A closer look at Inverclyde Council’s, Service Award Winning Workforce Refresh Programme.
In November 2020, like many other local government authorities, Inverclyde Council was facing a significant budget gap, anticipated at that time to be £10.5 million over the course of 2021-2023. Not only this, but the Council also had to deal with the impact of a Covid-19 lockdown whilst trying to tackle rising unemployment, with the overall claimant count increasing by just over 46% and youth numbers increasing by 111.7% in July of the 2020. Scottish Government analysis at the time indicated unemployment levels across the country could average around 10%, whereas modelling suggested that Inverclyde’s level could reach 11%.
Inverclyde had a lot on their plate.
Like most local authority areas, the Council already had a range of existing employment programmes and new initiatives supported by the UK Government to promote positive activity within the labour market. However, due to the Covid-19 restrictions in place, the capacity of host organisations became a limiting factor in the effectiveness of these programmes.
Yet despite facing a multitude of challenges, Inverclyde Council managed to make a real impact.
Mindful of its ageing workforce - with 29% of its employees aged over 50 compared to just 5% for under 25-year-olds - the Council saw a chance to create employment opportunities for local people by allowing employees to leave, with early access to their pension and with up to three compensatory added years. The initiative was named the Workforce Refresh Programme and sought to create a range of new employment opportunities throughout Inverclyde Council.
At the time, Council Leader Stephen McCabe said: “We’re in an economic and employment crisis and we have to act now to support our community and the best way to do that just now is jobs.
“A lot are permanent posts and some are temporary, but when people get into temporary work that allows them to increase and improve their skillset, making them more employable and opening up doors for future permanent roles.”
A targeted voluntary severance trawl was undertaken, aimed at those employees who were members of the pension scheme and between the ages of 55 and 65. They also had to be in a post at Grade 5 or below, which included positions like clerical roles, pupil support and catering. These were deemed to be the most suitable employment opportunities for local people with varying qualifications and experience, who would need a reasonable period of support.
The financial package on offer to eligible interested employees was early access to their pension and up to three compensatory added years. To account for service delivery and workforce planning implications, employee releases under the Workforce Refresh Programme were phased over an 18-month period. This also allowed for human resources and local employability groups to prepare people for their new jobs.
As the programme began, Council Leader Stephen McCabe said: “There will be quite a number of staff who will feel they have served the council well, done their bit and would welcome the opportunity to gain more free time by leaving early while at the same time helping young people into employment.”
There were some hiccups along the way. For example, the Council was required to advertise vacancies on myjobscotland.gov.uk, which are often picked up by online job boards like S1jobs. Because the aim of the programme was to specifically get local people into the roles, the Council was able to arrange an alternative URL that took candidates to a hidden section of the myjobscotland.gov.uk website.
This became an issue; job seekers were so used to accessing the full website that the specific URL caused confusion. No matter how much effort was put into advertising the Workforce Refresh Programme link, they continued to access the full website, meaning they could not access the Inverclyde Council roles. Via feedback from trade union colleagues, recruiting managers and registered clients with our partner organisations, it became clear that the special URL was causing too much confusion. In response, the Council removed the URL and continued to develop strong links with employability partners, which greatly enhanced the visibility and awareness of the job opportunities.
Overall, the Workforce Refresh Programme has resulted in benefits for Inverclyde local residents, employability partners and the Council. Employees who were active members of the pension scheme and eligible for compensatory added years got their wish to be released without any detriment to their financial package. Employability partners developed a strong partnership with the Council (who are also the largest employer in the area) that help get their clients into employment, and local job seekers enhanced their chances of gaining employment.
As a result of the programme, applications increased by 496 for under 30s, resulting in an extra 94 young workers employed between 2020/21 and 2021/22. Of the vacancies created by the programme, 100% went to Inverclyde residents, with 15% going to people aged 16-29 and there was an 8% increase in the number of Modern Apprentices securing employment with the Council, which is expected to increase year on year.
Cllr McCabe praised the success of the programme, saying: “For a council the size of Inverclyde, this is a huge package of investment supporting people into work. Day in, day out officers at Inverclyde Council are doing their best to support the people of this area and I want to thank them for all their hard work."