New approaches to employability in the UK: combining Human Capital Development and Work First strategies?

Colin Dale Lindsay, Ronald W McQuaid, Matthew Dutton

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This article analyses recent developments in policies to promote the employability of unemployed and economically inactive people in the UK. It discusses the extent to which these policies reflect the dominant approaches of ‘Work First’, where programmes focus mainly on compulsory job search and short-term interventions to facilitate a quick return to work, or human capital development (HCD), where programmes tailor services to promote longerterm skills and personal development. Specifically, the article reports on case-study research into two recent pilot initiatives:Working Neighbourhoods (which targeted a range of intensive services in neighbourhoods characterised by high levels of inactivity) and Pathways to Work (which combines employability services and cognitive behaviour therapy-type approaches to help clients to manage health problems). While both pilots have retained strong Work First features, they potentially represent a shift towards a more HCD-oriented approach, through the delivery of more holistic ‘coping and enabling’ services. However, there remain concerns that, as with previous progressive policy initiatives, the positive lessons of these pilots will not be fully mainstreamed. We conclude that, if the UK is to balance Work First compulsion with high-quality services delivering progress in the labour market and HCD, a strengthening of ‘coping and enabling’ interventions is required, alongside a renewed commitment to training.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)539-560
JournalJournal of Social Policy
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2007


  • work first
  • activation
  • employability
  • incapacity
  • ALMP

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