Agencies should not be put off by the perceived costs of resourcing service user employment.
After initial funding for the GROW scheme, Thames Reach has now brought service user employment into the mainstream, and is able to resource it through regular funding streams.
Employing service users is not only desirable, it is doable. Resources are needed, but at Thames Reach we have proved that these can be found within the existing roles and skills of an organisation and funded through existing regimes.
Our own journey has covered many of the first steps towards user employment. We hope that many agencies will be able to adopt and adapt the end results of this exploratory work, including the policies and procedures we have made available on this website. This will substantially reduce the amount of investment required to get going, or improve existing practices.
In this section, we outline the way that Thames Reach staffs user employment now that we have made it part of our mainstream training and employment practice.
It also includes an overview of the staffing and engagement that was required to carry out the GROW programme in the 18 months prior to mainstreaming it – a period of great cultural change.
The senior management team, along with the Board of Trustees, played a critical role in leading this change. We have added a detailed description of the Board’s commitment and support within this section.
Many staff across all departments and services have dedicated time to the GROW project in addition to the duties and tasks related to their job. Their involvement has helped them to own the project – and has reflected the enthusiasm for service user employment that we discovered was widespread within the organisation.
Mainstreaming user employment
From month 18 of the GROW programme onwards, Thames Reach sought to mainstream all aspects of user employment.
The empowerment of homeless people is central to the ethos and values of Thames Reach. We therefore felt it was essential that user employment was treated, not as a peripheral project, resourced within our service delivery departments, but as an integral part of our human resource policy and practice.
When we launched the GROW programme, service user employment was not commonplace in the homelessness sector and the learning gathered by those agencies with user employment programmes was not compiled and accessible.
There was therefore much we needed to do before mainstreaming could take place at Thames Reach. We applied successfully for funding to cover the cost of this initial investigative work and to share our learning within the sector.
With the production and dissemination of this toolkit, we hope that we have created a resource that enables agencies to move straight into harmonised user employment. Had the toolkit existed three years ago, we would have tapped into it and mainstreamed straightaway.
Overall, we found the process of mainstreaming of user employment incredibly straightforward. Existing job descriptions were adapted to include responsibility for supporting traineeships and time and resources were logically reallocated.
Where additional resources were required to account for this, we recruited to a new post, however the only post ever to exist solely to support service user employment was that of the GROW Project Manager.
Service user traineeships are now entirely harmonised at Thames Reach and all trainee programmes sit under the same umbrella, led by the Human Resources team. Pay and opportunities are standardised and service user traineeships are no longer identified by a programme label, providing greater privacy to former service users.
Thames Reach now has a target to recruit 50% former service users to its total traineeship vacancies each year.
Who carries out the work involved since mainstreaming?
The Human Resources team have allocated time within the Learning and Development Manager post, two Human Resource Officer posts and the Human Resources Manager post to manage the traineeship programme and any unique, related employment matters.
One new post, the Learning and Development Assistant, was created, but only part of the role is spent on service user employment matters. In total, the Human Resources team spends approximately 90 days on service user employment and training matters each year.
In addition, selection panels, and the support roles of placement supervisors, buddies and life coaches, are carried out by existing staff who are keen to support service user employment.
Financial benefits to mainstreaming
Mainstreaming is not only the best way to resource service user employment, it is the most efficient and cost-effective way.
Thames Reach sought initial funding to learn lessons around service user employment. The funding has paid for the salary of the GROW Project Manager, the salaries of the first two years of trainees and training and development for trainees, placement supervisors and life coaches.
Agencies should not be put off by the perceived costs of resourcing service user employment. In fact, since July 2007, Thames Reach has had no additional funding for the traineeships. Service user employment has been entirely funded through regular funding streams.