Rotational Dialogues: From Skills to Employment and Beyond

08 Dec 2023

Professor Martin Jones, Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive of Staffordshire University, writes on the idea of job rotation and the role HE can play in such a space, as well as how his institution aims to emply the concept

Questions around the links between higher education and well-paid jobs for graduates are rarely far from the headlines. There is clearly the need for an honest conversation about the role of higher education and how the UK might achieve a better match between the supply and demand for graduate level skills. We need greater debate and synergy between the agendas and institutions of education, skills and industrial strategy, certainly in the context of Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent, where there are too few graduate level jobs. We also need to incentivise the take up of opportunities in the areas where we want to grow the economy and to preserve areas where we have comparative advantage.

This key ground—from skills to employment and beyond—has become apparent from the involvement of Staffordshire University in the Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Local Skills Improvement Plan (LSIP), alongside being recently invited to join the Investment UK Shared Prosperity Investment Board for the delivery of the Stoke programme.

Staffordshire University works on next generation ideas, with one key area being the links between skills, employment, employability support (including pre-employment training and coaching), lifelong learning, flexible delivery, and in-work support. The idea of Job Rotation (hereafter, JR) and the role that higher education can play in this landscape, is important. JR provides opportunities for unemployed people and up-skills existing employees. It can be applied in both public and private sectors and could be particularly useful for sectors or businesses who struggle to recruit and could be a solution to the UK’s long-lamented under-skilled labour market.

JR was originally developed in Denmark and the Nordic countries and was mainstreamed throughout the EU in the 1990s and early 2000s. JR is a form of job matching and a short-term job guarantee—it prepares people for the labour market by guaranteeing placements for unemployed individuals and it also guarantees employment and skills training for existing employees in the partner employer organisation. JR seeks an inclusive approach to skills and employment. An essential ingredient of the JR model is the role of social dialogue and the bringing together of relevant labour market partners, including trade unions and worker representatives. JR seeks an inclusive approach to skills and employment.

The JR process, particularly evident in Denmark, is based on a seamless ‘rotation’ model comprising four steps. First, there is a need to identify the training needs of low-skilled workers in a participating organisation or company. Unemployed ‘substitutes’ can free up existing workers for training without the organisation losing production/service delivery. This is the key challenge emerging with the LSIP in places like Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire. Second, unemployed individuals are targeted to apply for JR jobs. Unemployment benefits are topped-up, so they work for the agreed rate for the job, usually at the Living Wage. Third, unemployed individuals receive pre-employment and in-work mentoring, as well as access to vocational courses provided by partners (private, FE and HE). Fourth, workers being ‘released’ in participant organisations can access apprenticeships and Apprenticeship Levy funding can be packaged for training to up-skills, retain, and develop in-work progression.

JR meets three separate but inter-related needs of local economies: tackling unemployment, encouraging business development through staff training and learning and the promotion of Lifelong Learning. JR also helps disadvantaged labour market groups by providing a period of paid-work placement, along with the opportunity to improve their vocational skills and qualifications. Employers reap the benefits of enhanced training for existing employees, and the enhanced capabilities of future employees, improving their retention, reducing turnover and saving costs to their business. We know that it’s difficult to engage employers/businesses in programmes, largely due to the number and complexity of labour market interventions. The JR model is effective and efficient in reaching its target groups and reduces the potential for programme duplication and employers being approached by multiple providers.

Our thinking at Staffordshire University is to develop a pipeline of JR activity by engaging a number of smaller businesses and connecting them to secure volume in the JR activity, allowing the development of bespoke courses, delivered by using the micro-credential approach, for employees from the different companies. This is already a tried and tested approach in the employability sector that improves employer engagement. For example, in Health and Social Care, JR has provided career routes for low-skilled workers without loss of staffing cover for essential services.

Professor Martin Jones is Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive of Staffordshire University