By Dr Deirdre Hughes OBE, Director, DMH Associates & Associate Fellow, University of Warwick IER.
Across England, National Careers Service Prime Contractors are facing imminent collapse at a time when their support services and expertise are most needed in local communities, Dr Deirdre Hughes OBE warned today.
Careers England has been in conversation with government about practical and ‘common sense’ ways of ensuring Careers Companies do not financially collapse in this time of national crisis. The Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) model of payment by results (PBR) which includes undertaking face-to-face and group sessions is now unworkable. Other DfE funded initiatives such as the Careers and Enterprise Company (CEC) have slackened their PBR rules and organisations such as the National Lottery Fund are actively trying to support their providers. Equity and fairness in these difficult times is essential.
Careers Companies are monitoring job losses and opportunities, they are also using technology to provide moral and practical support to people who have suddenly lost their income and/or livelihood. These companies are working extremely hard to identify and mitigate the risks that CovID-19 poses but they are already experiencing a significant impact which is only likely to get worse:
- All staff are working remotely to comply with Government Guidance, many will have to be furloughed as there is not enough work to be undertaken virtually and no funds to pay their salaries.
- Job centres are working remotely and are only dealing with claims for Universal Credit, which they are deluged with. Making referrals to the National Careers Service is not a priority. They are the biggest referrer to the National Careers Service and therefore the impact on the PBR contract is significant.
- There are concerns about the viability of some sub-contractors, for example, some have temporarily shutdown
- All planned events have been cancelled (rightly so) which impacts significantly on Careers Companies’ ability to claim PBR funding from the ESFA unless this stringent approach is relaxed.
- The largest PBR payments relate to the achievement of Jobs and Learning Outcomes, staff are finding not surprisingly that customers think it is insensitive to be asked if they have managed to find work or training opportunities at this time.
Many Careers Companies are charities and have very little in the form of reserves to call upon. They are all experiencing a reduction in income from the National Careers Service work and the rate of reduction is accelerating. Some companies are trying to secure bank loans to help with cash flow and enable continued trading but this is proving difficult primarily as they have few assets to offer as security.
The ESFA needs to step up and adopt a common sense approach in this unprecedented situation to help Careers Companies survive the challenging months ahead and to ensure that they are in a position to support the many people across England whose jobs and livelihoods will be affected by this crisis.
The support needed includes:
- a relaxation of the PBR element of the contract and compliance rules – as a temporary measure
- an adoption of a payment on profile for a limited number of months
- a broader definition of priority groups given a large percentage of the population will be affected by the COVID-19 crisis.
When this pandemic is over, young people and adults will need reliable and impartial careers information, advice and guidance which offers hope, guidance and opportunity. Most importantly, individuals will need to be able to ‘put bread on the table’ and thrive in a new social and economic landscape.