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News Desk: Industry News

Labour market latest...and a five point plan for employability professionals

28 May 2020   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Heather Ette
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Labour market latest...and a five point plan for employability professionals – By Patrick Hughes FIEP


It’s been an interesting few weeks...with more to come. We now have labour market and Universal Credit figures for March and early April.  The bow wave of UC claims was the largest and sharpest since the depth of the horrific winter of 1947 as claims reached six times their normal level for a two week period and DWP had to retake unprecedented steps to respond. Essentially that meant a major revamp of business processes and closing the doors of Jobcentres to get the benefit claims sorted.


So where are we now?  First, full credit to DWP for getting UC first payments out to those who claimed, around 93% received their payment after five weeks in the first half of April (this is not the place to debate whether the well-known five week wait for UC is right - more on that in the months to come I am sure) and claims are now running at roughly twice the level pre-crisis so the pressure is by no means off the system, indeed a “second spike” prompting redundancies and a further claims peak is clearly a possibility. 

Right now, however we are in a new labour market world where claimant unemployment is over 2 million, up 69% in a month, worklessness young people stood at 983 thousand in March and will undoubtedly breach the million benchmark in the next set of figures and perhaps even more alarmingly it looks like the stock of infilled vacancies has halved in the last month. That means we are moving fast into a world where there may be six unemployed people for every vacancy.


As many of you will know, DWP are already recruiting additional Work Coaches - Jobcentres will need a further 7 thousand it is estimated, so that’s going to take a bit of time.  Active and detailed discussions are underway with the wider provider community on how existing programmes might be expanded, and whether new programmes are needed.  Much depends on what funding deal DWP can strike with the Treasury, it’s too soon to predict the final outcome of those discussions though I understand we can expect to hear more soon.


Many providers are already preparing for a new world and thinking about possible tendering opportunities.  Personally, I’ve been very impressed with the way the sector has responded to a C19 world by going almost entirely digital: that kind of agility will be at a premium in the months to come but it’s also true that there are fewer colleagues around with personal experience of past deep downturns.  Talking to some of them I’ve picked up hints and tips drawing on that learning which are worth considering if you are working as an employability professional in the provider community, from the largest prime to the smallest specialist.


First refresh your links with Jobcentre Plus in each locality. For some that might simply mean reaching out and asking how are you - can we help? But there’s a business purpose too as we know that big new programmes are slow to get going and achieve the level of referrals required. A wise provider will strengthen relationships before the going gets tough and do note in this new world far more of our clients will already be JCP customers than we might expect.


Next we have some hard and urgent thinking to do about our links with employers. We will be working hard to dig out vacancies and persuade employers to take a share of less advantaged jobseekers and it simply won’t help if all providers and JCP in each locality compete and cut across each other in their marketing.  It’s time to find ways to collaborate in our work with employers - and that means setting up serious conversations amongst ourselves about how to do that.


My third tip builds on an old criticism - that creaming and parking of clients on caseloads and in group sessions is widespread. Let’s be honest, when an adviser is very busy it’s always tempting to work with a better motivated client; and full-on performance pay by job outcomes doesn’t always help with that. As professionals we need to think of that as a risk to our collective reputation and tackle it in our day to day working and general approach. It will be especially important to do this as we operate in a mostly digital world so I would urge us to think hard about deploying customer service standards - a charter if you will - that commit us to guaranteeing a really substantive contact  to each client at the very least each month and we should make those commitments public.


Managing our continuing dialogue with each of our customers comes next. We know there will be more - perhaps a lot more - of them. We should expect more digital literacy and channel flexibility from them, if you are not convinced ask a local Work Coach about the surprises that the (DWP) Journal held for them. Originally intended as more of a note-taking facility it rapidly became a dedicated social media channel linking coaches and clients, a great step forward but making new demands about response times including outside traditional operating hours. Providers will face the same challenge: some already are, there is a new world coming of advice on demand and advisers on tap, so do think about how to prepare yourself for that when personal time management will be at a premium.


And number five? Well there should always be a five-point plan and this last one could easily have come top. It is of course look after yourselves, cherishing your own mental wellbeing and that of your team and colleagues is paramount. Do take a look on IEP's YouTube channel to view the recent IEP webinar slides from TBHG if you are not sure where to start.


So that’s my first shot at a five-point plan for things you can do now or, if you’ve done them, then checking that they are working well. To my shame there’s a long list of other things that could go on there like building local partnerships and keeping an eye on adviser caseloads.  More of that in the coming weeks. In the meantime, what would be in your five point plan? Do let me and colleagues know on Twitter @salientwork and @IEPinfo.