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The Fife Regeneration, Health and Wellbeing Study

Finding out more about the health and wellbeing of the people of Fife

September 2007: Employability

In this session we asked participants to think about employability.

In our information for local people and local workers we explained this as follows:

“This question isn’t so much about being in a paid job (although some of the people taking part in this project will be, some might not be, some might be young, some be past retirement, some people care for others full time) but it’s more about employability; that means being employable and having the skills and qualities needed to keep a job and get on well in the workplace.

The fact is that work is an important part of many people’s lives. And being unemployed, being unable to find work or hold a job down, can be really difficult for folk. So the idea of this question is to think about what we can do to make sure when people are ready to work they have the skills and qualities that they need to make a go of it, and what might get in the way of finding and keeping a job”.

Half of our contributors to this question do voluntary work and nearly half are in paid employment but of those only a small minority are in full-time jobs. Most receive benefits of one kind or another such as incapacity benefit, income support, disability living allowance or jobless allowance.

This is a pictorial representation of what people told us. You can right click and save the image to your desktop as an A4 poster here.

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Employabilty poster

We report on what people told us in the following 12 sections:


The major impact of unemployment, other than struggling financially, is in relation to mental health and wellbeing. People report that unemployment:

  • undermines people’s self-confidence
  • leads to feelings of resignation
  • contributes to feelings of depression and anxiety
  • sees people turn to alcohol or drugs as a coping mechanism
  • leads some people to commit crime
  • puts strains on relationships and families and in particular has a negative impact on the lives of children

Participants reported:

"It leaves you feeling inferior, depressed. Some use alcohol or drugs to cope."

"Family breakups. In debt. Attempt suicide. Children can have behavioral problems and be taken into care."

"Anxiety, depression, stress, poverty and the benefits cycle. Increased crime, getting in trouble for stealing and fighting. Using drink and drugs. Feeling useless – what’s the point?"

"Quiet desperation becomes a way to survive."

"Unemployment gets under your feet. There’s stress, no money, worries."

"There’s mental health problems, poverty, isolation and exclusion, alcohol and drugs."

"It has a big impact on people. It would make me depressed knowing I could do the job and people didn’t want me. It’s worse if you are providing for kids, how can you expect folks to live off benefits?"

Participants also report boredom, isolation and exclusion which result from unemployment and can narrow people’s outlook and give a “A loss of confidence, a low sense of purpose… a lack of vision… and an uncertain future.” 

"You cannot go out to the pubs, clubs and other leisure activities."

"Boredom – staying in, feeling down and depressed, staring at the same four walls day in day out."

"With not a lot of money you have a limited social life."

"If people have no money they get bored, they take drugs. You sit on your bum all day."

People then have difficulty remaining positive or optimistic and become unable to look beyond present circumstances:

"It wrecks your life. Just living from day to day."

"If you have nothing to get up for, everything’s the same – that really gets you down."

Looking at people’s physical health, unemployment and life on benefits means that there “might not be enough money for food.”

Whilst there was a recognition of the negative impact of unemployment on individuals participants also highlight the impact of unemployment on the confidence and appearance of communities, and in turn on how whole communities are perceived by others.

A key issue for people is the link they see between unemployment and alcohol and drug use and violent crime. The link is then made between unemployment and their neighbourhoods feeling unsafe. There are feelings of mistrust and fear between neighbours.

"People will be tempted to sell drugs."

"There’s always people around the streets causing trouble. The other day I looked out the window and two boys had smashed car windows. People become nosey, neighbours are nosey, I see their curtains twitch."

"There’s antisocial behaviour, no respect, alcohol and drug abuse, criminal behaviour."

Links were made by participants between unemployment and poor physical environment which undermines any sense of hope for neighbourhoods. Physically, the appearance of neighbourhoods can become “run-down”, in particular where there are vacant shops or other premises which could be used by employers. There can be an atmosphere of abandonment and neglect, with graffiti and rubbish being a problem. People talk about how neighbourhoods lose pride and that they can feel stigmatised living there.

"It ends up that the whole area goes down, there’s no pride in the neighbourhood, no respect for self or others. People become ‘labeled’ for living there, they have low expectations. Shops and wee businesses closed down because people don’t have cash in their pockets to support them."

"Because most folk live in Council houses - it’s not so easy to up sticks and try to follow the work."

"There’s people throwing rubbish on the streets, graffiti, vandalism."

"The neighbourhood’s under pressure. It looks bad. There’s drugs, crime, anti-social behaviour."

"People hang around street corners.There are more drug and alcohol problems which brings the image down and lowers the atmosphere."

"Businesses are affected, there are less small businesses like shops, it makes the place seem run down."

"A lot of people have a lack of community spirit."

One person talks about the need for “positive outlets” for people who are out of work and identified:

"There’s a lack of role models for impressionable people. A lack of respect for people and property. A low feeling. Crime. Unsafe streets.”

Some contributions to our question are also critical of individuals who are unemployed and see them as responsible for the anti social behaviour which negatively impacts on the majority:

"There’s not enough money to go around – it’s a struggle. Some people who aren’t working cause trouble, they vandalise cars. A lot of people are lazy and can’t be bothered, they make excuses. Some of the time if they’ve nothing better to do they turn to drugs and alcohol."

"I think with some people they keep unemployed as they are getting money for nothing, they’re not looking for a job."

"People can’t use lack of skills as an excuse as people on income benefits can go back to college and learn new skills."

There is a view that some people who are unemployed have “no respect for self or others”. Local people say that this attitude and the fact that people out of work are bored causes them to “hang around street corners” and cause trouble like “vandalism and anti-social behaviour”.

People have fears about losing benefits, particularly if a new job doesn’t work out for them.

They would like to have more security so that there is less of a financial risk in starting a new job.

There is also the worry that wages won’t be enough to cover living expenses.

Benefits are thought to be more dependable than being employed – particularly if people are getting help with rent and council tax.

"Moving from benefits to work can be very scary – what if you become unwell? And there’s lots of temporary positions so it’s not so secure."

"You’d worry about earning enough to pay bills."

"You might risk losing all your benefits."

"You might have to pay more rent and council tax."

"You might not be that much better off financially. You could lose your benefit status."

"May be difficult to regain benefits if you give up work. Will have to pay full rent and amenities."

"You might not be able to keep a job. Many jobs pay less than benefits, especially when people get rent and council tax paid for them."

"There’d be risks with temporary contracts… and if you went to work you’d have an uncertain future."

Some say it’s not worth going to work for a low wage.

"It would be a risk to have to be paying full rent and Council Tax. When I was a cleaner I was just working for my rent and gas and electricity which didn’t leave much for food."

            "We’d be worse off financially if we went to work."

Childcare costs are also a big concern for people, as well as adjusting their day-to-day living patterns.

           "Lack of child care would be a problem."

           "Reorganisation of daily life would be a worry."

Most people speak about not feeling confident in starting a new job, feeling uncertain both about their own abilities and about whether they’d get on with the employer and like the job.

"You’d worry about doing the job properly. You might not like the job."

"It could be difficult getting used to be being told what to do and how. Stepping out of your comfort zone, raising your standards.

"You’d be wondering if you’d fit in."

"Worrying about passing training, losing your job."

"You may be unhappy in the work. "

People who have been unemployed for a long time may feel particularly apprehensive, as they’d be wondering “if you have lost any of the qualities or job skills or your job experience.”

People with disabilities or health problems can particularly feel employment is a risk.

"It’s a big risk if you have a medical condition and come off your benefits to take up employment and then you worry about what if you can’t keep working – how will I get back on my benefits? You worry about what if I get paid off in 6 months. This has happened to me but I had my brother and sister’s support but some people don’t have that."

Overall, the people in our study who are employed or volunteering are content with what they are doing.

"I enjoy working, I think that is a good way to build character and meet new people, also it will set you up for the future in work experience."

"It’s alright."

"I like it. I like working with the pensioners, I like the challenges. I like the people and have a laugh."

"I do paid and voluntary work. I feel more happy when I’m getting paid. At the end of the month I know I’ve got that money coming into the bank. It also gives you the chance to meet people. I feel more confident now I’ve got a job. My doctor told me I’d never work but I proved him wrong. I feel proud of myself."

"I enjoy it."

Feelings of low confidence are talked about by several people. One person just beginning to work is looking forward to it but with trepidation:

"It’s scary and exciting; I’m looking forward to reclaiming my personal identity. I’m concerned about fitting in around family life."

Some who are not employed have similar feelings of uncertainty and fear about starting a job:

"I feel dread. Fear of being chucked into something I will not be able to cope with. But I feel wishful, to do something that would suit me."

"I don’t feel ready for work yet. I’m doing voluntary work though."

And for one person with mental health difficulties they talk about feelings of futility when looking for work:

"I feel it’s an impossible dream – if you disclose enduring mental health issues you don’t get interviewed. If you don’t disclose them and you get a job then have a long bad spell it all goes wrong and you feel worse than when you started."

A person with learning difficulties is motivated to work and be more independent:

"I need a job. I have nothing to do. I’d like to do social or child care. I don’t know where my money comes from."

For another person with learning difficulties, their priority is to learn how to live more independently:

"I don’t have a job, I’m learning about what I need to do to look after myself."

People caring for dependents value the work they do at home with their family but there are feelings that society doesn’t value their roles. Some people find themselves in a dilemma: they say benefits are too low if they stay at home but if they go to work the childcare costs would be too expensive.

"I don’t work, I’m at home caring for my mother and three year old daughter... Childcare is expensive – by the time I paid for a childminder I wouldn’t have enough money left over to pay the bills. Why should I pay someone else to raise my daughter? I want to be the one who looks after her and teaches her."

"I’ve got a baby so I’m not wanting to work just now."

"The work I’m doing now is preparing for motherhood."

"A few of my neighbours care for families and it’s a full-time job yet not getting valued for it, they are getting next to nothing and having to live off benefits."

Potential employers need to attract people by showing that they will be valued. Several people talk about the need to help with people’s self-esteem and to feel attracted to jobs that are meaningful.

"Give people a pride in whatever job they do. Try to help people understand their ‘bit’ in society."

"It’s important for employees to feel valued – call centers are like battery farms for chickens."

One person thinks that people should be pressured more into employment:

"Some people do not want a job, benefits need to be linked to work. Too many are happy to live on hand outs, they seem to think it’s their right."

Some people have heard about government incentives like grants but aren’t too sure how they work.

"Once you find a job you can get a job start grant for £250 for things like uniforms and travel, but I don’t know much about it - I’ve heard that some people wait weeks and weeks to receive this."

The need to travel for work can be essential and some think there should be assistance for that:

"It costs money to travel and move to get into work. Help with that if they’re struggling on benefits and their every penny is accounted for."

"We need good travel links."

"Government could give travel expenses."

People would like free childcare.This is important to several people. Also helping people with basic needs like housing and school meals is necessary.

"There should be free available child care."

"We need affordable social housing."

"Rent and council tax should be proportionate to what you earn."

"Cut rent and council tax for people who are lower paid."

Free school meals if on a low income.

People say college and apprenticeships are helpful. Many people talk about how useful volunteering can be.

"College helped me get a job because I got certificates at the end of the course and I was able to take them along to show at an interview."

"More emphasis on skills and more apprenticeships including ones for retail."

"Going on courses would help, maybe going to college."

"Volunteering helps you get more experience and learn new skills."

"Having a referee has helped me because they can tell people what you’re capable of."

Participants were asked to talk about a place or person they know of to go for help in seeking employment. The following agencies or personnel were named:

  • Job Centres
  • Opportunity Centres
  • Apex
  • Next Steps
  • Clued up
  • Social workers
  • Social care
  • staff
  • Schools

It was highlighted that personal stories from people who have found employment can be useful. “Share your own experience with them and let them know how well things have worked out for you.”
Specifically people who have been in prison need “more help in the community after prison release.”

Participants make no positive comments about work available locally, with people talking about the lack of opportunity, the limited choices and low pay and insecurity of part-time or temporary work and short-term contracts. People also talk about the unattractive quality of work being offered locally.

"They are not careers, they are just jobs to make some money. The jobs available are majorly repetitive."

"Low paid and part-time. Skivie."

"Jobs like being a cashier at the supermarket and chip shop assistants. Retail shops have temp work, assistant at McDonald’s, work at the call centre."

"Mostly shite because there is mostly cleaning jobs advertised – that’s only what I have a certificate for."

"I wouldn’t want to be a cleaner – cleaning out toilets – the smell!"

"Limited choices, low paid, no opportunity for improvement. Limited employee turnover."

"There’s not a lot of skilled jobs – mostly shop assistants and hairdressers and a lot of them are part time."

"Jobs are hard to get."

"There’s a lack of jobs, not a lot of choice."

"Jobs are limited, they’re mainly part time. Not enough variety, short term contracts."

One person feels their opportunities are limited without further education or training:

"None available if you have no qualifications."

And one young couple with children say they “don’t know” what work is offered locally.

People mention there are jobs for essential skilled workers like teachers, social workers, youth workers, dentists, nurses, care workers, joiners and plumbers; but there is no sense that these jobs are available to them.

Participants recognise that people with disabilities need opportunities to work as well, as this person with learning disabilities says:

"There’s not enough jobs for people with a disability. I was going to ask the manager of where I stay if there was a job to help with clients as they are short of staff."

People speak of the need to travel for work but it is difficult with poor transport links.

"Young ones wanting careers and apprenticeships have to travel. Lots of ‘taster’ 6 month job experience type schemes, but not a lot of jobs at the end of it."

"Not enough opportunities in Fife, and the transport links for much of Fife are appalling."

"People need to look elsewhere if they want more choices for work."

"There’s lots of jobs in Edinburgh but travel from some parts of Fife is too expensive and difficult."

Participants also talked about jobs that may be available outside the local community. Some people talked about work in the next town and others spoke about traveling to Edinburgh or “further south” as well as abroad. 

Local people recognise there are more professional and trades jobs if they travel for work, as well as “office jobs in big cities”.

"Further south it is easier to get a trade. If you went abroad you get jobs like airline staff."

"There’s higher paid jobs in the city. There’s cinema, railway, hospital work, engineering, computer work."

People with disabilities want to work as well but some may need the support to do this:

"I cannot travel due to a medical condition. I need local transport to be accessible and affordable and I need someone to accompany me to and from work. In the past this has made finding work difficult."

Jobs need to be local and there needs to be a variety of work available. There should be enough choices for people which take account of different skill levels. Wages need to be “good” and hours need to be attractive or flexible. People need to feel secure in their jobs, with “full-time work and extended contracts.” And work should be “Something enjoyable”.

"Skilled and unskilled work. Well paid and good hours."

"All different work should be available. Jobs where you can improve your skills. Promotions opportunities to more money."

Several people talk of the need for trades or apprenticeships and for training to begin early.

"Young people should be able to train to be joiners, plasterers, etc. – starting at school."

"There should be a lot more trades people looking for apprentices and stuff like that and also a kind of job that younger people can do."

"More apprenticeships for trades."

There should be “more jobs for people with a disability or learning difficulties.”

Carers with dependents need “flexible working conditions that fit around their caring responsibilities.”

Reflecting earlier discussion many people don’t feel confident about seeking work. They would like “employers to be more approachable”.

We asked people to talk about the skills they have for work. We provided participants with a list of some skills which might help in looking for, finding and sustaining work.

Overall, most people feel they are skilled in team working more than anything else.

About half feel they have skills to make decisions and manage their time well and to be flexible and organised.

Only a few people feel they have self-confidence, skills in IT, literacy and numeracy, written and oral communication, planning, problem-solving, skills in prioritisation or working with the public.

Only one or two people feel they have these skills: adaptability, assertiveness, creative thinking, leadership, learning, negotiation, relationship building, researching, self-awareness, self-motivation and self-reliance.

No-one said they have skills to be able to pay attention to quality or to have business awareness.

In addition to the skills we provided in a list, participants told us they have these additional skills: budgeting, relationship building, being responsible, honest, well-mannered and friendly and have a good personality.

People also spoke about the work skills they have acquired through life and work experience. They identified:

  • Parenting skills
  • Catering                       
  • Youth work                       
  • Domestic skills           
  • Steam pressing           
  • Cooking                       
  • Cleaning                       
  • Minute taking                       
  • Support work for elderly           
  • Working with children                       
  • Art                                                           
  • Kennel / cattery                        
  • Typing                                   
  • Health and Safety                    

The one skill which many people feel they need to work on more than anything else is self-confidence and related to this self respect.

"I’m not really a confident person. I try to act confident however I’m panicking inside. If I was more confident I wouldn’t worry so much. When people tell me how I should do something it gets me down…. I worry about everything, if I wasn’t worrying I would get on with things… be able to get things done. I worry about my daughter’s health, I get very anxious if anything is not right."

"I need to get respect."

Others talk about the need to work on planning and decision making as well as self-motivation and assertiveness.

"I need to get people to listen to me."           

A few people say they would like to work on skills like oral communication, numeracy and IT.

Some people mentioned ‘soft’ skills they would like to work on such as “attitude”, “patience”, “listening” and “working for employers”.

Above all else, people say that funding and financial security would be helpful:

"More funding and lower interest rates."

"A safety net of income for a period would help."

"Speaking to a bank manager about a loan would help."

"You’d need financial support."

"Help with money and advertising."

"More funding. Lower interest rates."

"It would help to have grants."

"Credit Unions."

There is also a need for “affordable property to let”, “buildings or a piece of land”.

Most people would also like good guidance, particularly from people with business experience.

"Advice from someone who has already done this. "          

"Easy accessible advice and support."

"Have good resources in the area, like B.R.A.G. which helps people with start-up and what they need to know. But half of them go bust after two years."

"Having a mentor with business experience would help."
"Assistance doing market research."

"Gap (market) analysis, to find out what businesses would make money."
"Training and qualifications would help.>

Motivation is also recognised as important. Although one person says they “don’t think many people in my area would set up their own business”, another talks about the need for people to have “self-belief, a passion for it”.

What implications are there for regeneration activity – either in terms of policy or practice of service providers – from our conversations about employability, work and unemployment? 

Following our established pattern of reporting back we now pose key questions for the agencies managing regeneration activity based on what local people have told us.

Addressing the impact of unemployment on individuals and communities:

  • Are the consequences of unemployment – in terms of individual mental health and wellbeing and isolation, and poor perceptions of communities most affected by unemployment - well understood and considered by regeneration agencies?
  • What is done to promote learning, training or work to young people so that they avoid the experience of unemployment?

Promoting the value of work

  • Do agencies understand and promote the benefits of work – both paid and volunteer work – in their work with people who are economically inactive?
  • Is volunteering valued and used as a route to paid employment?

Supporting the move from unemployment back into work

  • What initiatives are available locally which support people, individually, to consider moving back into employment?
  • Do these initiatives understand and address explicitly the concerns and perceived risks of moving into work highlighted by our study participants?
  • What role does the building of confidence and self-esteem play in the development or provision of learning, training and employment opportunities?
  • Do local learning and training opportunities address the skills required to find, obtain and sustain employment? Including literacy and numeracy?
  • Once in work – how are local people supported to manage and sustain employment?

Providing work that is valued

  • Is there a commitment to creating jobs which are secure, flexible and adequately paid?

Understanding carers

  • Is the role of those who care for dependents well understood, considered and supported when learning, training and employment opportunities are being developed or delivered?

Understanding the stigma of mental ill health

  • Is the experience of mental ill health well understood and considered when learning, training and employment opportunities are being developed or delivered?
  • What work is done with employers (and their workforce) to promote awareness and positive attitudes towards mental ill health.

Overcoming practical barriers:

  • Are the perceived barriers of lack of child care or transport addressed in job creation?
  • Are there opportunities through learning providers to build skills and competencies for work?
  • Are learning, training and employment opportunities accessible to people with physical and learning disabilities?

Creating local jobs and bringing employment into communities

  • What incentives are provided to encourage new local businesses and investment in local jobs in the targeted regeneration areas?
  • How are local businesses supported and helped to develop and grow?
  • Are local people motivated and supported to see self-employment as a viable option for them?

1. Information from the baseline qualitative study about ‘gaining employment’
The baseline qualitative study provides information which allows comparison on a number of key indicators between the targeted regeneration areas and the rest of Fife. The data on gaining employment shows differences, and also reflects many of the issues which have been raised by our study participants in the smaller scale qualitative work.


Regeneration areas


Unemployed residents dissatisfied with training and retraining opportunities



Poor public transport is a barrier to employment



Childcare costs are a barrier



Prejudice or stigma is a barrier



Poor physical health is a barrier



Mental health problems are a barrier



Lack of relevant skills is a barrier



Percentage of 16-64 population claiming JSA (2004)



Percentage of working age population on unemployment claimant count in receipt of IB/SDA or CND(2004)



Percentage of people in receipt of IB/SDA(2004)



2. Lone parents and ‘mini-jobs’. A report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation which examines the potential of encouraging lone parents to work in jobs of fewer than 16 hours (‘mini-jobs’) rather than doing no paid work. Oct, 2007.  

3. Fife Labour Market Update. Sept. 2007

4. Workforce Plus: An Employability Framework for Scotland. The Scottish Government, 2006.