give private sector employers a wider range of ways to engage with the programme constructively.
After a few years of stagnation, the whole work integration sector looks ready for a revival - with political interest in the run-up to the next election, money from EU Structural Funds and the Social Investment Business, the rise of “One-Nation Businesses”, and as Local Economic Partnerships get into their stride. Changing the culture in education may take a little longer!