ISIKLE’s Evaluation Exchange is a partnership between UCL and voluntary and community sector organisations in Camden and East London that aims to improve evaluation practice. This blog reflects on the work of ‘Skills Enterprise’, a community provider that combats social exclusion in Newham.
About Skills Enterprise
What is Skills Enterprise?
Established in 2006, Skills Enterprise is a community provider that responds to local needs with a mission to combat the barriers that lead to social exclusion and poverty in communities in the London Borough of Newham. A central aim of our work is to support vulnerable and marginalized residents in developing their skills and empower them to secure suitable employment, as we believe it is often an effective way to find a route out of poverty. Our interventions and support fall within the main areas of: Crisis support, Skills building, Getting Job Ready, Community Cohesion and Volunteering.
Users often come to us with multiple and complex needs and experiences (homelessness, lack of qualifications, language barriers, lack of work experience, problem debt, no recourse to public funds, poor mental health, learning difficulties). Over 90% of our users are of Asian, African, African Caribbean or other Minority Ethnic backgrounds including asylum seekers, refugees and those with no recourse to public funds. In 2021 we engaged over 1500 individuals who experienced inequality and barriers to resources and employment, working with a wide range of community and public agency providers. We are based in a borough that falls within the 10% most deprived areas in England (IMD 2015), with the worst level of employment deprivation for London, fourth worst area in the country for housing deprivation and overcrowding, and with the most culturally diverse population.
What makes Skills Enterprise unique?
- Lead in Newham – the only organisation who helps people who are digitally excluded
- Our recognition of and delivery of an holistic approach to addressing the multiple problems of users
- Being of and from the communities we serve and continually engaging and empowering the community
- Our impact in changing lives – helping people to gain confidence, qualifications, access to benefits and employment and generally to feel better about their wellbeing and future.
About our project
Summary: From our very first meeting, our objective has been to develop a set of surveys to help Skills Enterprise evaluate the four core service areas outlined in their Theory of Change: welfare, community cohesion, digital skills, and employability. Having seen a significant rise in its user numbers with the impact of Covid-19, Skills Enterprise is currently expanding its reach. The surveys are intended to enable the organisation to remain both focused and adaptable, providing Skills Enterprise with a means to measure their aims and outcomes, refine their strategy and resource allocation, and identify avenues for new approaches.
We began by putting together a ‘Welcome Pack’ designed for all service users to complete at the start of their journey with the organisation and four strand-specific surveys for users to complete at various stages following this. We are seeking to ensure that the surveys reflect and are accessible to individuals with reading and/or writing challenges and capture the full breadth of Skills’ Enterprise’s services.
With four student researchers on our team, we decided the best way to give each area of Skills Enterprise’s work the attention it needed was to focus on one service strand each.
I went through the Universal Credit system and designed a survey regarding users’ wellbeing and benefits. Since most of the users are from underrepresented backgrounds, this part is fairly important for the organisation to follow-up on how the courses and community activities improve their life. I divided the survey into three parts: housing benefits, income support & capabilities, and family benefits. I’m hoping these questions can help the staff better understand the situation of users and provide personalised support if it’s necessary.
The challenge I came across is that I’m not very familiar with UK benefit system. I had to look into multiple governmental websites for detailed descriptions for each type of benefit. I also received many useful suggestions from my teammates and Mala, who have sent me a couple of relevant documents. Finally, I managed to generate a complete survey which is now going through the final review with the Skill Enterprise staff.
Giulia (Community Cohesion):
In designing my section of the survey I wanted to understand the targets Skills Enterprise desired to reach with their beneficiaries concerning combining their original cultures and previous positive or negative experiences as migrants with their new hosting country/neighbourhood. I enjoyed how the organization proposed integration activities and multicultural spaces for people to meet, share and find other individuals that are going through the same process. I tried to design a survey to understand how beneficiaries feel at the moment of their entrance in Skills Enterprise, as well as identify any positive or negative aspect that can be addressed. I also considered if they found connection with friends, family or neighbours that can supportive and a way to ease what can be difficult experiences for people.
I found it challenging to design the survey focused on Community Cohesion since this encompasses several aspects and has a strong psychological element that I am not an expert about. However, discussing with the team and Mala it was possible for me to clarify where to focus.
Tolu (Digital Skills):
To develop the digital skills survey, I looked at the support that Skills Enterprise offered by browsing their website – this included specific classes run by the organization as well as access given to clients of external providers who focus on essential IT skills (e.g. typing). Following this, I designed a survey to track how clients developed in their digital skills. It was exciting to see that after going to the organization many clients could then become volunteers (Digital Champions) in the future and support others in the journey that they had just completed.
One challenge I found was that digital skills overlaps into other strands such as employability (e.g. being able to find a job online) and community (e.g. using applications and hardware to communicate with people online). But after discussing this with other students and Mala, I realised that the overlap was part of the holistic approach of Skills Enterprise and that some form of overlap is to be expected.
My focus was on the ’employability’ strand of Skills’ Enterprise’s work which encompasses a large range of interconnected services. Working out how to capture this range has been both the most interesting and most challenging part of the process for me. The centrality of employment within Skills Enterprise’s overarching organisational aims meant that it was crucial for the survey structure to account for the nature of their many varied services. Given Skills Enterprise’s holistic approach, my biggest challenge was capturing the less tangible impact of the organisation’s work on an individual’s ’employability’ and the significance of services that are not explicitly or exclusively tied to searching and applying for paid employment. We have been able to discuss and tackle these challenges through our team discussions.
Conclusions and next steps
We have all found producing the surveys a rewarding experience and, as student researchers, we have gained a deeper understanding of the ways in which developing clearly measured skills is often combined with an increase in personal confidence and wellbeing.
Our next steps will be to pilot our surveys, collect feedback from service users, and make necessary adjustments accordingly. Skills Enterprise is confident that our final output will serve as useful outcome measurement tool that will enable the organisation to build common strategies to increase its impact, think about any weaknesses, and identify where new approaches need to be built.