Employer engagement in active labour market programmes

People sat on chairs


Helping unemployed people to obtain work is of critical concern for both public policy and society. 'Active labour market', or 'Welfare to Work' programmes have a key role to play in addressing this, as do employers. Employer engagement in active labour market programmes are under-explored and we know little about how the organisations which deliver these programmes interact with employers. This research addresses that gap by exploring these 'inter-organisational relations' in the UK and Denmark.

Research approach

The study involved two main phases of data collection in both countries. Phase 1 comprised quantitative surveys of employers. Phase 2 involved in-depth local area qualitative case studies of the interactions between employers and delivery organisations. The project aimed to:

  • Contribute new data and insights about how the configurations of organisations and contracting modes in the UK and Denmark affect employer engagement.
  • Bring an inter-organisational perspective into policy analysis to theorise the nature, outcomes and effectiveness of the relations between employers and welfare to work organisations.
  • Produce a conceptual tool for studying welfare to work policies by developing a comparative typology of employer engagement.
  • Inform the design and delivery of 'Welfare to Work' programmes, in order to improve their effectiveness and encourage the best use of public money.

The project was funded for three years (2014-2017) by the Economic and Social Research Council Future Research Leaders programme. Associate Professor Jo Ingold (Principal Investigator), Dr Danat Valizade (Lecturer in Quantitative Methods) and Professor Mark Stuart (Mentor) made up the research team.

Key findings

These findings are from a survey of over 1500 employers in the UK and Denmark and 103 in-depth semi-structured qualitative interviews with employers and organisations delivering Active Labour Market Programmes (ALMPs) in the UK and Denmark.

  • A significant finding from the research was the importance of relationships and trust to employer engagement, both at the organisational and inter-personal levels.  
  • Employers in both countries were positively disposed towards unemployed candidates but were critical of ALMPs, which they considered unsuited to their needs.
  • UK employers were discouraged from engaging in due to the large number of programmes and providers, lack of knowledge and clarity about the value of programmes, and how to access them.
  • Danish employers were more knowledgeable about programmes and positively disposed towards them but felt that they were not focused on hiring individuals into sustained, permanent employment. 
  • Unlike previous studies, we not only measured employer participation but also measured the extent of employer engagement, on a scale from instrumental (ad hoc, one-off engagement) to ‘relational’ (in-depth, sustained engagement). Employers considered themselves to be engaged when they felt committed towards programmes. We found that relational employer engagement was in Denmark (60%), was double that in the UK (31%)
  • Danish employers had greater institutional trust in government policy and programmes. This translated into stronger inter-organisational trust (between employers and providers). Inter-personal trust (between individuals from employer and provider organisations) could augment this but was not crucial to employer engagement.
  • By contrast, in the UK institutional trust was extremely weak, leaving more ‘gaps’ to be filled by providers through the development of inter-personal relationships with employers. However, although these relationships were critical to employer engagement, they were also fragile.
  • Employers felt that benefit conditionality and ALMPs could ‘tarnish’ candidates and were dissatisfied about receiving large numbers of job applications as a result of conditionality and entitlement conditions, particularly in the UK.
  • Providers need to collaborate more in order to provide a better service to employers and to assist people into work. The importance of ‘coopetition’ (collaboration amidst competition) was recognised by the Employment Related Services Association (ERSA) through the development of their Evidence Hub.
  • The research identified a ‘sales process’ model for employer engagement, which has been developed into a toolkit for use by providers delivering programmes, as well as organisations managing provider contracts.

Download the final report for further details.

The report was launched in December 2017 at an event that featured a panel of prestigious representatives of key organisations including The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), The Employment Related Services Association (ERSA), The Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP), Marks and Spencer, the key Danish employers’ association (DA), and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

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Dr Jo Ingold discusses her research on employer engagement in employability and skills programmes in the UK and Denmark



To date, this research has led to improved policies and programmes to assist individuals outside the labour market into employment by facilitating the design and delivery of programmes to better meet their needs. In a broader context, the research has contributed to policy discussions on skills, devolution and the replacement of European Social Fund provision post-Brexit and the continuing implementation of Universal Credit.

  • In Denmark a key factor was collective agreement coverage. Based on this discovery, a Danish programme provider changed their employer engagement strategy to focus on companies that had the highest collective agreement coverage.
  • The body of knowledge and research had a direct influence on the structuring of ERSA’s Evidence Hub, which aims to encourage the sharing of research evidence between service providers in the context of a competitive environment that can effectively discourage this. This linked to the finding from the study concerning the importance of ‘coopetition’ in employability programme delivery. ERSA’s official submission to the Government’s Improving Lives Green Paper included findings from the study regarding employers’ caution about employing disabled people because they are unsure about the support needed, as well as the importance role of specialist employability providers to act as intermediary advocates for individuals, as well as to support employers.
  • The Principal Investigator (PI) has worked with the Irish government in relation to their measurement of employer engagement in their employability programmes. Evidence was also provided to the Scottish Government as part of their Review focused on reducing the disability employment gap, as well as to the Department of Health/ Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) Joint Work and Health Unit as part of the 10-year government strategy. 
  • Evidence about employers’ views on DWP’s ‘digital by default’ strategy was cited in the House of Lords Select Committee on Intergenerational Fairness. The research demonstrated that employers prefer personal contact from Jobcentre Plus and other intermediaries and that they are frustrated about receiving large numbers of online applications as a result of benefit conditionality. 

Publications and outputs


Response to Call for Evidence on DWP's preparations for changes in the world of work (2020)

Evidence submitted to the Social Security Advisory Committee regarding the Claimant Commitment (2019)

Final report (2017): Employer engagement in active labour market programmes in the UK and Denmark

Executive summary (2017): Employer engagement in active labour market programmes

Policy Report: Employer engagement in active labour market policies in the UK and Denmark: a survey of employers

Interim Report (for IntoWork Convention, 2016): Employer engagement in employment and skills programmes in the UK and Denmark: focus on disabled people 

Policy Report (2014): Employer engagement in the work programme


Ingold, J. and Valizade, D. (2017) Employers’ recruitment of disadvantaged groups: exploring the effect of active labour market programme agencies as labour market intermediaries, Human Resource Management Journal 27(4): 530-547

Related articles on employer engagement

Ingold, J. (2020) Improving business engagement, IEP Journal (and on the accompanying blog)

Ingold, J. (2020) Employers’ perspectives on benefit conditionality in the UK and Denmark, Social Policy & Administration

Ingold, J. (2018) Employer engagement in active labour market programmes: the role of boundary spanners, Public Administration 96: 707-720 

van Berkel, R. Ingold, J. McGurk, P., Bredgaard, T. and Boselie, P. (2017) An introduction to employer engagement in the field of HRM. Blending social policy and HRM research in promoting vulnerable groups’ labour market participation, Human Resource Management Journal Special Issue: Employer engagement, 27(4): 503-513

Ingold, J. and Stuart, M. (2015) The demand-side of active labour market policies: a regional study of employer engagement in the Work Programme, Journal of Social Policy 44(3): 443-462

Blog posts and media coverage

Research referenced (2018) Daily Record 'Fear won't get people into work so it's time to end cruel sanctions, insists SNP MP Neil Gray'

Ingold, J. (2018) Leeds University Business School Research and Innovation Blog: Video: Returning to work

Ingold, J. and Dixon, G. (2017) Leeds University Business School Research and Innovation Blog: Government help for the unemployed

Ingold, J. (2017) Institute of Employability Professionals: Engaging Employers in Employability and Skills Programmes

Ingold, J. (2017) CERIC Blog: Report launch - how do we engage more employers in employability and skills programmes? 

Ingold, J. (2017) Institute of Employability Professionals ‘Ask the Expert’: What are the international comparisons in employer engagement? 

(Republished: Leeds University Business School Research and Innovation Blog)

Ingold, J. (2016) Institute of Employability Professionals ‘Ask the Expert’: What do employers think about apprenticeships and employing more disabled people? 

(Republished: ESRALeeds University Business School Research and Innovation Blog)


Institute for Employability Professionals Webinar #2 Employer Engagement: Science or Art? July 2020

Institute for Employability Professionals Webinar #1 Employer Engagement: Science or Art? June 2020

Leeds University Business School - Impacts on business: Lockdown - How can employment and skills programmes help businesses? June 2020


Dr Jo Ingold (Principal Investigator):

  • VIDEO: JobsBank Co Design, 2019, Australia
  • Helping people into Jobs’ presentation and discussion, Tues 17 September 2019, Leeds Central Library
  • Employer engagement in welfare to work programmes’ seminar on Tues 20 August 2019, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia
  • Speaker at the National Employment Services Association (NESA) National Conference 2019, The Power of Purpose: Changing lives through employment, 13 – 14th August 2019, Melbourne, Australia
  • Spoke at a roundtable event of local authority Chief Executives at the Local Government AssociationConference2016
  • Delivered a keynote at the Association of Employment and Learning Providers Conference 2016
  • Was invited by  the Institute for Public Policy Research (North) to present to strategy leads from Local Enterprise Partnerships in the North of England
  • Gave two invited presentations at the flagship employment and skills industry conference (Welfare to Work Convention/IntoWork Convention) and to the cross-departmental Sector Dialogue group (including the Department for Work and Pensions, Department for Education, AoC, The Association of Employment and Learning Providers, and Employment Related Services Association)
  • Led a session on employer engagement at ERSA’s Annual Conference 2016. Feedback and demand from ERSA members following this led to the Dr Ingold leading a ‘Get to Grips’ session for practitioners in London
  • Chaired a roundtable of industry experts as part of an Association of Employment and Learning Providers /Further Education Trust for Leadership project ‘Putting Employers in the Driving Seat’
  • Was invited to give a lecture on employer engagement at the University of Utrecht School of governance.