Employer engagement in active labour market programmes: The role of boundary spanners

Published date01 December 2018
AuthorJo Ingold
Date01 December 2018
Employer engagement in active labour market
programmes: The role of boundary spanners
Jo Ingold
Department of Work & Employment Relations,
Leeds University Business School, Leeds, UK
Jo Ingold, Work and Employment Relations
Division, Maurice Keyworth Building,
Leeds University Business School,
Leeds LS2 9JT, UK.
Email: j.ingold@leeds.ac.uk
The involvement (or engagement) of employers is critical to the
success and effectiveness of active labour market programmes
(ALMPs), yet little is known about how street-level organizations
(SLOs) delivering them interact with employers. This article draws
on interviews with employer engagementstaff in SLOs contracted
to deliver the UKs principal ALMP, the Work Programme. Con-
ceptualizing these staff as boundary spannerswho operated both
within SLOs and at the physical boundaries between SLOs and
employers, the study found that their day-to-day work involved
three key types of activities. First, initial business-to-business sales
approaches to employers; second, a complex process of matching
of clients to employersrequirements through intra-organizational
interactions; third, the building and maintenance of trusting inter-
organizational relationships with employers. The strategies and ten-
sions revealed emphasize the under explored, but critical, role of
inter-personal dynamics, both within and at the boundary of SLOs,
in the aim of assisting people into employment.
Active labour market programmes (ALMPs) aim to move people without jobs into employment. A wealth of literature
in both social policy and public administration has analysed the policy design and implementation of ALMPs, includ-
ing a focus on street-levelor frontline work (Lipsky 2010; Brodkin 2013). However, street-level research has, to
date, not focused on the active approaches of street-level organizations (SLOs) to employers, or the role of
employer-directedservices (van Berkel 2017, p. 15). It is only recently that a relatively small number of scholars
have begun to study the critical role of employer engagementin the success of ALMPs (see van Berkel and van der
Aa 2012; Lambert and Henly 2013; McGurk 2014; Ingold and Stuart 2015; Bredgaard and Halkjær 2016; Ingold and
Valizade 2017; Bredgaard 2018). The concept is itself ill-defined and has tended to be used interchangeably with
terms such as employer participationand employer involvementin relation to government employment and skills
initiatives (van Berkel et al. 2017, p. 505). van Berkel et al. (2017, p. 505) define it as the active involvement of
employers in addressing the societal challenge of promoting the labour-market participation of vulnerable groups.
Ingold and Stuart (2015) have argued that employer engagement has two faces: employer involvement with ALMPs
and providersnecessary engagement with employers to enable this, emphasizing the critical role of SLOs.
DOI: 10.1111/padm.12545
Public Administration. 2018;96:707720. wileyonlinelibrary.com/journal/padm © 2018 John Wiley & Sons Ltd 707

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