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When a ‘force majeure’ changes what success is

It is important for all of us to be able to judge our own success. But what happens when an event occurs that challenges most of what we think and know about our success and how we judge ourselves?

After the economic shock of 2008, that’s what happened to welfare-to-work charities. After two decades of pretty reliable growth and low unemployment, it has suddenly become very different. Stagnation in the job market and the deterioration of opportunities in many parts of the UK has meant that there are fewer jobs out there and more job seekers. This is akin to what insurance companies might call a ‘force majeure’.

So what does this mean for organisations on the front line, and managers who need to track the impact of their work?

Firstly, and most importantly, the definition of success has changed. It is unreasonable to expect the same number of people to find work now as it was five years ago. This has been evident in the Department for Work and Pensions’ Work Programme where the world is very different now to how it was when the programme was first designed.

Second, it poses questions for organisations about what they do. Old models need to be adapted and changed. Take the example of unpaid work experience for job seekers, for example. In a buoyant job market, some experts argue that it reduces the time spent looking for a ‘real’ job. In a recession, the tables turn and it’s more likely to be a good thing as paid work doesn’t come as readily.

Judging our own success is never easy but it is even more difficult when the goalposts move. This makes a shared approach to measurement all the more important—so organisations can learn from each other and put what they achieve in context.

  • NPC is beginning a project to develop a shared approach to measurement in the youth employability sector. Today we have our first advisory group meeting, which brings together organisations including Tomorrow’s People, CDG, the Department for Work and Pensions, the Edge Foundation, and the Big Lottery Fund. The aim of the work is to build on existing frameworks and tools to create something practical and useful to practitioners on the front line.
  • For more on the project you can download a brief here. If you would like to contribute your views, email us or leave a comment below.

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