Adapting our ways of working during lockdown: Good Work (the IPS Service in South Yorkshire) has shown clear innovation in their approach to delivering IPS during lockdown and continue to train staff and develop the team in Employer Engagement through their innovative ‘Virtual Employer Engagement Day’.
Earlier this year, pre-covid, the IPS Team at South Yorkshire Housing Association came up with the idea of dedicating a day to Employer Engagement (EE). This was an area the team collectively felt less confident and was something the service was keen to focus on developing. The dedicated ‘EE Day’ was agreed and secured in the calendars of 50 staff members with the aim of then splitting the wider team into sub-teams of 4 or 5. Each sub-team would head out into the local community to do employer engagement. This team approach was decided to encourage employment specialists to learn from each other, identify new techniques and methods to be successful, and gain in confidence.
With COVID-19 restrictions coming into place just weeks before the event was due to take place and the lockdown meaning face to face employer engagement wasn’t possible – the service didn’t let this stop them and they moved forward with a ‘Virtual EE Day’.
The face to face elements simply became digital, they decided to target key industries which were still needing staff during this time and put a focus on ‘we’re here to help you’ with employers – digitally bringing people together! The team used phones, emails, and Microsoft Teams to engage with employers and regularly came back as a sub-team to feedback throughout the day. The overall aim of the day was to boost confidence around employer engagement, and they certainly did this – team members reported back claiming “It was such a productive day. It’s great to celebrate each other’s success” and “It was nice to meet and listen to more experienced team members”
Speaking with Alex Timmins-Jones (Senior Employment Specialist) who took one of the lead roles in organising the event, Alex said that this was the first of its kind – “the team has focused supervisions and meetings where employer engagement would be discussed, but as a service, we’ve never had a dedicated day to EE like this”. Reflecting back, Alex recognised that the event gave people confidence that “everyone is doing this”, so it was a very collegiate response in that everyone is in this together.
The team was split into sub-teams consisting of 5 employment specialists and an assigned team leader which was determined by their geographical location – this was important as they wanted individuals to feel comfortable by being on a video call with people they knew.
A week prior to the event took place, there was a briefing session for all team leaders for each sub-group. This was an opportunity to test technology, discuss the day, and timetable. Reflecting back, Alex noted that this briefing was pivotal, as it was these individuals who were responsible for leading the sub-team; keeping the momentum up and ensure the team were all aware of the purpose of the day but also set the tone to ensure it was seen as a fun and dynamic exercise.
There wasn’t a strict agenda for the day – this was a conscious decision to encourage the team to be creative and share their experiences of previous EE methods (good and bad) and test out new methods.
Interestingly the virtual employer engagement day technically only involved two hours of calls – but the overall impact of the dedicated day provided the team the confidence to share experiences, struggles, and test new ways of working and engaging with employers. SYHA recorded 150 engagements on their database which occurred throughout all of South Yorkshire on this day.
Speaking with Alex, he reported that the team was surprised by the enthusiasm of companies to speak with them. This demonstrates that lockdown doesn’t mean employer engagement cannot continue, Alex commented, “a lot of companies were not only open and willing to engage with us, but more open to have a chat too!”.
“Reviewing our experience in a group enabled everyone to hear what went well and what didn’t, and sought ideas from other experience of how to adapt approach for next time”
The rough structure for the day was:
9am-11am: Planning time – this was an opportunity for the sub-teams to create and put together a strategy for the day – who to target, what different style to try, how to share their previous experiences and tips and reservations
11am-12pm: Implementation – this was a dedicated hour for the ES to carry out EE through video calls or regular calls to test out their new methods and tactics
12pm -1pm: Lunchtime fun – it was important to build in a social and fun aspect of the day, so this could be through a quiz or virtual picnic
1pm –1:15pm: Feedback on the morning results as a group and share any learnings or tips
1:15pm – 2pm: Implementation round 2 – 45 minutes of EE again testing out new methods and taking on board any feedback or insights from the mornings’ session
2pm–3pm: Feedback session – Award time! The team leaders assigned awards within their team and provided feedback on each ESs strengths which they’re seen throughout the day to empower them to do EE on their own.
3pm – 4pm: Team Leader Feedback Session – The Team Leaders from all subgroups then came together to feedback on the day from their teams, share learnings and successes. This was recorded to share with the rest of the team too.
The plan at SYHA is for these ‘Employer Engagement Days’ to become a regular exercise. Reflecting back, Alex said “I was really impressed by the levels of enthusiasm and success of the teams. everyone was really enthusiastic! Whether this was down to the team element, or the injection of fun, everyone was really motivated to do employer engagement. Now that the foundations have been set for a full day of employer engagement, we can learn from what we’ve done this time and each time we repeat this exercise, it will become better and better. I guess next time the 2 hours of planning in the morning can be reduced and if it becomes a regular fixture in diaries, it almost bookmarks employer engagement and the more of these events staff attend, the more confident they will become in employer engagement!”
If you’d like more information on planning an Employer Engagement day like this one, or to hear more experiences from the employment specialists themselves, contact your IPS Grow Lead.
The South Yorkshire Housing Association (SYHA) IPS Service, Good Work, is funded by the National Lottery Community Fund and the European Social Fund.