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Ken Skates AM, Minister for Economy and Transport

First published:
19 March 2019
Last updated:

This was published under the 2016 to 2021 administration of the Welsh Government

In the Employability Plan, published a year ago, we set out our ambitions to support people across Wales into work today, whilst also preparing the workforce for the immediate and long term challenges of the future. 

Over the past year a range of actions have been implemented to join-up and improve our approach to supporting people into high quality, sustainable employment across Wales.

Unemployment and economic inactivity rates continue to fall in Wales. The employment rate in Wales is now higher - and the economic inactivity rate lower - than the UK as a whole. This is the first time this has been the case since comparable records began and demonstrates that our approach is working. 

Employability and skills support is delivered through a wide-ranging delivery network which includes local authorities, further education institutions, employers and the third sector. I am grateful for the collective contribution to the extensive progress made in Wales, through a combination of EU and Welsh Government funding, across the four key themes within the plan.

Preparing for a radical shift in the world of work

As we approach the potential exit from the EU, it is all the more important that we continue to make progress to ensure we are prepared for any gaps that may emerge in the supply of skills, or impacts on people and places. There are uncertain times ahead and flexible, high quality employability support will ensure that we are as prepared as we can be to mitigate the impact, particularly on advanced manufacturing, automotive, engineering and health and social care sectors.

We are using all levers available to us to support both employers and those individuals seeking employment, to prepare for potential shifts in the economy after we leave the EU.

Our Business Wales Brexit portal, is enabling businesses across Wales to explore how they can best prepare for the changes to come. For individuals, advice and guidance delivered by the Working Wales advice service, coupled with the strong network of employability support partners, will ensure that we can respond swiftly with the best possible support to those who may need it. In addition we have strong collaborative working arrangements in place between major support agencies, Job Centre Plus, local authorities and Trade Unions.

Promoting employer responsibility to upskill workers, support staff and provide fair work

We recognise that employability cannot just be about support for individuals. We are working in partnership with employers to promote best practice behaviours, accelerating action to support recruitment, employee retention, workplace health and wellbeing, and in work training to support people to stay in work.

The Flexible Skills Programme has supported 59 employers to train individuals in work to improve skills levels of 4000 employees, tackle skills shortages and improve workforce capability and productivity.

Our flagship Apprenticeship programme continues to raise the profile of ‘on the job’ training in Wales, and is on track to create 100,000 apprenticeship employment opportunities over the life of the current Assembly term. By incentivising SMEs to use apprenticeships and prioritising the expansion of Higher Apprenticeships in STEM and technical subjects we are ensuring a focus on growth sectors to create the new generation of professionals to drive innovative practices, create new products, and boost productivity levels.

To encourage farm diversification a new Forestry Apprenticeship pilot scheme has been established, to create new apprenticeship positions in Trees and Timber, Land based engineering, Environmental Conservation.

We have seen great progress in helping individuals to stay in work. The In Work Support Service has provided therapeutic interventions to 4,200 individuals with musculoskeletal and/or mental health conditions, helping nearly 3,000 people to remain in work and a further 1,200 to return to work. In November 2018, we announced an additional £9.4m of funding that will enable us to help up to 12,000 people to remain in work and to introduce a new business support service that will provide training on all aspects of health and wellbeing directly to SME employers.

100 additional employers have signed up to the Healthy Working Wales Award which supports employers, individuals and a range of health professionals to enable working age people in Wales stay fit and healthy so they can remain in employment, or return to work following a period of ill health.

Our ‘something for something’ approach, as set out in our Economic Action Plan, has provided an excellent opportunity to work with business to support and promote the behaviours that can help people access, remain and progress in work. In May 2018 we launched the Economic Contract, a centrepiece of the Plan, to get the most value from our investment. 158 employers have since entered into Economic Contracts, demonstrating a commitment to growth, fair work, promotion of workplace health and wellbeing and continued skills development in the workplace.

We are committed to using our procurement levers to ensure that people and communities in Wales can benefit from public investment that provides a return to the public purse. 

Over the past year Community Benefit objectives have reported the creation of 102 employment opportunities, 505 apprenticeships and 55,111 training weeks.

I am passionate about better integrating economic, employability and skills development, all of which are key enablers to increasing prosperity in Wales. Business Wales and Careers Wales have a critical role in delivering access to advice, guidance and support to employers to prosper, and to support individuals into good quality employment.   

Going forward, the two organisations will now be working together more closely in the delivery of key services to better align recruiting employers with individuals seeking work. Together they will support a skilled workforce of the future, based on anticipated needs of employers.

Business Wales has been actively supporting individuals to consider business start-up. Working collaboratively with partners, it has helped support the creation of 1,042 new enterprises across Wales during 2018, and is focussed on encouraging more women to start, sustain or grow their business and reach their potential.

Four new Enterprise Hubs have been established across Wales to provide a place for entrepreneurs to facilitate networking and mentoring between individuals and businesses to foster innovation.

New and existing SME’s have been supported to grow in sustainable and responsible ways, helping to create 6,116 new jobs during 2018.

Responding to current and future skills gaps

In the economic climate we face, the right to lifelong learning becomes more important than ever, with the flexibility to gain training and new qualifications while working. Two regional Personal Learning Account pilots will commence in September 2019 to support employed adults earning under the Welsh Median income, to gain higher level skills, switch career or progress to a higher level. 

We are addressing workforce issues in low pay sectors which often lack opportunities for progression. We are strengthening the foundational economy to help build resilience in all parts of Wales.

We have committed to raise workforce capability and skill levels in the childcare, play and early years workforce through a new suite of childcare qualifications to support career pathways to higher levels and transition to related sectors such as health and education. From April this year, registered day care providers will receive exemption from business rates to support sector growth.

We have launched a ‘WeCare.Wales’ recruitment and retention campaign to promote highly rewarding careers in social care, early years and childcare that support people to live full and active lives.

We continue to be committed to taking steps to eliminate the qualification gap between Wales and the rest of the UK. EU funded projects have helped over 73,000 people to gain a qualification in preparation for work, or when employed.

Providing a personalised approach to employability support

We have made great strides in ensuring we have bespoke support of varying intensity available to  those in greatest need, based on individual requirements.

Through the current network of EU funded programmes over 62,000 people have been supported to boost their employability skills, training and readiness for work to date, 13,000 people supported into work and over 8,000 young people into education or training.

For individuals recovering from substance misuse or mental health conditions, the Out of Work Service has worked with 8,500 vulnerable people in Wales to find employment or encourage them back into education and training.

To better support those with mental health conditions into employment, last month we were awarded £1.5m UK Government funding to test the practical application of Individual Placement Support (IPS) in North Wales – a new approach in which healthcare professions work in partnership with employment specialists.

We have fully embedded tailored, community-based outreach for those furthest from the labour market with over 29,500 individuals engaged and almost 10,000 supported into employment.  £12m additional Communities for Work Plus funding complements the Communities for Work and Parents and Childcare Employment Programmes to provide intensive mentoring and support to overcome complex barriers to employment.

In the last 6 months, we have announced a further £4.5m for projects to help over 1,800 people to enter work or boost employability skills. The ‘Job Sense’ project will deliver expert mentoring through sign language to support those with hearing loss and related conditions into work. We are confident that we have the means to continue a comprehensive programme of support beyond our departure from the EU.

Whilst we procure the new Job Support Wales Employability Programme, we will extend ReAct, Job Growth Wales, Access, Traineeships and the Employability Skills Programme to provide continuity of employability and skills support during a time of uncertainty.

The suite of employability programmes will continue to equip young people and adults with the skills, work preparation training, qualifications and work experience to progress towards and within employment.  

High quality accessible childcare is critical to enable parents and carers to access and remain in employment and training. Significant progress has been made to roll out the 30 hours of free childcare offer for working parents of 3 and 4 year olds. Additional investment in 115 new or redeveloped childcare settings will increase capacity of the sector to meet demand across Wales.

We recently completed a consultation on ‘Action on disability: the right to independent living’.  This proposed a range of actions to close the disability employment gap, and in December 2018 we published an ‘Inclusive Apprenticeship Action Plan’ to widen access to people with learning difficulties and disabilities. I am determined to see improvements in the employment rate for disabled people in Wales and we will continue to work in partnership with the Disability sector, to devise appropriate, shared actions to support employers to recruit disabled people and those with health-limited conditions into work.

We will continue to work together with the Department for Work and Pensions to increase take up of their ‘Access to Work’ scheme, and to raise awareness with employers and disabled people.  

EU funded projects across Wales have helped over 3,400 employees with disabilities and work-limiting health conditions to stay in work.  Since September 2018, £8m of additional funding has been announced to support over 5,300 people with health conditions or disabilities to stay in work or address barriers causing underemployment.

For young people, our Youth Engagement and Progression Framework (YEPF) continues to have a real impact. Since launching, the percentage of Year 11 school leavers not entering education, employment or training in Wales has more than halved.

From April 2019, the local authority Youth Support Grant will benefit from a £6.6m boost of investment to identify and support young people emerging with mental/emotional health and wellbeing issues, and those at risk of youth homelessness. Individuals up to the age of 21 will now have access to discounted travel, to remove transport as a barrier to accessing education, training and employment.

Finally, we have made significant progress to develop ‘Working Wales’, a new employability advice service for Wales which will launch on the 1st May.  The new national service, delivered by Careers Wales will make it easier for people to access professional advice and support, needs based assessment and referral to appropriate support to get a job. It will hide the complexity of our existing delivery model for young people and adults to make it easier to access the support they need.

At this uncertain time for the Welsh economy, it will be a key mechanism for ensuring more streamlined employability support to individuals across Wales.

Our ambition is for delivery of employability support under one banner of ‘Working Wales’, supporting people to change their story through professional career development support,  individualised referral and delivery of bespoke support to meet their needs.

Employment provides the most sustainable route out of poverty.  I am proud of the progress we have made, but we need to continue to improve and develop our approach to respond to the challenges of the future.  I call on all of our partners to work with us to create better outcomes for individuals.

The prize – an ambitious and prosperous nation, supported and empowered to progress towards, gain and maintain good quality employment.