Developing future agendas in welfare to work

Centre for Employment Relations, Innovation and Change

Dr Jo Ingold is a Lecturer in Human Resource Management and Public Policy at Leeds University Business School. Her research interests include: active labour market policies, the employment challenges for disabled people and parents/carers, and policy learning between countries. Jo is currently undertaking research on employer engagement in employment and skills programmes in the UK and Denmark, funded by an ESRC Future Research Leaders Award.

Jo Ingold giving a presentation to the delegates at the opening of the conference.

‘Active labour market policies’ (ALMPs) aim to assist individuals outside the labour market (including unemployed and other disadvantaged groups) back into work. Although these policies began in Sweden in the 1960s, it wasn’t until the 1990s that they became a popular response to rising unemployment by governments across most EU and OECD countries.

There is a great deal of literature about this topic, largely in the area of social policy but also in labour economics and economic geography. My current research analyses the under-explored dimension of employer engagement in these policy initiatives and to do this I’ve found it useful to draw on literature from areas such as organisation studies and human resource management, among others. 

This has prompted me to think that, after over two decades of research and commentary on this policy area, it’s timely to consider the state of play and how we could research under-explored dimensions of this topic in future, including bringing in other disciplinary perspectives.

Together with colleagues Dr Gabriella Alberti (Work and Employment Relations Division and the Centre for Employment Relations Innovation and Change, Leeds University Business School) and Dr Ruth Patrick (University of Liverpool), I secured funding from the British Sociological Association Early Career Researchers Forum and Leeds University Business School to hold a workshop for early career researchers to broaden the scope of research in this area.

The event was held on 31 January 2017 at the University of Leeds, with keynotes from Professor Tracy Shildrick (University of Leeds) and Dr Sharon Wright (University of Glasgow).

There were over 30 attendees, comprising doctoral, post-doctoral and early career researchers. Professor Tracy Shildrick opened the event with her keynote ‘Welfare to work policy and the “missing workless”’ and posed important questions about how we could marshal the cumulative evidence base to influence the direction of policy.

The morning session was completed with papers focused on: the intersection of vocational training and ALMPs and ‘green’ jobs in the UK, Denmark and Germany (Lisa Schulte, Middlesex University); activation and urban governance in Milan (Maria Dodaro, University of Milano Bicocca); and welfare conditionality and non-standard employment in the UK (Katy Jones, University of Salford). The presenters received in-depth feedback and reflections from discussant, Dr Colin Lindsay (University of Strathclyde).

In the afternoon session we heard papers on: social security entitlement (Kate Summers, LSE); strategies of resistance (Dr Rich Moth, Liverpool Hope University); and reflections on work club volunteering in the UK (Gaby Wolferink, University of Loughborough), with discussant reflections from Dr Gabriella Alberti, Dr Colin Lindsay and myself. Dr Sharon Wright then gave a thought-provoking keynote entitled ‘Between a rock and two hard places? Navigating welfare to work research beyond ideological blinkers, theoretical strait-jackets and methodological constraints’ that challenged us to think about positionality and about impact.

Following this, the final session of the day focused on developing personal and collaborative action points in a ‘forward-looking’ session. Throughout the day, the workshop attracted a lot of Twitter activity (#w2wecr) and there was a real buzz at the event, reflecting some great research being done by engaged researchers at various early career stages across the UK.

We hope that this is just the start of building networks and collaborations for research funding and for maximising the impact of our welfare to work research.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author and may not reflect the views of Leeds University Business School or the University of Leeds.