DfE’s 2019 Employer Skills Survey in full swing

We are delighted that this year’s Employer Skills Survey (ESS) is in full swing, with our interviewing services team busy speaking with respondents from around the country. Commissioned by the Department for Education (DfE) ESS is one of the largest business surveys in the world with over 80,000 interviews conducted during each iteration. It informs public policy and provides the comprehensive source of labour market intelligence on the skills challenges employers face.

As we experience a period of increasing uncertainty, with extensive market forces impacting on employer skills needs and skills gaps, it has never been more important to understand the labour market. Given the importance of this research to inform public policy and support business, we’re really proud to have been chosen as the delivering research partner for both 2019 and 2021, continuing our 20-year involvement.

And, while neither its existence or launch will be news to many, there have been some notable changes to this year’s survey. Following extensive review and in collaboration with DfE and their partners in the survey: The Department for the Economy of Northern Ireland, and the Welsh Government, two key developments have been made to increase the value of the research and address gaps in the evidence.

  1. Merging ESS and EPS

The first notable change to this year’s research was the merger of ESS with its sister survey, the Employer Perspectives Survey (EPS).

The EPS focuses on what drives employers’ decisions around recruitment and people development. This insight serves to improve initiatives to help individuals find work, as well as improve initiatives that support business growth and development of the workforce, so they better meet the needs of employers. The EPS has previously been conducted in alternate years to the ESS capturing the views of over 18,000 employers across the United Kingdom.

This merger offers an exciting opportunity to:

  • Continue providing evidence on skills landscape and track changes over time
  • Enable employers’ actions to be linked to the skills challenges faced, thereby;
  • Answering new research questions, such as the relationship between skills shortages and recruitment practices, and the engagement in policy initiatives

2. Random Probability Sampling

Also new for this year’s iteration, following the continuous improvement and development cycle embedded in the survey’s history, is a change to the sampling strategy. Following extensive review in partnership with The Stats People, we’re trialling full random probability sampling in one region with over 7,000 employers. The trial alone, for a CATI survey, is a significant undertaking – and will be larger than many B2B CATI surveys deploying random probability sampling. This is an important step towards potentially rolling out full random probability sampling for the survey in the future, which would be on an unprecedented scale.

Together, these changes have balanced the need to continue this important time series, while using a modularised approach to bring in substantial new policy content on areas such as apprenticeships, traineeships, leavers from education and the employment of young people. This innovation aims to greatly increases the value of the survey to policy makers, allowing for the first-time examination of how employers’ actions are linked to the skills challenges they face.

“The Employer Skills Survey (ESS) is an extremely valuable survey, providing robust quantitative evidence on the skills that employers demand, both from the labour market and their existing staff, how employers respond to their skills challenges through training and recruitment, and their views of and engagement with the skills system.  We decided to merge the Employer Skills Survey (ESS) and Employer Perspectives Survey (EPS) this year, to maximise the value of both surveys by enabling cross-analysis of each survey’s topics.  The new merged survey will provide valuable insight on both employers’ internal skills challenges (formerly covered in the ESS) their engagement with the external skills and training system (formerly covered by the EPS), and how these inter-relate.”

Ramona Franklyn, Department for Education

Can’t wait for the 2019 results? Take a look at the 2017 results published last year.

Employer Perspective Survey 2016 results here.

More information about the 2019 survey is available here.

Landmark new study publishes first insights to help keep children safe

Keeping children safe is important, anyone would agree. But some of the people committed to helping the most vulnerable children and young people – child and family social workers and their organisations – are facing considerable challenges. Among them, recruitment and retention of high-quality social workers – one of the biggest risks to the future delivery of children’s services.[1]

A landmark new study, funded by the Department for Education, looks to change that. The first results from a study to understand social workers’ motivations and experiences of entering, staying and leaving the profession were published today (read the report here).

IFF research, leading a research consortium with Manchester Metropolitan University and the University of Salford, are pleased to be at the forefront of tackling the challenge of social work recruitment and retention.

The findings provide a comprehensive picture of the issues facing child and family social workers and the factors influencing job satisfaction and retention. Overall, the majority of social workers who took part in the survey were motivated to enter the profession for altruistic reasons, found their job satisfying, felt loyal to their employer, and planned to stay in local authority child and family social work in the next 12 months.

Most were positive about their line manager, that they were open to ideas and recognised when they had done their job well. When asked about various aspects of their job, satisfaction was highest for having scope to use their own initiative and the sense of achievement they get from their work. The majority of social workers also felt their entry route had prepared them well for the profession.

The findings also suggest that 2-3 years post qualification is a crucial point, as people move out of the Assessed and Supported Year in Employment (ASYE year). There is merit in exploring how to better support the transition out of ASYE into experienced practitioner roles to support retention and develop resilience.

The majority of social workers who took part in the survey worked more than their contracted hours and the qualitative research revealed that social workers often expected to do so in order to fulfil their roles. Flexible working arrangements were welcomed to manage this issue, such as being able to work from home or while travelling, enabled by good IT. However, in the qualitative interviews, part-time work was perceived as a barrier to progression.

Around half of the social workers who took part in the survey felt stressed by their job. Often bureaucratic procedures and paperwork were seen as getting in the way of their time with children and families, and there is a need to explore ways to reduce unnecessary bureaucracy.

The qualitative interviews identified that the major source of support for social workers was their relationship with their colleagues/ team, and both stayers and leavers talked about how critical this was for keeping them in social work practice. It is evident that organisational culture has a role to play in encouraging healthy working practices and increasing employee confidence in accessing the available support.

Improving public perception and raising the profile of and respect for the profession more widely, could help to attract more applicants.

The summary findings are shown in the infographic below.  Read the full report  for detailed insights on everything from the make-up of the workforce through to some of the reasons shared for leaving the profession.

Longitudinal Social Workers_DfE_Year 1 Infographic

Watch this space for future publications of the next waves of research findings.

[1] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/childrens-services-omnibus

Making time to make a difference

Being busy has become the norm for so many of us, both in work and at home. Workloads increase, deadlines loom, and it’s easy to let the less “pressing” tasks or activities fall by the wayside. Like most people, we’re guilty of this from time to time, and need to plan accordingly to fit in the “non-urgent” stuff, around reports, projects and proposals.

Something we’re committed to at IFF is providing a positive work culture, where our team are engaged and are given opportunities to develop, both professionally and personally. This summer we found a great opportunity to help us achieve that, and which felt like a great fit, linking to our values of being human first and making a difference.

“At the end of the Future Frontiers project, all the young people were enthusiastic and excited about their future careers and it was great to be a part of that.”

Teaming up with charity Future Frontiers, who support disadvantaged young people, 20 IFF-ers from around the business took part in a career mentoring programme for a group of 15-year olds from Kemnal Technology College near Bromley. Running over 4 weeks, the programme offered our team the opportunity to listen to and work with young people during a pivotal time in their academic and future working careers.

Taking time away from our day jobs took a bit of juggling, but Future Frontiers provided loads of support to ensure we were supported throughout and felt comfortable in the programme.Future Frontiers and IFF working together

IFF Associate Director Gill Stewart remarked “I felt prepared for every session, thanks to the resources available – the handbook, the coaching portal and the videos…. It was a lovely thing to be involved in.

Reflecting on her participation in the programme, Mirella Scott, Qualitative Research Manager said:  “I remember what it was like when I was that age, with all the choices laid out before you. When I was at school, making these decisions for myself, and the advice that helped me along the way. The  opportunity to volunteer shows that IFF is interested in helping people with their career and having a positive influence in their lives.

It does make you think about other important things in life and reflect on your own journey through school and starting out in your career. And thinking back – what advice would you give to your 15-year old self?

Other staff agreed that “making time” to break away from the routine of work was really valuable and   found that working with young people was refreshing and energising. The success of the programme was in no small part related to the support that Future Frontiers provided: the use of electronic tablets, links to resources – and even the graduation party; with support from our People team.

Graduation ceremony with Future Frontiers

Reflecting on the opportunity one volunteer said: “Everyone takes ownership and personal responsibility of their work at IFF, so being able to step away from the intensity of your work and take time to do something like this was brilliant. From the start through to graduation, seeing the student preparing to work toward a goal that you’ve influenced, and to work with a young person individually was very rewarding”.

Looking back, the programme was a great opportunity for personal and professional development, and something we’d highly recommend. A wholly positive experience for our team (and we hope for the young people too), it’s been great a great reminder of the value of making time to invest in our People. As well as reiterating how lucky we are to have a great team around us, and give us the opportunity to make a difference.


Entrepreneurs with disabilities need more support – Findings of an IFF Research report, commissioned by the DWP

Disabled entrepreneurs may have greater support needs, found an IFF Research report published this week. The research commissioned by The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) was designed to enhance their understanding of the experience of self-employment for disabled people.

This study was prompted following the observation of rising levels of self-employment within the UK labour market. Between 2001 and 2017, the number of self-employed increased from 3.3 million to 4.8 million people. Moreover, currently in the UK only about half of those with a disability or long-term health condition are in employment, compared to four-fifths of the non-disabled population. This means that around 3.5 million disabled people are potentially missing out on the health and wellbeing benefits that appropriate work can bring. The research was designed to understand to what extent self-employment can be a suitable option for disabled people, considering the potential challenges faced and how these can be alleviated.

Research Design

We conducted forty in-depth interviews and two focus groups as part of this qualitative research, with the following groups:

DWP disabled entrepreneur research

These interviews covered broadly the same topics with each audience:

    • Motivations for entering or seeking self-employment;
    • Challenges of entering, maintaining and growing self-employment;
    • Support received over the course of self-employment; and
    • Ideal type of support that would have been useful over the course of self-employment.

Research Findings

In general, the challenges faced by disabled self-employed people are similar to those faced by all self-employed people, however challenges are compounded and complicated by health conditions which can fluctuate or worsen. Disabled people can also lack confidence and rarely have access to roles models who are disabled and self-employed. In addition, representatives of organisations providing self-employment support generally lack a knowledge, or lived experience, of disability.

As part of the research we also asked disabled self-employed people to tell us about their employment history. This uncovered that many had left traditional employment because it had become unsuitable for them; while some employers had tried to be flexible, others were not able to accommodate their needs. In other cases, doing the job itself was no longer possible regardless of employers’ efforts.

The DWP and The Department of Health have made a commitment to remove the barriers that stop people with a disability or health condition from getting into work, with an aim to see one million more disabled people in work by 2027. This includes a commitment to provide people with the best opportunities so that they can succeed in self-employment. These findings of this study have implications therefore for future support provision considering the specifics the needs of disabled people.

The full report can be viewed here. Or for more information on the research or findings contact:

Lorna Adams, Director, Lorna.Adams@iffresearch.com

Gill Stewart, Associate Director, Gill.Stewart@iffresearch.com

IFF’s stakeholder perception audit report published by the Nursing and Midwifery Council

The report draws together the views of some of the NMC’s most senior partners – including chief nursing officers, government policy makers, trade union representatives and leaders of organisations representing public and patients – and will inform the 2020 – 2025 strategy of the organisation.

Most stakeholders felt that the NMC is on the right trajectory, having been making gradual improvements since c.2012 and being well placed to continue with positive change. However, it was felt that positive initiatives and changes are not fully embedded throughout the NMC and that more work needs to be done.

Andrea Sutcliffe, the new Chief Executive of the NMC, summarised the key take-outs as follows in her recent blog:

  • Partners believe we need to continue focusing on being more transparent and open, as well as being more proactive in explaining our priorities.
  • Communication must improve with all of those we come into contact with.
  • A strong message that the four countries dimension of our work needs to be a clear and unambiguous priority for us.
  • There was also a sense that we could do more with the role we have and the information we hold to influence the health and social care world and support nurses and midwives to deliver better, safer care.

To find out more, click here for the full report.

IFF’s report on Corporate Strategy and Stakeholder Research published by the General Medical Council

The GMC has published research from patients, healthcare bodies and doctors which will be used as a baseline to measure the impact of its corporate strategy. It shows that confidence in the profession and in regulation among patients and the public remains high: 88% of patients and the public are confident in doctors, and 84% are confident in the way doctors are regulated. However, three in four doctors lost some confidence in the GMC over the last 12 months, in the wake of the Jack Adcock/ Dr Bawa-Garba case.

Over nine in ten stakeholders felt that their overall working relationship with the GMC was good, but there is scope to improve this further by listening and communicating direction of travel more effectively.

The data will help inform progress against a number of the aims underpinning the GMC’s corporate strategy, including:

  • Supporting doctors in delivering good medical practice for patients
  • Strengthening collaboration with regulatory partners
  • Strengthening relationships with the public and profession

The research was undertaken in August and September 2018, and heard the views of more than 3,300 doctors, 2,000 members of the public and 50 stakeholders through online and telephone surveys.

Paul Buckley, Director of Strategy and Policy for the GMC, highlighted the importance of the research to the organisation, saying “It’s vital that we listen to the profession in order to improve their working lives and patient safety”.

Click here for the full report

A collaborative search for equality: IFF’s crucial Pregnancy and Maternity Discrimination findings shared at Brussels seminar

IFF’s Pregnancy and Maternity-Related Discrimination and Disadvantage report made a huge impact when it was published by the Equality and Human Rights Commission and BIS (now BEIS) back in 2015, drawing attention to a number of key issues faced by mothers in the workplace. It was exciting, and a testament to the significance of this work, to be asked to present the research in Brussels last month.

The seminar was co-hosted by the European Commission, and Equinet, in partnership with the European Economic and Social Committee entitled ‘Tackling discrimination and ensuring dismissal protection for carers in Europe’. The seminar aimed to bring together and strengthen links between National Equality Bodies and Labour Inspectorates across different European Countries, to explore how to tackle discrimination related to pregnancy, parenthood and caring.

Our research

Our large scale, mixed-method, research programme captured the experiences of both mothers and employers on a range of issues related to managing pregnancy, maternity leave and mothers returning to work.

It was an important programme of work that I was proud to be part of, highlighting the prevalence of possible discrimination with 11% of mothers reporting that they were unfairly dismissed or forced to leave their job and one in five experiencing harassment. Follow the link for further details Click here

The study has personal resonance for me: the 2015 study was completing as I was about to take maternity leave with my second child. And now, three years later, I travelled to Brussels to present it pregnant with my third child. I was aware of how I am in the minority of women who have had a broadly positive experience of navigating work-life balance post-parenthood (a shocking 77% of mothers in our research reported some form of negative or possibly discriminatory experience).

The UK in Europe

I was also acutely aware of myself as a representative of the UK at the event, on the same day that Theresa May arrived in Brussels for a Brexit Summit, which was dominating the news. While the Seminar highlighted some of the current disparities across EU Member States in terms of maternity, paternity and parental leave legislation and practice, the dominant sense was one of collaboration and knowledge sharing, and a strong sense of common interest in working together towards the common goal of gender equality.

Action is being taken at EU level in this area: A key element of the Work Life Balance Package 2017, presented by the European Commission, is an ambitious Directive which sets several minimum standards for parental, paternity and carer’s leave. For the UK, key features would be new entitlement to paid carers’ leave (up to 5 days per year) and a new category of paid parental leave (4 months of non-transferable leave for mothers and fathers which can be taken until the child is 12 years old).

However, the Directive is unlikely to be in place until after March 2019, the likely date of the UK’s exit from the EU. It is currently unclear whether there will be a transitional period where some EU legislation apply in the UK beyond March 2019. while a new UK-EU trading relationship is established.

Collaborative learning

It was clear from the sharing of research findings and case studies at the seminar that the UK and other EU states have much to learn from each other on promoting work-life balance and protecting parents from unfair dismissal.

A key theme of the day was intersectionality, which came out of IFF’s research as well as that presented by the Belgian Institute on Equality between Women and Men and the Danish Institute of Human Rights. The particularly vulnerable position of women with a long-term health condition or disability and/or from an ethnic minority on becoming pregnant was highlighted as a key area for further action.

This seminar provided a platform for comparing progress towards equality in the UK vs other European Countries. The UK tends to sit around the EU average on many measures including the gender gap in employment (the headline indicator of the European Pillar of Social Rights’ social scoreboard for gender equality). The best performers on this measure are Finland, Latvia and Lithuania.

Findings from a Danish survey on Discrimination Against Parents also gave us useful clues to challenges that may lie in the future. In Denmark, where there has been a government campaign to encourage fathers to use their right to parental leave schemes, research findings also show that men are now increasingly experiencing questions about parental planning in job interviews and are increasingly ‘sharing the risk’ of discrimination when they become parents with their female counterparts. The path to increasing female participation in the workforce and reducing the earnings gap will be rocky, and it is useful to learn from the experiences of those EU states that are making better progress on this than the UK.

Research in action: going beyond findings

It is always rewarding as a researcher to see findings being used by those working ‘on the ground’. There was a real spirit of collaboration and commitment to action during the Seminar, as representatives from Equality Bodies and Labour Inspectorates came together in partnership in the breakout groups, using research findings and case studies as stimulus to generate practical ideas of how to tackle discrimination cases in their respective countries.

It was a reminder that there is much opportunity for progress when different bodies with different powers, knowledge and expertise come together. Enhanced co-operation – whether within countries or across EU states – feels essential to bring about the profound structural change needed to labour markets that is necessary for true gender equality.

Department for Education publish two user experience reports featuring research from IFF

The Department for Education has just published the findings of two related studies by IFF Research and University of Derby, that aim to highlight the factors that shape positive user experiences of the EHC planning process, and illustrate good practice in developing EHC plan content.

An Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan sets out the education, health and care support that is to be provided to a child or young person aged 0-25 years who has Special Educational Needs or a Disability (SEND). The studies follow on from a 2016 national survey commissioned by the Department for Education (also conducted by IFF Research and University of Derby) which found variations in how EHC plan recipients experienced the EHC planning process across different local authorities.

The new reports describe the findings of a multivariate analysis of factors affecting satisfaction with the EHC planning process; and of twenty-five face-to-face in-depth interviews with parents involved in the 2016 survey, with the aim of better understanding factors that lead to satisfaction and dissatisfaction with the EHC plan process. Alongside this, University of Derby conducted an evaluation of EHC plan quality focussing on plans provided by 18 of of the 25 parents interviewed.

The evaluation of the EHC plans was conducted by a panel of 10 SEND experts with wide experience as SEND policy advisors, strategic leaders in LAs, specialist advisory teachers, officers in SEN statutory services, Special Needs Co-ordinators, teachers in special and mainstream schools and lecturers.

The full findings can be found on the gov.uk website here.