JobCentre Plus and the £15m Website Flop

Below are extracts from the much longer transcript of evidence being given by Kevin Green, CEO of the REC, Monster Government Solutions, and the CBI to the Work and Pensions Commitee. I’ll try to highlight the relevant parts, where it is made clear that the website, Universal JobMatch, was specified by civil servants to a standard which is considerably beneath the capabilities of a world leading online recruitment organisation.  It is my understanding that Monster were in fact asked to jettison much of their accrued expertise in this arena by government functionaries who know little about the recruitment field.  Without the “assistance” of Ian Duncan-Smith and Whitehall, a more sophisticated and workable recruitment website could have been built for a tenth of the £15m budget.  Comments in brackets are my own.

HOUSE OF COMMONS

ORAL EVIDENCE TAKEN BEFORE THE WORK AND PENSIONS COMMITTEE

THE ROLE OF JOBCENTRE PLUS IN THE REFORMED WELFARE SYSTEM

WEDNESDAY 30 OCTOBER 2013

LENA TOCHTERMANN, KEVIN GREEN, DAMIAN KENNY AND ALAN TOWNSEND

Evidence heard in Public Questions 378 467

Taken before the Work and Pensions Committee on Wednesday 30 October 2013

Members present:

Dame Anne Begg (Chair), Debbie Abrahams, Graham Evans, Sheila Gilmore, Glenda Jackson, Stephen Lloyd, Nigel Mills, Ms Anne Marie Morris, Teresa Pearce

________________

EXAMINATION OF WITNESSES

Witnesses: 

Lena Tochtermann, Principal Policy Adviser, Labour Markets and Agility Policy, Confederation of British Industry,

Kevin Green, Chief Executive Officer, Recruitment and Employment Confederation, 

Damian Kenny, Strategic Account Director, DWP, Monster Government Solutions, and 

Alan Townsend, Senior Vice-President, Sales Readiness and Business Operations, Europe, Monster Government Solutions, gave evidence.

 

Q378 Chair: Can I begin by thanking the witnesses for coming along this morning? This is our penultimate evidence session on the role of Jobcentre Plus in the reformed welfare system. I will make sure I have my teeth in properly and can get the words out. Can I perhaps at the beginning, ask the panel to introduce themselves for the record, please?

Damian Kenny: Certainly, yes. Good morning, everyone. My name is Damian Kenny. I am from Monster Government Solutions and I am the DWP Account Director.

Alan Townsend: Good morning, I am Alan Townsend. I am also from Monster; I am the Senior Vice-President of Business Operations for Monster in Europe.

Lena Tochtermann: I am Lena Tochtermann from the CBI. I head up our labourmarket policy team.

Kevin Green: I am Kevin Green, Chief Executive of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation.

 

ABRIDGED…

 

Q408 Stephen Lloyd: I agree. I think that is a good point. Where I am picking up on Kevin’s suggestion is you have to find some way of systematising these things. The reason that large numbers of people are very successfully churning out tens of thousands of CVs, some of which are entirely unsuitable, is the system. The metric says you have to send out 20 a week. It cannot be beyond the wit of man to find out a way, linked with that, to have the requirement to get x number of interviews, because people will adjust accordingly.

I have one more question for Monster. Are there not some types of jobs-particularly, perhaps, the lower-skilled ones-for which a more traditional method of job search would be more appropriate rather than using Universal Jobmatch?

Damian Kenny: I suppose you are talking about matching and whether or not the lower skilled jobseekers out there necessarily have profiles and detailed CVs. The site and service does provide the ability to search as well. You can go in there and input the criteria you would like to search against and you do not necessarily have to have a fully built profile against that now.

Clearly, we would advise that having one would yield better results: the better quality data you put in, the better the output. However, it serves two functions to allow you to do those random searches, as opposed to having a very specific profile.

Q409 Stephen Lloyd: Do you have outcome measurements? I am sure you do, because the level of data you will be collecting must be really interesting. Do you know what percentage of people using Universal Jobmatch have actually found jobs? Is that something it is possible to store or is it too random?

Damian Kenny: I have no doubt that it is possible to store, but it is not something that Monster currently has access to. If you think about the process, we are all about getting people into the service, using the functions of the service and then the point of applying is effectively the boundary of Monster’s involvement.

If you want to look at the end to end view of whether they are getting into work, how long they are staying in work and what the quality of that work is, you are looking at a triangle. Universal Jobmatch is one part of that triangle; the services that will be brought in by universal credit, i.e. the taper, would be another part of that triangle; and you then have HMRC services-when people start to contribute to PAYE. That should give you that full picture. At the moment, however, we are only one part of that.

Q410 Stephen Lloyd: I can see how we could do something even sooner. Is there any metric within the DWP or Jobcentre Plus to capture, “I got this job and I got the interview via Universal Jobmatch”? Is there any cross-tabbing there?

Damian Kenny: The only way to do that at the moment would be to conduct surveys. DWP have done some initial insight surveys into the service, how it is used and what people’s experiences are. They are also looking to roll out more representative surveys on its actual use. Until they have done that, it is difficult to get a true picture.

Stephen Lloyd: Certainly, I would want to ask the DWP to provide me some data to see how many people have actually got a job through Universal Jobmatch.

Damian Kenny: I may well have put words into their mouths. They may well have that data.

Stephen Lloyd: I will ask them.

Q411 Teresa Pearce: The whole idea here is taking something from the private sector that works well and putting it into the DWP: for instance something like reed.co.uk, where there is a very good system where they match people to vacancies.

However, it works because they only get paid if they match the right person to the right vacancy. In this situation-I mean no offense-you are paid for providing the platform; people who work at the DWP get paid for coming in; the claimant is taking a financial risk and has to do these certain metrics to get their money; and the employer is nowhere in this. Is that not where this falls down? In the private sector it works, because the payment follows the result, whereas this is just a process.

Alan Townsend: Just to be clear, the payment does follow the result, necessarily.

Q412 Teresa Pearce: Do you mean in the private sector?

Alan Townsend: Yes. It is part of the process, but it does not work in terms of an online job board. There is a payment up front for advertising a job. It is more like an online media service.

Q413 Teresa Pearce: An agency such as Reed, however, will get paid for placing a person in a job; they will get a commission or they will provide somebody on an agency basis. If you are only going to get paid for doing the job properly, you will do the job properly; in this, however, people get paid when nothing happens.

Kevin Green: There are a couple of things here. Firstly, our members normally only get paid if someone gets a job. If you are thinking about the private recruitment sector, that is how it works. Their job is to service the client and find the right candidate. If you look at the job board market, in reality, it is our members that are the biggest users of those. 75% of all of the jobs on commercial job boards are placed by agencies to attract candidates.

You cannot match through some kind of software and get exactly the right person for the right job. In reality, it does not happen in the private sector. It is the intervention of calling someone in, going through the interview, preparing them for the job, doing the re-introduction, talking to both sides and making it work. If you then look at the claimants that you are going to be dealing with in this environment, often people who have been out of work for a long period, it is probably a very ambitious idea that you can just put in a technical solution and it is going to throw up an opportunity for someone who is lacking selfconfidence and may not have the skill and it is going to work.

You have to focus on the advice the Jobcentre Plus give to the people and the conversation that they have. If you want to make this work, Jobcentre Plus have to give more time to the individuals to get them ready for the job-not just have them send off CVs. Perhaps they do not have the skills or the self-confidence. If they are called for an interview and it does not go well, who is going to support the individual through that process? Our members spend huge amounts of time matching people to jobs so that it works. You cannot use 10minute interviews and have claimants send off 20 CVs and expect to get great results. It simply will not work.

The technology is a platform. That is the point: it is there, but there are other things that make it work

Teresa Pearce: On its own, it does not work.

Kevin Green: On its own it will not be the solution to getting thousands of unemployed claimants into jobs.

Teresa Pearce: It might get them off benefit, though, which is a different criterion.

Lena Tochtermann: That is what I was going to say. It goes back to the way we measure Jobcentre Plus, which is on benefit offflows, rather than sustainable job outcomes: for example, how we measure the Work Programme. There is very little incentive to do this proper assessment, looking at the skills of the individual candidate. There is very little time to do that. There is something going wrong there.

Q414 Teresa Pearce: I would add that, in my constituency, a very large supermarket has opened a dotcom centre. Working with professionals who have longterm unemployed, they advertised 80 jobs and got 80 people who had been unemployed for longer than two years into sustainable work. This was because professional people sat with them, trained them and prepared them. The supermarket looked at different things: they did not want references. They opened their minds, but it was through professional people doing their job properly that it happened.

Lena Tochtermann: This goes back to the individual links as well and how good the links of a Jobcentre Plus are at a local level. In Southampton, Jobcentre Plus did that with IKEA when they came in. They got a lot of people from the local labour market into work. Again, it was down to individuals and the customer service.

Q415 Sheila Gilmore: I wanted to come back to the Universal Jobmatch. It may be no fault of yours, but it has been sold publicly as somehow being a solution. What exactly was your remit? Was it simply to create a kind of online version of the cards or did it go beyond that?

Damian Kenny: Yes, is the answer. If we go back to the original procurement of Universal Jobmatch, which began over three years ago, the conversations between Monster and the Department were about trying to leverage some of the capabilities that Monster had in its underlying technology, because it has been successful around the world for a number of years. That was where Monster was coming from.

It goes back to part of Kevin’s point that, when it comes to deploying a DWP version of the Monster solution, that is only one part of a much more complex solution that Jobcentre Plus operates. We are one important-I would argue-part of that process, but Universal Jobmatch on its own is not a silver bullet that will suddenly find jobs for all our jobless in the UK. It should help people to get to a job quicker and in a much more streamlined way, working with employers we provide self service, which was one of the reasons the DWP wanted to introduce it: to give control to employers.

This was the remit for Monster: to introduce a tool that would help streamline the process and make it more effective.

Q416 Sheila Gilmore: I take it from that you have not been involved in the conditionality side of Universal Jobmatch, because what claimants are told is that they must use it and demonstrate they have made a certain number of applications-on pain of not fulfilling their commitment. You were not involved in that use of this at all, then.

 

Damian Kenny: The only thing the tool currently provides is that you are allowed to record your activity, whether it be actually on Universal Jobmatch itself or any other jobsearch work you are undertaking. There is free text that you can enter into the system.

There have been conversations with universal credit colleagues, for example, about how there could be integration between UJ and UC and how they may be able to include, within their data, support conditionality and in-work conditionality, but that has not come to fruition as yet.

Q417 Sheila Gilmore: However, can you see problems arising in terms of the reputation of this system? From the claimant’s point of view, it is becoming something they simply have to do, yet it is not necessarily all that relevant to whether it is a good or a bad match. If they do not demonstrate they have done this, they will be penalised. You have really have to do that. Is that really how you would like to see your system viewed?

Damian Kenny: No, not at all. I suppose there is always going to be a mixture of perceptions out there about the service and how it is used and why it has been introduced. From reading a lot of the online social media and comments about UJ, I know there is a lot of focus on the policy intent behind it and whether it is really a tool to beat jobseekers with. The intent behind the service is that DWP are looking to try to get people into sustainable work; that is the real underlying basis for the system, which people might not be aware of. Yes, they need to be able to provide data that supports their process, but that is not why the system was introduced in the first place.

Q418 Sheila Gilmore: One of the criticisms people have made is that even what gets thrown up if you go into it is not always that accurate. For instance, people have gone in for retail vacancies and it has come up with souschef. There are other examples of that. Is this something you are trying to improve, so that it is accurate?

Damian Kenny: Yes. We have also heard anecdotal evidence of people who have put in a particular search and have not received the results they were looking for. It helps to take a step back and understand what the underlying system is there to do and how it works. The Monster technology that underpins Universal Jobmatch has been built up over time and is used around the world. It uses a semantic search engine. We know from our experience over time that the tool, in its very essence, works-and it works well. It looks at the data you put in front of it and puts it into context. For example, if you were searching for “account manager” it would know the difference between an account manager and someone who was in the accounting profession, which might be different to a standard wordcount that some job boards are based on.

There is that element to it and you also consider, as I said to Stephen before, the breadth of data that people are putting in there, either from a jobseeker’s perspective or from an employer’s perspective. If you put a very tightly defined specification in there as an employer, the expectation is you will get quite a small pool of candidates to choose from. Equally, if you are a candidate who puts in a very tightly defined set of skills and experience, the matches you get should be a lot closer to that. However, if you go in there and put in a vast range of experience and skills, it suddenly exponentially increases the pool of things that will be thrown up.

A good example is a plumber. You may put in your search against “plumber”. The system uses-Alan will correct me on this-a system called spidering, so it knows that a plumber has a similar skill set to someone who may be a gasfitter. It then opens up all of those skills, and that may also then move into another set of skills for a pipe-fitter in a power station. What the system is trying to do is give the jobseeker more opportunities to define jobs. It is trying not to stifle that choice.

In answer to your final question, we are working closely with DWP, because we know it is not a perfect system. For example, we are looking at the taxonomy of the system at the moment, the underlying data and the rules that govern it, to make sure it is appropriate for the UK market. It is currently based on SOC2000. At the time of go-live, DWP were not in a position to move to SOC2010. We know there are some gaps there and we are working closely with them on how they can bridge those gaps.

Q419 Sheila Gilmore: Is there an issue with employers putting things on there? What guidance do they get in terms of how they should advertise their vacancy?

Damian Kenny: That is part of the issue. It is that engagement with employers across the UK. We know that there are national employer teams that work very closely with certain groups of employers, but when it comes to the smaller SME-type businesses, they will not necessarily be getting quite that level of support. Again, I am speaking on behalf of DWP here, so I would need them to comment, but there is certainly an education piece for the employer to help them get the best of the system, because it is meant to be for them to use as an online self service rather than always having to pick up the phone and ask for specific support.

Q420 Sheila Gilmore: Is any use made of the total numbers of jobs that are on there? Have you ever been asked to keep any records of that? I have spotted that there clearly are repetitions, with the same job appearing on a different page of the same list. It is not actually two jobs or three jobs; it would appear to be exactly the identical job. Is that something you have been asked to do-to use this as a tool for deciding how many vacancies there are, for example-or is it just simply for people to put on what they need?

Damian Kenny: It is the latter. In any given month, there are roughly a million active jobs (ed. adverts). That differs for the ONS statistics, which suggest that there are around half a million jobs at any one point in time. There is clearly some repetition there. On Kevin’s point, over 50% of the users of the system are recruitment agencies. We know they will be scraping jobs, so we know there is some duplication. Next month, there is due to be a purge of various aspects of the data to try to clean up duplication.

Q421 Sheila Gilmore: Have the DWP asked you to carry out on any kinds of checks on the validity of the types of jobs? I keep raising this point, but it is important. I spent some time last night looking under retail for my area. I went through five pages, and 95 of the entries were for catalogue distributors. Six were for other sorts of self-employed opportunities-it was unclear what they were-and 21 were what I would call jobs: proper employee jobs, a mix of part-time, fulltime, temporary and so on. It looks like an awful lot, but should they not be in a separate category? Why are they appearing there?

Damian Kenny: You have hit the nail on the head there. Part of the issue is employers’ categorisations of the jobs they are putting on there. This is where they need support from Jobcentre Plus advisers on how best to do that. Again, this is where there may be gaps we need to plug between the different operational codes that are in the system now to reflect the kinds of jobs that are on there.

Q422 Glenda Jackson: Is there a requirement upon employers to post those jobs? We are being led to believe that there will be a requirement on the jobseeker to use that system. Before we started, our Chair mentioned the idea of thousands of people having to pursue a job and the employer at the end being inundated with applications. They would presumably say, “I have had enough of this. I will go back to my old system or another system,” or “I am going to leave this entirely.” Is there a danger of that happening?

Kevin Green: There is danger for both parties. If employers are putting their jobs on and they are getting inundated with people making spurious or not serious applications, they will consider it. Employers do not have the time. If they get thousands of applications for a job, it is very labour intensive to filter those and decide whom to hire. Clearly, if it does not work for employers, they just will not use it in the long term.

For the individuals who are putting in 20 applications per week, if there is conditionality that you have to apply for 20 jobs, and you are not getting called for any interview, you are then going to spend less time putting consideration into what you do. You are going to think, “This is one of the things I need to do to get my benefits. I have to send 20 applications and I will not spend any time on it.” You are then in a vicious cycle of employers not using it, because they are getting thousands of notjobready candidates, and individuals not spending any time really matching it, because they have to do it as it is conditional in terms of their benefit. You are in downward spiral.

That is not criticism of the platform; the platform is there and can be a useful tool. This is about using criteria. There is a chance this will create a vortex and then potentially not deliver anyone with any benefit.

Q423 Chair: Does that mean extra work for your members, then? Employers will not go directly to Jobcentre Plus, because they will be deluged with applications. This will worsen as the claimant commitment rolls out and as more and more mandation comes in. They are going to come to your members to say, “Get me somebody for this job.” Your members are going to do all the work of screening, which, previously, an employer would have done themselves.

Kevin Green: This is why we did the partnership agreements, because we want Jobcentre Plus to work. There are differences in approaches, but by combining the two you actually give the individuals the best chance of getting into a job and you help employers find the people they need. We are not in competition. The value is in where you leverage off both sides to make it work.

Using jobboard technology-Monster are very good at it-is a great idea. However, it is often about the execution and how you go about it. Saying to people, “You have to make 20 applications using this system, regardless of whether you get called for an interview,” is clearly the wrong way of using the system.

Q424 Chair: You are saying that it is counter-productive for the Government to say, “We are going to encourage more people to apply for more jobs as part of the claimant commitment.” It will lead to fewer people getting jobs.

Kevin Green: It is about quality applications, where people have the chance to get a real job where they have the right skills. It is in their interests and the employers’ interests to make sure that happens.

Chair: The requirements the DWP and Jobcentre Plus are placing on claimants have to change.

Kevin Green: It has to be a more sophisticated measure, as we talked about with Stephen earlier on. If you encourage people to make 20 random applications, employers are going to get frustrated with the system, because they will be inundated with nonspecific applications for the jobs and they will not use Jobcentre Plus.

The objective is to get more employers to use it and get a higher quality service, but you are doing something that will take us in exactly the wrong direction.

Q425 Nigel Mills: I am just wondering whether this is an issue with this system or an issue generally with Jobcentre Plus. I am sure it is not a new complaint from employers that they have been sent dozens of CVs from unsuitable people, some of whom might really only want to get a letter signed to say they attended. Is it a problem with this system or is it a problem with how the DWP pushes people to do that?

 

Kevin Green: It is a problem with how DWP measure things and the conditionality. There should be high quality applications. What is the conversion rate of application to interview? What is the conversion rate of interview to success? Those are the criteria you would normally use if you were running a recruitment business. Those are the criteria you would use: how many people do I put forward? How many get called for interview? How many get the job? How many are in the job after six months?

Q426 Nigel Mills: Would you agree that there might be some utility if this system could be reversed and give some feedback to the individual or Jobcentre? It might say, “He has applied for 100 jobs, but he is actually patently unsuited to all 100, because the skills do not match.” It might say, “You would never have got any job within a 50mile radius with that CV as it is so poor.” Is that something you think should be there and is that something the system could do?

Damian Kenny: There is potential for the system to do that. Currently, for example, as an employer, when you go to put on a specification for a job, you are able to pull up an anonymised list of the top candidates. It will rank the candidates in terms of your specification and how close the match is with the skills and the experience, so they have that view of those candidates and, if they choose, they can invite those candidates to attend for interview.

That does not quite close the loop, because it does not stop anyone who sees an available advert out there applying to that advert, but it does give some control to the employer to invite the candidates they are really interested in speaking to and control that themselves-rather than be swamped, like you said, with inappropriate applications from a much wider source.

Kevin Green: The key thing is that the individuals need advice and guidance. This is the key issue. The system could say, “You have made 20 applications; you seem to be making this mistake.” Presumably, you could deliver some feedback to the individuals in that way. In terms of Jobcentre advisers, that is clearly one of the things they should be doing. “You are applying for 20 jobs a week. How many times are you getting called for interviews? What have you put in about your skills? Have you really got those skills? Are we going too wide?” Someone has to provide that advice and guidance-otherwise they will keep making the same mistake over and over again.

Q427 Ms Morris: I have a brief question about the technology itself. You say that it is tried and tested as a system. To what extent have you actually tested this particular application of it? There is anecdotal evidence that people have been challenged literally just logging on. There is one individual who claimed to have tried 25 times and did not quite make it. There is an issue about robustness and whether you have assessed this implementation, but there is also an issue about ease of use. Clearly, while this can be supported by training, an awful lot of people are not as computer literate as, perhaps, people who have used your other platforms.

To what extent have you done any testing or questioning to see whether you have made this as idiotproof, if I can put it like that, as is possible, given the constraints you have from DWP, who are saying, “We want you to apply for at least three different types of job and please make the category descriptions broad, so you now have got four digits”?

Damian Kenny: Whilst the underlying technology is Monster’s, the actual process to bring in the service and implement it was very much done hand in hand with DWP. (Ed. We only built what we were instructed to) That testing of what is appropriate, what users will and will not be able to do, what kind of process flow and user journey there is was very much with the Department. It was not a case of Monster simply imposing a blackbox solution on the Department. Yes, we provide the service, but it is done very closely with the involvement of DWP.

 

Q428 Ms Morris: Did they or you or anybody actually ask an end user, since this has been implemented, as to whether they find it easy to use?

Damian Kenny: There have been some insight surveys into the user experience. There was work done before implementation with users on the design. The insight survey they have done is not quite statistically relevant; it gives a snapshot view of what the experience is. To your point about the login, we know that it is a complex process. We worked hard with DWP to look at the most appropriate process that was going to tick all the security boxes and we have to use the Government Gateway process currently. We know that is complex; there were issues with people forgetting their 12 character username and there have been thousands of password resets that have been done as a result. Until we can get to more streamlined access to the service, we are going to have to rely on support from the advisers in the Jobcentres.

Finally, to your point about whether people are equipped to use the tool if they are not necessarily used to using online and digital, again, it comes back to face-to-face support, supported by other agencies and online support that DWP can give. In the vast majority of Jobcentres, they have IADs, internet access devices, which advisers can either point users towards or they can sit down and walk them through particular processes. However, it really does come down to that face-to-face interaction between the Department and the users.

Q429 Ms Morris: In summary, what you are telling me is that more could be done on the technology side, but until you can find a way of dealing with the security issues, it is hard. It seems to me, however, this is something that is crucial, because in terms of best use of time and money, to simplify the system-rather than take up extra training time with individuals just on how to log on, never mind how to find a job-would be a good, sensible and probably cost-effective first step. Would you agree with that?

Damian Kenny: I would agree, yes.

Q430 Graham Evans: Local enterprise partnerships are disappointed that it does not appear at the moment that the labour market data-such as which sectors are growing and which skills areas they should be looking at in a particular region-can be accessed by looking at Universal Jobmatch. Was it part of your brief at DWP to provide a system that could be used in this way?

Damian Kenny: The brief was primarily about the jobmatching functionality. Clearly, the focus at DWP is on getting those people into work and that engagement with employers. Yes, we are aware that, previously, people could access Jobcentre Plus data through Nomis and similar platforms, and we are aware that there are limitations in what they can get currently from Universal Jobmatch. However, we built the system to a specification that was agreed with DWP. To a certain extent, the data is all there; DWP is the data owner. It is potentially available for external third parties.

In fact, we are working with DWP and CESI on a labour market intelligence platform, which uses anonymised data from Universal Jobmatch and also uses anonymised Monster core data to give that crossmatching to give back that more granular view of the market: the geography, the breakdown and the demand in the marketplace. However, we do accept it does not give as much data as it used to previously.

Q431 Graham Evans: You are saying that it is fairly easy for Jobcentre Plus to extract and publish that information within every town. Is that what you are saying?

Damian Kenny: No, what I am saying is that we are in the process, with DWP, of producing that data for them. What you have in Universal Jobmatch at the moment is a set of predefined reports. At the time of system implementation, they were the priority reports that were required. We did discuss having some kind of data warehouse, but, at the time, that was not taken forward.

Q432 Graham Evans: Within there, you have the nuts and bolts of being able to produce information for growth industries in a given area and, therefore, the skills those growth areas would need.

Damian Kenny: Yes, the data exists; it is a question of extracting it.

Q433 Graham Evans: Would there be additional costs for you to be able to put those nuts and bolts into a system that could provide that on a case by case basis?

Damian Kenny: Yes, there would. We provide a service that is currently based on a particular specification.

Q434 Graham Evans: Are you in discussion with DWP on that basis and the additional funding to be able to provide that information?

Damian Kenny: We are not into the funding discussions yet, but we are working with them on what data would actually be appropriate to release and which data would be most useful for the market.

Q435 Stephen Lloyd: Just to be clear, you are doing a scoping discussion now with the DWP on how that data could be used?

Damian Kenny: Yes, we are doing that with DWP and CESI.

Q436 Graham Evans: This is where the additional costs could be recouped, presumably.

Damian Kenny: Yes.

Q437 Graham Evans: All of the nuts and bolts are in there. The data is in there. It is the cost of you being able to get that out and put in report form, which could be used by an individual Jobcentre Plus or a LEP.

Damian Kenny: Yes.

Q438 Graham Evans: The LEPs are so important for getting the job markets right on a region-by-region basis.

Damian Kenny: Yes.

Q439 Graham Evans: As I was saying, the CBI and other witnesses believe that Jobcentre Plus should change its key performance measures, KPIs, which are currently focused on getting people off benefits. Jobcentre Plus staff could be incentivised to get people into sustained job outcomes. How should Jobcentre Plus performance be measured in order to encourage more successful outcomes?

Damian Kenny: I am not sure if that is a question for me.

Kevin Green: This is about people getting a job and staying in employment, which means staying off benefits for a period of time. If you are measuring people purely in terms of them coming off benefits, people come off benefits, the experience does not work out and they are back on benefits quite quickly. Just measuring the first thing as a key metric does not work. It is about creating, rewarding and incentivising jobcentres that are good at getting people into jobs and people then remaining in employment for a period of time.

Q440 Graham Evans: In your experience, how does that vary from Jobcentre Plus to Jobcentre Plus?

Kevin Green: The performance varies hugely. I do not have any data to support that, but in terms of anecdotal feedback from our members about them working with Jobcentre Plus, they will say that some are fantastic and have great staff who are doing a wonderful job, while others do not seem to be very effective at all in terms of giving advice, getting people into jobs and even being open to the relationship.

There is a very patchy delivery mechanism. There are some areas of high quality, where it seems work very well, and there are other areas where it is not working very well. Some of that is down to leadership, management and the skills of people involved.

Q441 Graham Evans: Based on your experience, anecdotal or otherwise, do you believe there could be changes the DWP could make to Jobcentre Plus’s key performance measures?

 

Kevin Green: Yes, absolutely. It should be more about how many people are still in work, after you have got them into work, after six weeks, after 13 weeks. That would be a much better measure. It then stops the churn of getting people into anything because it looks like a good statistic.

If they come off a benefit and six weeks later they are back on benefits because they do not have a real job, it does not work and it does not help the individual or the employer. It means that jobcentres are not delivering sustainable performance, which is what you want.

Lena Tochtermann: We should probably scrap offflow targets and think about a different measure about sustainable job outcomes. Finding that in the interim is probably more challenging. The move to universal credit will help here, because we will get the real-time data through RTI; we will get a better sense of where people are progressing. In the medium term, we might want to think about how long people have stayed in jobs, whether they are coming back to benefits and, possibly, feedback from employers.

A lot of this comes back to better understanding what employers are looking for and how that matches up with the candidates who are coming through the door. It is about getting that right.

Q442 Chair: One of the ways of tracking the sustained outcomes is to phone up employers, but DWP said that it annoyed employers when they used to do that. Kevin, you said that would be a better measure. How would employers feel about that? People have to be tracked in some way. If they are off benefit, there is no other way of tracking them other than contacting the employer.

Lena Tochtermann: The universal credit will help avoid too much extra burden on employers when it comes in, because you have that real-time data and you see where people’s earnings are moving. In the interim, calling up the employer and saying, “Somebody I placed into work with you has come in; how are they doing?” is not a negative thing. It will help create some of that feedback on what helps people succeed in work, which DWP is looking to find out more about as part of their inwork progression.

Q443 Chair: On the variation in the performance of different Jobcentres depending on where they are, is it more than the relationships and how well they are doing the job? Is it more reflective of the state of the local labour market? In my area, Aberdeen, it is quite easy to get people into sustainable jobs, because they are there.

Kevin Green: Clearly, the performance of a Jobcentre is going to be hugely affected by the labour market it is supporting. We have absolutely no doubt about that. However, the feedback we get from our members is just the level of interest, the level of outreach activity-the way that Jobcentres are going out to meet local employers and where they are bringing employers in.

Our members will say, “We have worked with this Jobcentre and they are doing a fantastic job. It encourages us to come in; we work with it well; it seems to have great outcomes. This one over here does not seem to do any of that activity.”

Q444 Graham Evans: What is the difference in the reason why there is one that is embracing this and encouraging people to come in to the Jobcentre Plus and the other one is not?

Kevin Green: Some of it is about the leadership of whoever manages the office.

Q445 Graham Evans: It is about the management and leadership in Jobcentres. Have you come across anything to do with best practice? You described one example where the Jobcentre is inviting; do DWP learn from those leaders?

Kevin Green: They are working with us. My team are doing regional workshops, where we bring some of our members together with Jobcentres. Some it is about sharing ideas and talking about the local labour market, but it is also about sharing best practice. It is really good to see jobcentres that are working actively with us and delivering outcomes saying to their colleagues, “There is something you could potentially benefit from here.”

It is happening and we are keen to do more of it; DWP are also keen to promote the concept.

Q446 Graham Evans: At business breakfasts, I have noticed your members are always there sniffing around for the latest job opportunities. Would you encourage Jobcentre Plus managers to do something similar?

Kevin Green: You have to think about how you build your local relationships with employers. That is the key product of Jobcentre Plus, in reality. It is about building a relationship with employers and finding out where the jobs are, so that you can bring them to your candidates, in reality. The more effective jobcentres are very good at building relationships with national employers that have sites in a geographical area and SMEs in the area.

It is a key skill. Sometimes it is ignored; this is the point. It is not seen as a core part of the job, because the fundamental sets of measures are about dealing with people who are coming through the door.

Q447 Debbie Abrahams: I want to build on the points Graham has made about conditionality and the focus on offflow. First of all, in relation to training, some jobseekers have said-these are personal experiences as well as documented experiences-the longer term training they want to do is being prevented in terms of the conditionality they have as a claimant. What are your views on that and how it could be overcome?

Lena Tochtermann: This is not something we have had a great deal of feedback on. If you are talking about some of the proposals we have seen through party conferences recently, one of the issues we see on our side is that people want to move into training, but when they train for more than 16 hours-I believe that is the number-they are seeing their benefit reduced.

We are seeing a slight disincentive to stay in training, whereas for some people training might be the right option to help them move into a sustainable job outcome. We would certainly support this being changed.

Kevin Green: We have not come across it as a major issue, but clearly if people are putting their hand up and saying, “I am not getting a job, because I do not have the skills; I want to do some skills training,” we need to find a way of supporting them as best we can. That is absolutely right.

Q448 Debbie Abrahams: I do not know if you are aware of the Association of Colleges suggesting that the key performance measures could be more closely aligned to BIS’s targets around skills training and so on. I do not know whether you had a comment around that.

Kevin Green: One of the things that we do get feedback on from our members and employers is that, quite often, they will find that local colleges are providing training that does not match the local jobs that are available. Clearly, there is something here about trying to get good-quality labour market information at a local level, where people are looking not only at where the jobs are now, but where they are coming-and they are trying to make the training match those.

I went to see a Work Programme provider who is a member of ours. They are the best performing Work Programme provider and they are doing fantastic stuff. They have got sheds on business parks and, basically, they have partitioning that they can move around. I went to the one in Birmingham and they were training people to be croupiers. It was bizarre. They had tables set out and they said, “There is huge demand for people to do this job and you can actually train them to do it.”

The ability to get a local provider to flex their training so that they are actually training people to have a great opportunity to go into jobs at the end of a three or fourweek period is fantastic. You need that agility. The problem with colleges is they think, “We have always done hairdressing, so we will carry on doing hairdressing,” even if there are no hairdressing jobs in the local community. There is something about making sure everybody has good labourmarket information, so that you are trying to match the jobs and the training together and you are encouraging people to take those opportunities.

Q449 Graham Evans: What was the provider you mentioned?

Kevin Green: Staffline is the recruitment company and EOS is the Work Programme provider. It is run by Staffline, who are one of our members, and it is the best performing Work Programme provider. It works on this principle of having flexible space in which it can create training. They look at the local labour market; they go and talk to employers and find out what they are looking for; they then make the training as applicable as they can for that labour market.

Q450 Graham Evans: It is quite a small building, so big classes, small

classes?

Alan Townsend: From our perspective, there is even more that technology can do. We talked about one very small piece in terms of the Universal Jobmatch. There are many more services that could be provided through Jobcentre Plus to both employers and jobseekers, using virtual careers fairs and a lot more of the expertise that exists in the private sector, to help the Jobcentres become centres of excellence in terms of helping people not just to find a job but to develop a career as well.

Damian Kenny: I have very much the same view as Alan.

Chair: Unless there is anything that you desperately wanted to say this morning and our questions have not given you the opportunity to say it, I will call this evidence session to a close.

We have the Minister on 20 November; that will be our last evidence session. Your answers this morning have certainly helped us shape the questions we will be putting to the Minister. For that, thank you very much.

About the Author
Stephen O'Donnell is a lifelong recruiter, internet enthusiast, fadgadget and peripatetic writer.