Evaluation of Partners Outreach for Ethnic Minorities (POEM)
Aston J, Bellis A, Munro M, Pillai R, Willison R
Research Report DWPRR 561, Department for Work and Pensions, February 2009
a study commissioned by the Department for Work and Pensions
The Partners Outreach for Ethnic Minorities (POEM) programme began in March 2007 and was initially funded for one year, although it was later extended to run for a second year. POEM was designed to support people of working age who were not in contact with Jobcentre Plus services and who were neither working nor claiming benefit. Support was to be targeted towards non-working partners in low-income families, from ethnic groups who faced particular barriers to employment and who were living in areas of high disadvantage and high ethnic minority population. Although POEM was directed towards all ethnic minority groups, the Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Somali communities were its target groups, with a particular focus on women from those communities, as they have some of the lowest rates of economic activity in the UK.
The ultimate aim of the programme was to move clients into work. However, it was recognised that some clients would be a considerable distance from the labour market, and may not have obtained work by the end of the pilot year. POEM has been delivered by contracted providers in 10 designated areas, six of which were in London, with the others in Birmingham, Bradford, Leicester and Manchester.
This report presents the findings from the first year of the evaluation. It began with a familiarisation stage, including interviews with Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) staff who had formulated the POEM initiative, and an initial examination of the Management Information (MI). After this, the evaluation comprised three main strands:
- Case study work with providers, and other stakeholders and partners involved in delivering POEM in each of the 10 areas, conducted in two waves.
- Fifty face-to-face interviews with POEM clients.
- Analysis of POEM MI (Management Information).
During the first year of POEM, delivery was by eight providers operating in the 10 POEM areas, with three of the London areas being covered by one provider. Some providers were already familiar with the Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities, but working with the Somali community on POEM was a new departure. In the past, providers had usually worked with clients who were closer to the labour market than their typical POEM clients. Some were more used to delivering mandatory programmes which relied on Jobcentre Plus referrals than a voluntary programme such as POEM, which required more intensive outreach work in order to find and recruit suitable clients.
POEM was delivered to clients by adviser and outreach staff, but providers emphasised the importance of working in partnership with other organisations in the community in order to find clients who would be eligible for POEM, and to be able to refer them to appropriate provision at a later stage. Most providers had to extend their community networks in order to recruit sufficient numbers to the programme, and the extent to which they had needed to do this had adversely affected their start figures during the early months of POEM. Employer networks were also viewed as a key part of POEM, and most providers drew on existing contacts, as well as developing more through POEM.
Engaging and recruiting clients
There were a number of key engagement and recruitment strategies in play at most of the providers. Using a team of multilingual outreach workers, some of whom were from the same ethnic backgrounds as the target client groups, was seen to be vital in accessing potential clients and in gaining their trust.
Providers’ outreach strategies included: knocking on doors in targeted wards; publicising the event at various community venues such as shopping centres, libraries, mosques and GP surgeries; holding stalls at community events such as family fun days and jobs fairs, and at festivals and events held by the target communities, and distributing marketing materials in community languages.
Strategic partnerships in the community were also considered crucial to successful client recruitment. For some providers, this became increasingly apparent during the first few months of delivery, when they realised they would need to increase their community networks in order to gain access to the clients who would be eligible for POEM. Once suitable community partners had been found, they were often able to refer suitable clients directly to providers and provide community venues where provider staff could do outreach work. The extent to which providers were able to locate, build and maintain suitable links in the community was one of the key factors which determined their success in delivering POEM.
During the pilot year, providers recruited a total of 4,882 clients to POEM. The largest group was black African clients, accounting for 30 per cent of recruits. Pakistani and Bangladeshi clients accounted for a further 17 and 15 per cent of the total respectively. Of the other ethnic groups recruited, Indian clients were the most prevalent, at 10 per cent. Compared to the overall totals, greater proportions of black African clients were recruited by London providers (39 per cent of the London provider total), with the providers outside London recruiting more Pakistani clients (36 per cent).
Fifty-seven per cent of the clients were women, 43 per cent were men, and the gender balance remained fairly consistent across the London providers and those outside London. More male clients were recruited to POEM than had been anticipated; typically these were young men who had recently settled in the UK on marital visas. Thirty-six per cent of clients were aged 25-34, 30 per cent were aged 18-24, and 26 per cent were aged 35-49. Clients recruited by the providers outside London had a younger profile than those recruited by the London providers.
The levels of qualifications amongst clients joining POEM varied considerably, but there appeared to be a majority with few or no qualifications, or with qualifications from outside the UK. A few of the younger clients had degrees from the UK. Many clients had young children and childcare was cited as a major barrier to work. Family responsibilities tended to determine the types of jobs which female clients with children would consider, and also restrict the hours they were willing to work, and the distances they would travel. The fact that childcare could be provided through POEM presented a valuable opportunity to clients who would not otherwise have been able to access this kind of provision. However, many clients had access to some informal childcare through their extended families and some preferred not to use formal childcare.
Providers considered most of their clients to be a long way from the labour market when joining POEM. They faced a wide range of barriers to work, including: unfamiliarity with the UK labour market and where to access support and advice; lack of job search skills and interview techniques; lack of UK work experience; few or no UK qualifications; low levels of English language; low confidence and self esteem; and social and cultural barriers, including some family resistance to women entering the labour market. POEM clients therefore took longer to be job-ready than clients on other programmes providers had run.
POEM support and activities
A wide variety of activities and support were on offer, although there was considerable variation between providers. Across all providers, the range of activities included:
- flexible, one-to-one support
- pre-application preparation, including CV writing, job search advice, help completing application forms, interview skills training, help with overseas qualification recognition and confidence building activities
- English language and basic skills assessments
- work experience and self-employment advice
- group sessions on, for example, interview techniques, confidence building, talks and training focused on entry to a specific industry, and basic IT training.
- Other professionals, such as English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) and basic skills tutors, self-employment advisers and job coaches were used by some providers to provide further in-house assistance to clients. Clients were also referred to partners to access services beyond the remit of the providers. These included local training organisations and colleges, or providing childcare through arrangements with local Children’s Centres.
- When clients were initially signed up to POEM, the first step was usually for an adviser to meet with each client on a one-to-one basis and complete an Action Plan. This set out the client’s starting point, including qualifications and previous work experience, their aspirations, barriers to work, and the actions which would be needed to overcome them. The Action Plan informed the activities undertaken on POEM and it was updated regularly as particular barriers were overcome.
The client journey
Overall, clients’ experiences on POEM were diverse and varied, but there were common experiences across the client group, highlighting a number of key factors that commonly contributed to the speed and success of the client journey towards the labour market.
Previous work experience and language skills emerged as the most salient factors in determining the speed and likely success of the client journey towards employment. Culture, family and caring responsibilities were also important circumstantial factors affecting the client journey. Of these, the cultural preference amongst women to stay at home and look after the family and home, particularly when children were young, was perhaps the greatest constraint reported by clients and providers. It did not preclude work as an option, but it often limited the type and hours of work that women were willing to consider.
The design and delivery of POEM also impacted on the client journey. Aspects which were particularly important in helping to move clients forward included intensive, flexible, one-to-one support from providers, and the use of Action Plans to guide the journey, although not all providers used these in the same way.
The key turning points which were identified as being significant to clients in helping them move forward were:
- greater confidence – perhaps the most important turning point of all, this often stemmed from the one-to-one support from advisers and grew as clients completed various activities through POEM
- broadened horizons – many clients reported that POEM had helped them to better understand their employment options and to formulate personal goals and long-term plans
- intensive provider support – the one-to-one support provided through POEM appeared to be critical in building up the necessary trust and rapport with clients to fully understand their barriers to work
- wider family support – the support of the wider family was, for some clients, vital in gaining entry to POEM, and in ‘making or breaking’ their journey
- positive experience of training and job preparation – these were such encouraging experiences for a significant proportion of clients that they proved to be key turning points in the client journey.
Outcomes and impact
POEM achieved 80 per cent of targeted starts in the pilot year (4,884 starts compared to a target of 6,101). There was considerable variation in the extent to which providers were able to meet their recruitment or start targets on POEM, although most providers recruited the largest proportions of clients during the later months of the pilot year. Figures differed between the providers in and outside London. London providers achieved 78 per cent of their target starts (3,490 compared to a target of 4,463). Providers outside London did slightly better, achieving 85 per cent of their target (1,394 compared to a target of 1,638).
In total, there were 1,016 job entries achieved during the first year of POEM. This was 58 per cent of the target of 1,751. The London providers in particular fell far short of their targets, obtaining only 40 per cent of their target job entry numbers (525 of a profiled 1,296). However, their performance improved markedly over the course of the year; in the final month they returned 197 per cent of their targeted job entries for that month. The providers outside London exceeded their overall job entry targets (491 compared to 455, or 107 per cent) despite a slow start in the first two to three months.
The overall rate of job entry (job entries as a percentage of starts) across all providers was 20 per cent. There were considerable differences between the providers in and outside London; providers outside London performed more than twice as well as London providers on converting starts to job entries, at 35 per cent compared to 15 per cent.
Providers reported that POEM clients had entered a wide range of work. The majority of jobs obtained were fairly low-skilled, entry-level work, including retail, cleaning, catering and security work, and factory and warehouse work. Working with children, for example, in a nursery or as a lunchtime supervisor in a school, was popular amongst many of the female clients with children. Clients with limited English had a fairly narrow range of work available to them in the short-term, but some providers had considerable success in placing such clients with employers from their own communities, and in providing work-focused ESOL classes to quickly improve employability. Some clients already had work experience and/or professional qualifications from overseas, and needed help with converting them and having them recognised by employers. A few clients had degrees from the UK but were struggling to find the kinds of work they were looking for. There were examples of such clients entering banking and accounting, and also of POEM clients being employed by their provider as outreach workers and advisers.
Turning to soft outcomes and distance travelled, there were four main areas of change identified:
- Greater confidence and motivation.
- Increased awareness of opportunities.
- Job search, application and interview skills.
- Improved English language skills.
There was often considerable overlap between these, as change in one area would help to bring about change in others.
The key turning points outlined earlier provide a framework for examining the softer ways in which POEM made an impact during its pilot year.
- Greater confidence – one of the most universal barriers, which was also one of the easiest to address through the programme.
- Broadened horizons – this manifested as moving clients closer to the labour market, encouraging re-engagement amongst women, preventing and addressing disengagement amongst men, effective signposting to other provisions, and providing advice on the full range of employment and self-employment options.
- Intensive provider support – which included a wide range of relevant and work- focused activities, the use of Action Plans, and matching clients with suitable jobs.
- Positive experience of training and job preparation – for example, shared cultural values of staff and clients, one-to-one support, and finding suitable opportunities for clients with limited English.
- Wider family support – this included working with clients’ partners to persuade them of the benefits of POEM, and finding childcare and respite care.
Clients interviewed were very positive about the assistance POEM had given them. Some had obtained work or had done training through POEM, which they felt they would otherwise not have found, while others said that they felt much more confident and optimistic about their future work prospects than they had when they joined the programme. Few had any suggestions for ways in which the programme could be improved.
Impact on providers included their developing and strengthening partnerships and outreach strategies, and extending their range of provision by adding new activities in response to demand. Many providers had also made changes to their employer engagement strategies during the course of the pilot year. Most providers had recruited new staff to POEM, and this usually increased their capacity in terms of the community languages spoken and the range of ethnic backgrounds represented amongst their staff.
Overall, factors which contributed to success were: creative outreach strategies; making clients feel comfortable; a wide range of provision; employer networks; and flexibility.
Despite a slow start, particularly for providers in London, the providers achieved 80 per cent of their targeted starts to the programme, which compares favourably to outcomes from many other labour market programmes. Starts improved markedly during the course of the year and, by the end, most providers had been close to, or meeting their starts targets for several months. It is hoped that these trends will continue in year two.
Performance on job entries was lower than for starts; providers achieved 58 per cent of their targeted job entries. Lower performance on job entry was attributed to few POEM clients being recruited in earlier months, together with large proportions of clients being further from the labour market than providers had generally anticipated.
Nonetheless, some providers were more successful than others in converting their starts to job entries, possibly through focusing intensive support on actively applying for jobs at an early stage in the POEM process, and before many barriers to work had been overcome. Other providers may be able to learn lessons from this during the second year of POEM.
The key changes made by providers during the year were to their client entry and exit strategies. Outreach and engagement methods changed for many providers, as many found that methods they had employed to bring in clients to other programmes did not work for the POEM client group. Links with employers were also increased and strengthened in order to provide suitable opportunities for POEM clients who matched their requirements.
Partnership working was vital in delivering the programme successfully. Outreach and engagement was the area of providers’ work where this was the most critical and made the difference between providers’ success and failure. Partnerships were also important in being able to provide the right employment-related opportunities for clients, and in enabling providers to deliver and signpost clients to a wide range of provision.
Tailored and one-to-one support was a key element of POEM, and drew all other aspects of provision into a coherent whole. A shared background and language between adviser and client was proved to be critical in securing the initial interest and trust of potential clients during engagement and recruitment activities and also, for many clients, in the early stages of POEM.
Many POEM clients found employment through POEM, however, by the end of the pilot year, most had not. In these cases, it is important to recognise the contribution that POEM has made in moving clients closer to the labour market. Amongst those who had not found work, POEM had helped some of the clients who were among the least well equipped to navigate the necessary systems to find opportunities in the absence of support. Confidence was a key soft outcome for these clients, as was an increased awareness of opportunities, improved job search and interview skills and, for many, improved English.
Evaluation of Partners Outreach for Ethnic Minorities (POEM): Interim report, Aston J, Bellis A, Munro M, Pillai R, Willison R. Research Report DWPRR 561, Department for Work and Pensions, 2009.
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