A Review of the Integration of Brokerage Services in the South West

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1 A Review of the Integration of Brokerage Services in the South West EXECUTIVE SUMMARY This report presents the findings of the research study, A Review of the Integration of Brokerage Services in the South West. The Review was commissioned by the South West Regional Skills Partnership (RSP) with funding from the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) and undertaken by the South West Skills and Learning Intelligence Module (SLIM) during the autumn of Background Improving the level and quality of business practice, and workforce skills, is crucial if businesses are to improve their competitiveness. Despite this, many businesses, particularly small and medium-sized businesses, lack the in-house resources and expertise to diagnose their business and skills needs and then to find the best solution. This is compounded by the fact that the market for business support and skills services is complex and confusing. Government has a key role to play in helping businesses to navigate the complexities of the market, through the provision of high quality, independent and easily accessed brokerage services. Whilst brokerage services are designed to make the market for services less confusing, there are in practice a number of brokerage services in operation. The challenge, then, is how to integrate these brokerage services so that they provide seamless support to the client and, potentially, a single access point for publiclyfunded business support, skills and recruitment services. At best, lack of integration reduces the effectiveness of the public resources deployed. At worst, it could lead to further confusion for employers and the potential for disengagement. 2. Aims of the review The aims of the Review were twofold: 1. to identify, within the context of a limited mapping exercise, the nature, scale and range of brokerage services available to business within the region; and 1

2 2. to build up a picture of synergy, overlap and divergence amongst the range of publicly-funded brokerage services. From this it would be possible to identify where links need to be made, as well as the barriers to greater integration. The review focused on mapping the existence of brokerage services delivered or funded through: Learning and Skills Council (LSC) South West Regional Development Agency (RDA) Business Link (BL) Jobcentre Plus (JCP) Higher Education (HE) Sector Skills Councils (SSCs) Trade associations and employer federations European funded services. In-depth interviews then took place with the major brokerage organisations within the region and a small sample of the smaller agencies. A total of 62 staff were interviewed from 33 organisations. The main focus here was to look in more detail at the operation of the referral processes and the relationships with other brokerage services. As well as observations on how the services currently relate, the research sought to draw out potential for service improvements and barriers to joint working. The research also sought to identify what works well in terms of engagement and collaborative working. In addition to the findings (see below), the report contains a range of in-depth case studies. This Review was undertaken at the start of a period of significant change for brokerage services. Indeed, the brokerage services which form the bedrock of this study are either relatively new or have been the subject of recent restructuring. The outcomes of the Leitch Review, the Comprehensive Spending Review 2007 and the proposed changes to the Train to Gain skills brokerage service are likely to prompt significant change in the management, scope and coverage of brokerage services in the near future. 3. Defining brokerage For the purposes of this Review brokerage is defined as, an independent interface between employers and the providers of skills, business development or employment (recruitment) services. The Review also confined itself to a consideration of publicly-funded brokerage services. Many of the organisations that are the subject of this research do not use the term brokerage for the work that they do, nor will their staff necessarily be called brokers. The critical factor is the intermediary nature of the activity, the employer interface and the independent nature of the services brokered. For the purposes of this report, therefore, the term broker is used to describe a wide range of posts intermediaries, advisers and workforce development officers are just some of the terms used. The brokerage process also describes a range of activities which includes information, diagnostic services and advice. 2

3 4. Findings Extent of brokerage services There is a broad spectrum of activity which could loosely be described as brokerage taking place within the region. The narrow scale of the mapping exercise has meant that it has not been possible to identify adequately the full range of local and sub-regional services. However, the findings would indicate that there is little significant brokerage activity taking place outside of the main services: Train to Gain skills brokerage service Business Link IDB service Jobcentre Plus Higher Level Skills Pathfinder project. Nevertheless, European funding has been important in funding local brokerage provision outside of the mainstream services. This has, in the main, supported employer engagement activities by colleges, training providers, universities and local authorities. However, the programme period for ESF Objective 3 ended in December 2007, thus the activities funded by the programme are likely to have ceased at the time of writing. One potential source of brokerage services was provided by the SSCs. Yet even though little direct brokerage activity was found within SSCs, they have an important role in developing partnerships with other brokerage services, particularly Train to Gain. In that respect, they can act as a broker between employers within their networks and the other brokerage services. They therefore need to be seen as part of the wider brokerage resource within the region. Integration This Review concludes that, whilst relationships are beginning to develop well, services are far from integrated, particularly at the local level. Whilst a range of formal protocols and less formal working agreements exist, joint working and integration on the ground is mixed. Whilst there are signs of a shift in understanding of the importance of a more integrated approach, and notable improvements have been made, silo working predominates. Degrees of integration between the services are variable, both between services and within services between local areas. Integration on the ground depends on the knowledge, commitment and resources of the brokerage staff. Whilst many examples of effective joint working exist, and there is a general feeling that things are getting better, many staff spoke of lack of knowledge of other brokerage services, problems with effective joint working, lack of resources and confusing targets. As might be expected, closest joint working was visible between the Business Link IDB service and the Train to Gain skills brokerage service. However, despite this, there is scope for further improvements in integration, and joint working varies significantly depending on the geographical areas. The agenda for change currently being set by government policy will lend impetus to this integration but issues of pay, accreditation, custom and practice, as well as access to shared information sources, will need to be resolved in the process. The brokers interviewed as part of this research understood the importance of local relationship building but complained of lack of time and resource to make these links and attend all the relevant network and partnership meetings. In many cases brokers did not know who to contact locally. 3

4 Local relationships are not well or systematically defined, although the requirement for referrals between the IDB service and Train to Gain skills brokerage defines local relationships to some extent. However, even here, the relationships are patchy. Historical links and personal relationships appear to be more significant in determining the quality of local working arrangements than are formal protocol arrangements. Where integration is working well, the following characteristics were identified: Planned joint visits; Cross referrals; Shared knowledge of the client; Shared knowledge of local needs and the potential for synergies; Joint marketing. Barriers to integration A number of barriers were identified to integration: Targets and resources the requirement to meet stringent targets can have an impact on quality of the service at times and limits the extent to which brokers can make time for networking with other brokerage services. As one broker pointed out, there just simply isn t enough time to attend all the meetings and networking events required to build these partnerships. Trust and understanding reluctance to refer to other agencies often stemmed from the fact that brokers had little understanding or trust in the services offered by other agencies. Lack of shared client information - the lack of shared client information systems meant that it was difficult to co-ordinate joint visit arrangements effectively and ensure valuable follow up with the client. Benefits of partnership - where they work well, the benefits of partnership are clear and appreciated by brokers. However, there seems to have been little recording, in terms of case studies, of effective joint working and therefore little systematic promotion of partnership working. Lack of knowledge - when asked why there was not more joint working, the most commonly cited problem was brokers not knowing who and under what circumstances to make referrals or develop joint responses. Basic issues included: Not knowing who to contact; Not knowing what might be on offer from the service. Market segmentation and specialisation Whilst the Review found some evidence of market segmentation on the basis of business size, segmentation of the market on a sectoral level by the regional brokerage services is limited. Sectors may be the focus of attention for marketing purposes and responding to particular localised needs, but this is not a planned strategy. With the exception of SSCs and 4

5 sector-based trade association activity, which is necessarily sector focused, this lack of segmentation means there is wide potential for overlap in the services in terms of the potential customer base. In terms of sector specialisms, some brokerage services have identified sector specialist staff or staff who have been given the role in leading on work with specific sectors. Yet one of the main complaints made by SSCs and trade associations is the lack of specialist knowledge amongst the mainstream brokerage services. It is pinpointed by SSCs as a barrier to employer engagement. Measuring customer satisfaction Customer satisfaction is a target for all brokerage services. Thus, all the services measured customer satisfaction in some way, usually through customer surveys conducted at regional or national level. Those services for which customer satisfaction data is available show a high degree of satisfaction with the services. What is less clear is how feedback from these surveys informs the future development and delivery of the services. Many brokers expressed dissatisfaction with the quality, frequency, timeliness and relevance of the feedback. This was frustrating and meant that the changes which might need to take place in service provision were not understood. This undermines the ability of brokers to respond to market signals. Broker accreditation Only one service currently requires its staff to be accredited to recognised national standards. Train to Gain skills brokers are required to gain SFEDI accreditation within one year of taking up post, in order to practise. Train to Gain skills brokers must be SFEDI accredited. This does not apply to staff in other agencies at present. Nevertheless, the issue of accreditation is clearly on the agenda for many of the organisations delivering brokerage, but there is no clear picture emerging as to the nature of the standards required. Depending where on the spectrum of brokerage activities a service is defined, different skills may be required of brokers. The requirements for accreditation become more acute when brokerage involves the conducting of organisational need/training need assessments. Specialisation is a feature of the proposed developments within Train to Gain, although it is not yet clear how this will be addressed. The depth of specialist knowledge across the range of brokerage services also remains unclear. Accreditation can be closely linked to issues of perceived professionalism and remuneration. If the services are to become more integrated then this is likely to be a more prominent issue in future. Marketing Marketing is taken seriously by all the brokerage services. A range of marketing activities are deployed. There is a marketing capacity in all organisations, although the nature and extent of the resource varies significantly between organisations. 5

6 However, the extent to which marketing plans are shared is limited, as is the extent to which regional and local teams are linked well into national campaigns. Some brokers felt that the marketing is not always appropriate in terms of managing expectations about the services. Most brokers felt that there was significant scope to improve marketing capabilities at the level of the broker and to plan joint campaigns more effectively with other agencies. 5. Recommendations This Review has highlighted a number of barriers to effective integration. Many of the barriers identified are practical in nature and call for practical solutions. As such, many are within the scope of the agencies to resolve. There is also considerable scope to recognise, publicise and build upon the good practice that is emerging regionally and locally. 5.1 Improving the knowledge of brokerage services A key barrier to effective integration and joint working is that brokers often lack knowledge about other brokerage services, including: Local contacts details; The range of services offered by other brokerage services; Referral arrangements; Operational priorities. Agencies should develop a joint database of broker contacts in the region so that local contacts can be easily brokered. A brokerage guide to regional services could be developed, such as that developed in North Devon. Local Partnerships should be encouraged to develop local brokerage alliances, such as that described in the case of North Devon, to ensure there is effective integration at the local level. 5.2 Shared client information sources Whilst a shared Client Relationship Management (CRM) System may be unrealistic, it is an issue which was raised by brokers as a significant barrier to joint working and which led to employers being subject to multiple broker visits. Beyond the limitations of the freedom of information requirements, solutions should be sought for sharing client information and ONAs/TNAs etc, between brokerage services with a view to: Supporting joint visits; Ensuring effective deployment of public resources; Limiting unnecessary duplication for employers. 6

7 5.3 Promote the benefits of partnership Effective partnership arrangements are in evidence, but often not widely publicised to brokers. Whilst most brokers recognised the value of partnership, some held negative views of partner organisations. More case studies and sharing of best practice are required to build on what is already working in many local areas. An issue to emerge from SSCs in particular is the negative perceptions held by some employers of Train to Gain (being seen as a Level 2 service). Poor experience by business of Business Links was an issue raised by a number of SSCs, which potentially acted as a barrier to joint working. Encouragement for joint visits or joint programmes of activity could help to break down these barriers and would streamline things for employers. Brokerage managers will need to facilitate and plan this. 5.4 European funding of brokerage services The Review has shown that European funding may have been an important source of funding for local level brokerage activity. However, it is important that any new activity funded through the Competitiveness and Convergence programmes demonstrates partnership and synergy with the main brokerage services and make these services explicit within the bids for funding. Bids should then only be supported that clearly add value and are linked closely to the mainstream brokerage services. 5.5 Review of targets and resourcing Effective networking takes time and resource, but many brokers reported feeling stretched by targets. If funders are serious about joint working and cross referrals, then the activities required to sustain this need to be recognised and resourced. Brokers could be incentivised to cross-refer through their performance frameworks. This is the case with IDB and Train to Gain brokers, but could be extended to other agencies. 5.6 Customer satisfaction Feedback from customer satisfaction surveys is critical in helping brokers to shape the service delivery. Indeed, evaluation, reflection and feedback is an essential skill of the broker. If the broker is to effectively manage market signals, then the use of feedback to inform future delivery of support services is critical. Yet, a number of problems exist: The timeliness, relevance and quality of feedback to brokers themselves is inadequate; and The systems for feeding back to providers/suppliers of services are not always clear. If the role of the broker is to manage the market better then these issues need to be resolved. 5.7 Tackle brand confusion A range of national, regional and local brands permeate the market and lead to brand confusion on the part of employers. Thought needs to be given to ways of reducing brand confusion by adopting similar phrasing, styles and modes of marketing and promotion. Joint 7

8 local and regional marketing plans would help to overcome this. Joint literature would also help to clarify messages with employers and would be helpful in supporting programmes of joint visits and other activities. 5.8 Accreditation and CPD Practice in relation to accreditation is variable. Whilst the SFEDI standards are applicable to many carrying out the role of brokerage, for others information, advice and guidance accreditation might be more appropriate. For employers to be assured that they are receiving a quality service, all those carrying out a brokerage role should have some form of recognised and appropriate accreditation. Regional services should develop a joint commitment to accreditation standards, which will support parity of esteem between colleagues of the different services. This could be extended to a shared CPD plan for all brokers which would allow for shared capacity building and training events. Many of the skills are generic: selling, negotiating skills, networking skills, and managing information effectively etc. This could be supported by a system of buddies which links brokers from services at the local and sectoral level. Other awareness-raising activities, via training, web-enabled resources or more traditional forms of briefing, could also bring new services etc to the attention of brokers. An annual convention which brings together brokers from all services across the region could stimulate this joint working further. 5.9 Mapping specialisation If specialisation is to become an increasing feature of the brokerage role, it will be important to understand what specialisms currently exist within the brokerage workforce. These need to be mapped and shared so that they can be called upon to support sector/thematic-based strategies. 6. Full Report Copies of the full report can be downloaded from the SLIM website: 8

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