Employer Engagement in Welfare to Work Programmes: A Comparative Analysis of the UK and Denmark

Friday, 3 July 2015: 2:15 PM-3:45 PM
TW2.3.02 (Tower Two)
Jo Ingold, University of Leeds, Leeds, United Kingdom
Danat Valizade, University of Leeds, Leeds, United Kingdom
Drawing on the analysis of an original large-scale survey of employers in the UK and Denmark this paper aims to analyse the determinants of employer engagement in welfare to work programmes/active labour market policies and programmes (ALMPs). It contributes new insights about how organisational and institutional factors affect employer engagement and explores the variation in employer engagement across UK and Danish firms.

Employer engagement in welfare to work programmes/ALMPs is an overlooked field in the social policy, labour economics, human resources management and organisation studies literature. The bulk of existing research has been driven by the supply-side nature of ALMPs and has largely focused on the effectiveness of labour market policies as a means of tackling structural unemployment. However, very little attention has been paid to the demand-side of these policy initiatives, particularly to such aspects as the rationale for employer participation and the extent to which employer demands are met by them. Employer engagement can be key to assisting various disadvantaged groups outside the labour market into employment. However, within such policies employer engagement tends to be assumed, risking policy failure and potential employer disengagement. A small but growing body of research has attempted to analyse the complex barriers to employer participation in ALMPs and demonstrated a pivotal role for employer engagement in the overall success of these programmes (McGurk, 2014; Ingold and Stuart, forthcoming 2015). The most significant contribution to this area of research to date has been that of Martin and Swank (2004), who argued that a key determinant of employer participation in social policies, including ALMPs is the role of (national) employers’ organisations. They have suggested that such entities have a positive influence on employer participation in ‘corporatist’ Denmark, but a negative influence in the ‘pluralist’ UK. A further, nuanced analysis is required to analyse the role of different forms of business representation, as well as the involvement of employers in the formation of these policies. In the past decade, employment services in the UK and Denmark have become disconnected from the ordinary recruitment processes of local employers, particularly with changes to employment service delivery including the move towards digital service provision and contracting out. Recent reforms in Denmark recognize the need to re-connect employers with ALMPs (Ingold and Bredgaard, 2014). There is thus a need for more research, particularly of an interdisciplinary nature, on the demand-side of ALMPs, focusing on the range and depth of employer engagement in different types of ALMPs, including wage-subsidies and initiatives for different unemployed groups.

The paper draws on an original survey of employers in the UK and Denmark conducted in late 2014 and early 2015. The survey is representative of all types of employers in both countries, including large firms, small and medium enterprises, sectors, industries and regions in both countries. A random selection based on nationally representative databases of organisations was applied to avoid sampling bias and increase the statistical power of the analysis. Using advanced quantitative analysis such as exploratory and confirmatory factor analysis, latent class analysis and multivariate statistical modelling, the paper presents conclusions as to the factors affecting employer engagement and of the nature of differences as well as similarities between the two countries.

Through this analysis, the paper attempts to typologise three levels of employer engagement: unengaged employers, weak engagement, moderate (discrete) engagement and strong (relational) engagement, drawing on Blois (2002). The typology aims to analyse more deeply the extent to which organisations are involved in ALMPs (from employers’ non-participation to the basic level of vacancy-placing, through to repeated recruitment and using ALMPs as a primary recruitment channel. Building on the work of Martin and Swank (2004), one of the key concerns of the current study is the effect of employers’ organisations on engagement and the interaction of the institutional contexts with firms. Along these lines, an attempt is made to operationalise and subsequently estimate the influence of various types of employer associations, from those concerned primarily with lobbying business interest to those representing employers in deliberations with trade unions. Alongside such institutional aspects of employer engagement, other critically important factors including Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and employers’ involvement in local communities are considered as meaningful predictors of employer engagement in ALMP. The analysis also considers the importance of trade unions, other employee representative bodies and collective agreements to employer engagement in both countries. These factors stem from a widespread assumption of an increasing role for the organisational principles of social responsibility as a self-regulatory mechanism in a globalising economy, which in turn may foster employers’ inclination towards ALMPs (Scherer and Palazzo, 2011; Ahrne et al, 2015). The paper concludes with a discussion of the theoretical implications of the analysis and practical concerns regarding further development of ALMPs internationally. 


Ahrne, G., et al. (2015) ‘The Organization of Markets’, Organization Studies36(1): 7-27.

Blois, K. (2002) ‘Business to business exchanges: a rich descriptive apparatus derived from Macneil's and Mengers' analysis’, Journal of Management Studies39(4): 523-551.

Ingold, J. and M. Stuart (forthcoming, 2015) ‘The Demand-Side of Active Labour Market Policies: A Regional Study of Employer Engagement in the Work Programme’, Journal of Social Policy: 1-20.

Ingold, J. and Bredgaard, T. (2014) ‘The “missing link” in active labour market policies? Comparing ‘employer engagement’ in the UK and Denmark’, ESPAnet 2014, 4-6 September, Oslo.

Martin, C. J. and D. Swank (2004) Does the Organization of Capital Matter? Employers and Active Labor Market Policy at the National and Firm Levels, American Political Science Review98(04): 593-611.

McGurk, P. (2014) Employer engagement: a human resource management perspective. The Business School Working Paper Series No. 7, London: University of Greenwich.

Scherer, A. G. and G. Palazzo (2011) ‘The New Political Role of Business in a Globalized World: A Review of a New Perspective on CSR and its Implications for the Firm, Governance, and Democracy, Journal of Management Studies 48(4): 899-931.