John McDonough, Managing Director of Recro Consulting writes for The HR Director, published on 11 February, the original post can be found here.

The System’s Broken


That system is broken – the Social Mobility All Party Parliamentary Group said that the system was the issue back in 2014. It also found that character and resilience were the key determinants to social mobility. The UK spends £billions every year on complex funding and programmes that serve neither the individual nor employer. It keeps those in the system in work but, even when they know it could be done better, they have little if any influence to change it.

We’re looking at a level of necessary systemic change that is unprecedented but has anyone checked that the people we’re looking to instigate and deliver it – civil servants and politicians – have the permission, capability and competence to do so?

There was some great research by INLOGOV (Institute of Local Government Studies) a number of years ago looking at what happens beyond Nudge Theory. They found the need to change the thinking and behaviours of the professionals before they can affect service users. And furthermore, for anything to change, the reason why has to be strong enough. A senior business leader encapsulated the situation perfectly when he told me recently that “I agree with you completely but this stuff is in the too difficult box. You’re dealing with people who don’t want a solution and business wants to deal with people who want a solution.”

So, who owns that and how do we do it?

More of the same

The Levelling Up White Paper has just been published – hardly to a fanfare – and we’ve got a two year wait for the Shared Prosperity Fund, replacing the European Social Fund, to tackle labour market challenges. Can businesses wait that long? What’s the delay?

What’s still missing is high quality training provision which delivers a paradigm shift in confidence, motivation, attitude and resilience alongside recruitment ‘know how.’ Focusing on the needs of employers and individuals works but too few organisations understand how to do this beyond the scope of a contract. Trying to buy it is unnecessarily complicated and its availability should be much easier and more accessible. With over a million vacancies we need some serious solutions and quickly.

In my experience, however, the people tasked (directly or inadvertently) with this change don’t know how to do it. That’s not a criticism as this is highly complex stuff, but it is a reality. And that means they need to go looking for problems which is not what they are used to doing.

But what happens if we are expecting Ministers and others tasked with the job to course correct entire government departments when there is nothing in their background that suggests that is their skillset? We’re setting them up to fail.

More cock up than conspiracy?

Senior civil servants and special advisors tell me in private that they can’t disagree with a word that I’ve said, or that they “think it’s more cock up than conspiracy.”

Over the course of successfully working with stakeholders over a number of years – including jobseekers, employers, funders and providers – I have developed a five step solution. From the initial point that you recognise that something needs to change through to evidencing it and enabling and facilitating the change required to deliver a high performance step change for staff, stakeholders, partners and businesses.

But, if Ministers and senior civil servants aren’t aware there is a problem, they won’t act. And if they are, and still don’t act, that has to be addressed and here’s why. When you have an immigrant workforce with a strong work ethic, whose main driver is to earn as much money as possible to either make a better life for themselves in the UK or back home when they return, employers hold all the cards. When you don’t have that, you’re going to have to start asking people what is the life and career they want? That often needs highly skilled facilitation including helping people understand their motives and drivers, the types of roles and careers that are available and steppingstones to get there.

Hidden agendas

But where do you go to get good careers advice? If you have money fine but, if you haven’t, there’s nothing – or nothing that doesn’t have an agenda (like needing to get bums on seats to fill a programme) turning you into a learner outcome to draw down funding.

In the meantime, we have huge numbers of people stuck in a system which isn’t serving them. They can’t get a job, their confidence has disappeared, the gap on their CV seems insurmountable, businesses haven’t got time to take a chance on them and they’re focused on survival. Beyond that you have swathes of people not even registered with the jobcentre (economically inactive) so not eligible for any support. Poor provision keeps people trapped in the system and not progressing into work instead of helping them make their life better whilst meeting the needs of business, society and the economy.

The Government talks of levelling up but we know there is little substance. Business needs to help and that includes being a critical friend and maybe starting to hold Whitehall to account.

Let’s start with some incremental steps and surely the senior HR community has to play a pivotal role here? They understand change, where it’s needed and what can be achieved when it’s delivered well. They can see the need and talk to their business leaders, to talk to politicians and to get their needs met by the system.

Government wants and needs businesses to succeed. Businesses need to want employees to succeed. Everybody wants society to succeed and the more inclusive society is, and that includes economically, the more everyone wins. Let’s set people up to win rather than to fail.