Author: Richard Scothorne

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School Ties – enhancing pupils’ employability by working with small businesses

School Ties – enhancing pupils’ employability by working with small businesses

Small businesses are vital partners for schools in helping young people make a successful transition to work.  This is the key conclusion of our new report for the FSB in Scotland, ‘School Ties’, which presents our research into the scale and significance of small business engagement with schools and how to transform its reach and impact.  Although our work was built on interviews across Scotland the conclusions reflect other research across the UK.  Our main findings are:

  • Business engagement with schools – done well – can transform young people’s futures and earnings.  For example, every meaningful engagement with an employer can increase a young person’s subsequent earnings by 4.5% and those who have encountered 4 or more employers while at school are up to 20% less likely to become NEETs
  • It is really important to help small businesses (employing fewer than 50 people) engage with schools.  Most businesses are small businesses (84%-87% in urban Scotland and 93-96% in rural Scotland)) and provide a high proportion of jobs (24% – 36% in urban areas in Scotland – and 60-72% in rural Scotland).  Without engagement with small businesses pupils will be missing out on understanding a key part of the local economy and a significant source of great opportunities.
  • Most small businesses are not involved with schools – mainly because both schools and small businesses find engagement difficult.  It can take schools as much time and effort to set up a relationship with a small employer who may have an occasional opportunity as with a large employer who may have a number of regular opportunities.  It requires sustained effort and energy, with a key role for Head Teachers in creating a profile for their school in local small business networks and organisations.
  • But small businesses are willing partners – engagement needs to be made easy, and many just need to be asked.  Those that are involved cite altruistic reasons for their involvement – small businesses see themselves as part of the local community with a role to play in supporting a range of community issues of which young people’s employability is one.  However, most say that they gain business benefit from engagement – many citing reputational benefits as well as the value of the contribution made by pupils.
  • Schools in the most deprived areas have hinterlands with relatively low levels of small business activity.  They therefore need to spread their net wider to get the range of opportunities they need – and this suggests a collaborative approach with neighbouring schools.
  • In rural areas – where most business are small businesses – it is particularly important for schools to develop a wide range of small business relationships rather than focus on a-typical larger businesses.
  • Small businesses which are involved with schools contribute in a wide range of ways.  It is important that businesses are helped to understand this range of opportunities and match their ability to contribute to the needs of schools and pupils.
  • Teachers can benefit from engagement with pupils as much as pupils – bringing back new insights into how they can use to make their lessons more relevant to the world of work and enhancing their ability to provide useful insights into current and emerging opportunities in local businesses.
  • …and parents – as business owners, employers, and employees – can provide an important way of making connections between schools and businesses.

On the basis of these findings we have developed a number of recommendations about how to transform the scale and reach of school engagement with small businesses and so enhance the opportunities for pupils to match their aptitudes, aspirations and interests with the world of work.  This report is complemented by a recent assignment to review the work experience approach of a large local authority and make recommendations about how this can be placed in a much wider approach to employer engagement.

Download the full report here

…and our previous report on realising the employment potential of micro-businesses here

By Richard Scothorne

If you want to discuss our work in this area please contact Richard Scothorne at or 07774 141 610.


Is the third sector in Glasgow facing a boiled frog moment?

Is the third sector in Glasgow facing a boiled frog moment?

Richard Scothorne writes for the Glasgow Centre for Population Health on his perspectives facing the third sector in Glasgow following a recent review conducted by Rocket Science.

You can access the blog through this link on the GCPH website ….. or read on.

Is the third sector in Glasgow facing a ‘boiled frog’ moment? | Glasgow Centre for Population Health

Our recent research, commissioned by the GCPH, on the status of Glasgow’s third sector workforce revealed some stark facts. Third sector incomes are going down and demands on the sector are going up.

We came across lots of staff who were both dedicated and distressed – they were working harder because they remained committed to their clients. They still got reward from their jobs because they felt they were making a difference, but they wondered how much longer the squeeze could go on before something gave.

Organisational leaders felt that a tightening of finances was converting collaboration into competition as organisations fought for survival.

There appears little likelihood that these trends will reverse – or even slow down. What does this mean for the sector?

This looks horribly like a ‘boiled frog’ moment – referring to the anecdote that if a frog is placed in boiling water it will quickly jump out of the pot– but if put into cold water which is then slowly heated it will stay put until it is too late.

So, for me, one of the big questions from our work is ‘What can these organisations do to get on the front foot?’ The answer is not straightforward – not least because we didn’t see any convincing patterns in which approaches were working for those third sector organisations which had effective responses to the situation.

Approaches to the situation

As a veteran of various third sector Boards I have seen a range of responses to this question. These have included:

  • developing a stronger focus on doing a small number of roles really well – in other words, serious specialisation
  • ensuring that they can tell a persuasive story about the difference they make, directly and indirectly – through thorough evaluation and case studies – and so demonstrate the value they offer
  • developing strong alliances and partnerships around some important tasks and client groups
  • broadening the sources of income which might include social enterprise strands
  • merging with one or more organisations to reduce overheads and widen markets.

This is not easy stuff, particularly the last response. There are a lot of small organisations with strong teams, a clear focus and distinctive cultures and reputations. One of the strengths that small organisations can offer funders is that they can be fleet of foot and offer a highly personalised service to their clients.

Mergers, leadership and culture

But compared with larger organisations they are often incurring high overheads per client which in practice takes money away from clients and threatens their organisational survival. In principle, mergers look like the obvious solution. However, research suggests that, while there have been some notable successes, most mergers don’t work well – mainly because there is a fatal lack of clarity about leadership and culture.

And actually our impression was that the larger organisations felt under just as much pressure as the smaller ones.

So, just for starters, two questions, which I suspect third sector leaders are losing sleep about:

  • If I knew that current trends were going to continue for the foreseeable future – in terms of income and demands – what could I do to safeguard the support for my clients?
  • If I had to ensure that our current clients continued to receive a high quality service (from someone) – and that we respond to increasing demands – how could I make this happen?

….and one for the funders:

  • How can I work with my third sector partners to develop creative ways of responding to increased demands and less money – and sustain the commitment of their dedicated staff?

If this feels like a boiled frog moment to you – it may be time to jump.

Contact Richard Scothorne for more information


Future of support for rural communities in Scotland

Future of support for rural communities in Scotland

Our review of support to rural communities for the Scottish Government has been published this week.

Rocket Science was commissioned to review the advice and support on funding that is available to rural communities in Scotland, with a specific focus on the role, performance and future of Rural Direct, a national information service provided by Scottish Council of Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) on behalf of Scottish Government.

The review highlighted that the most useful type of support for communities is that which is provided by communities themselves who have been through the process of starting up and developing rural projects.  A finding we made when we researched the needs of communities for the new Village SOS programme we are delivering with our partners ACRE and Rose Regeneration and in Scotland with Forth Sector and Senscot.

For more information on the report contact Richard Scothorne

For more information on support for rural communities in Scotland through Village SOS contact Clare Hammond

Six things we’ve learnt about employability in the Coalition

Six things we’ve learnt about employability in the Coalition

Richard Scothorne reflects on the lessons we have learnt from employability programmes over the past five years.

People can’t find work that doesn’t exist

In developing employability strategies for various areas with high and sustained unemployment a consistent feature has emerged.  They display a ‘jobs gap’:  a significant difference between the numbers seeking work and the numbers (and types) of jobs available locally.  Some of these areas have great economic development strategies in place with strong leadership and effective partnerships – but even if they exceed their highest expectations they won’t close the gap. There are lots of practical implications of this, such as what do schools do to help pupils understand the wider labour market, broaden their horizons, and give them the skills, confidence and resilience to help them move away and thrive in an unfamiliar community?  Can coordinated action be developed between ‘job gap’ areas and areas with much tighter labour markets to help people move and thrive?  And – over all of this – how do we deal with a situation where the match between where people are and where jobs are is getting out of kilter?

We have made great strides in partnership working, but…

On the whole, our ability to work as collaborative partners has come along in leaps and bounds – partly because the situation has been so bad and resources relatively limited.  This is taking some interesting and ambitious forms.  For example, in one area the partners have created a coherent ‘employment service’, integrated with small business development, with all the organisations playing to their strengths and with clear assessment, personalised design and progress management for all priority clients. Every month they review their high quality management information and take action on weak links, emerging issues and under-performance.  You’re right, I made that up.

We need to be clear where our loyalties lie

There are a lot of great, dedicated people who provide exceptional support and regularly go the extra mile for their clients.  We need to recognise and reward them – and ensure that anything less is not acceptable.   If we don’t see a great service we need to do something about it as funders and partners, otherwise we are letting down their clients.  And if we see underperforming providers who are outside our control (eg on the Work Programme) we need to find ways to ensure that our citizens get the help they need.

Success has many parents but failure is an orphan

 If Gordon Brown had formed a government in 2010 rather than David Cameron, we would have had a programme for the long term unemployed that looked awfully like the Work Programme.   The Freud Report on the future of welfare to work, which led to the Work Programme, was commissioned by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions – not Ian Duncan Smith, but his 2006 Labour predecessor, John Hutton.  This didn’t stop Labour deriding the programme as “worse than doing nothing” when it failed in its early years to meet DWP minimum performance targets.  But is it wishful thinking to hope that perhaps we would have had a programme which demanded (and rewarded) more consistently engaged partnership behaviour by providers and stronger local ownership?

We can do a lot more on prevention

There has been a sustained argument that the risk of deadweight made early identification of those particularly vulnerable to long term unemployment not worthwhile.  But the case is crumbling, and international good practice shows that a combination of personal characteristics, attitudes and adviser judgement can bring about a significant improvement in predictive ability.  Particularly if you take into account the cost benefit of vulnerable clients gaining work even a week or two earlier than they might otherwise have done.  Combine this with earlier support at school, strengthened school/work transitions, ensuring a good match between client and job, support for new recruits (dealing with difficult supervisors, demanding routines, travel to work, childcare etc) and progression to more responsible jobs and more pay through skill enhancement at work, and you have the making of powerful local preventative strategies that can transform lives.

And finally, a sixth:  Many of our clients would have been saved a lot of pain and hardship if more people understood and applied basic macroeconomics…

Contact Richard for more information