Can the Work Programme work for all user groups? - Work and Pensions Committee Contents

4  Employer engagement

61.  Encouraging employers to recruit long-term unemployed people will be a key factor in improving the job outcome performance of the Work Programme. We initially received no written submissions from employers but we were very keen to hear their views on the Work Programme as a potential recruitment partner. We approached a number of employers and employers' organisations which have a track-record of promoting the employment of long-term and disadvantaged jobseekers. This chapter examines the Work Programme's effectiveness in engaging with employers and sets out some examples of best practice.

How willing are employers to recruit the long-term unemployed?

62.  Some witnesses believed that few employers are willing to consider recruiting long-term jobseekers who may face challenges in adapting to the workplace.[53] Papworth Trust, a Work Programme subcontractor in the east of England, wrote:

A major barrier for our clients is that employers often seek "ready-made" employees who are proficient in their role with minimum training, support, cost or perceived risk to the employer. Extra support or training is viewed as inconvenient, time consuming and costly.[54]

Similarly, the UK Council on Deafness believed that deaf and other disabled people face "attitudinal barriers at work" and mental health organisations highlighted research by Shaw Trust which found that 40% of employers view employees with mental health problems as a "significant risk".[55] Cymorth Cymru also raised concerns about employers' perceptions of some groups of unemployed people, particularly ex-offenders.[56] Providers we spoke to in Brent believed that negative media coverage may have dissuaded some employers from engaging with the Work Programme.

"Repositioning" employers

63.  We sought evidence from the Business Disability Forum (BDF), an employers' membership organisation, one of whose aims is to facilitate the recruitment of disabled people. BDF believes that two key changes are required if the Work Programme is to effectively support large numbers of long-term unemployed disabled people into sustained employment. Firstly, employers must be repositioned from "problem"—people whose attitudes must be changed—to "valued end user, customer and potential partner". Secondly the "disability-to-work supply chain" needs to be streamlined, equipping and supporting employers and making it easier for them to recruit disabled people on the basis of their capabilities.[57]

64.  Susan Scott-Parker, BDF's Chief Executive Officer, felt that Work Programme providers were not sufficiently aware of initiatives such as Access to Work, a DWP-funded scheme which supports disabled people in work by providing practical support to overcome work-related obstacles resulting from their disability. The scheme contributes to costs which go beyond the "reasonable adjustments" which employers are obliged to provide under the Equality Act. Access to Work supported 30,780 disabled people in 2011/12, of whom 10,000 were new recipients.[58] The Government recently announced its intention to "strengthen and improve" the scheme.[59]

65.  BDF argued that it was fundamentally important that providers understood employers' recruitment processes in order to facilitate the employment of disadvantaged jobseekers such as disabled people. Susan Scott-Parker highlighted work BDF had done with the National Autistic Society, for example:

[...] they brought us 50 CVs, so that we could see the talent and the qualifications and what they were interested in, and then we brought a group of companies together that we knew in the next year or two were likely to have jobs to match. [...] We learned that the job interview disadvantaged many of these individuals, and so the members agreed to do work trials. We have had hundreds of people with Asperger's find work as a result of bringing the demand from the employer together with the supply of candidates in a structured and systematic way [...].[60]

66.  We also heard evidence from Timpson, the well-known high street shoe repairing and key-cutting company. For eight years, Timpson has been running a scheme offering work experience and jobs to prison-leavers. It works with around 80 prisons, interviewing prisoners with a view to employing them or offering work experience placements on release. In recent years the scheme has been supplemented by prison-based Timpson "academies", in which prisoners can learn the skills required to work in Timpson's branches. Timpson's charitable foundation also funds pre-release support, helping prisoners make plans for housing, family support and a job on release. Timpson currently has 235 prison leavers in its organisation, 142 of whom are in full-time paid jobs.[61] Gouy Hamilton-Fisher, Timpson's Head of People Services (HR), told us that there was a strong business case, as well as a corporate responsibility case, for recruiting ex-offenders. After he had helped set up Timpson's prison-leavers scheme, he "could not believe how blind we had been to a wider recruitment pool."[62]

Work Programme providers' approaches to employer engagement

67.  During our visit to St Mungo's, its employment services staff told us that establishing good relationships with employers was sometimes problematic. However, they emphasised that they had managed to establish effective partnerships with a number of sympathetic employers. In St Mungo's experience it was often more productive to approach small and medium-sized businesses but they also noted that some large retailers, for example Debenhams and John Lewis, had a good track record of recruiting disadvantaged jobseekers, including homeless people, and providing opportunities for career progression.

68.  We received relatively little detailed comment from Work Programme providers on strategies for engaging employers. Some believed that having more than one prime in each CPA had led to confusion. For example, Wheatsheaf Trust told us that:

[...] we have put in a considerable amount of work over the last 5 or 6 years, alongside Jobcentre Plus and the local authority, to get all the agencies working in the employment and skills arena to co-operate, particularly in approaches to employers. Because providers are now in direct competition with each other for outcome payments and with Jobcentre Plus for the few available vacancies, this co-ordinated approach is falling apart and employers are already getting frustrated with a number of multiple approaches from different agencies chasing their vacancies.[63]

3SC, a consortium of third sector subcontractors, highlighted instances of positive impact on job outcomes through primes working together to create regional employer engagement strategies.[64]

69.  Our discussion with local stakeholders in Brent suggested that primes are not routinely calling on the knowledge and expertise of local authorities, many of which have close relationships with local employers. The Director of Regeneration and Major Projects for Brent Council told us that none of the three primes operating in his area had contacted him directly for advice on employers' upcoming recruitment needs, despite the council's track record of close collaboration with local employers and its own position as one of Brent's largest employers.

70.  A4e believed that the length of the current Work Programme contracts—seven years in total—would allow primes to foster stronger links with local employers over time and to develop an understanding of employers' long-term recruitment plans. It told us it intended to help Work Programme participants to gain skills required not just within specific local sectors but also for specific roles with specific employers.[65]

71.  However, the employers we heard evidence from reported a mixed experience of recruiting from the Work Programme. Timpson and Transport for London had both had some poor experiences. For example, Timpson had been looking to recruit people from the Work Programme but of the 12 people put forward by the provider only one had proved suitable. The remaining 11 either "did not arrive for work" and had to be chased up or were "very poorly prepared". Gouy Hamilton-Fisher's impression was that eight "had not had any preparation whatsoever". He believed that this experience demonstrated that Work Programme providers were not focusing sufficiently on matching suitable jobseekers to specific vacancies. Susan Scott-Parker's view was that this experience was common. She felt that too often the providers played a pure "numbers game", "randomly" pushing jobseekers towards vacancies in the hope that "a few stick".[66]

72.  The most positive example of Work Programme employer engagement we heard about was Transport for London's (TfL) systematic engagement with all six primes operating in the capital. TfL works with its supply chain partners to identify upcoming job vacancies and the primes then collaborate to provide suitable candidates from the Work Programme. A single Work Programme Coordinator (WPC) is funded by the six primes and is "embedded" within TfL to identify suitable vacancies and to ensure that the recruitment processes run smoothly. Working closely together in this way helps the primes to understand fully the business requirements of TfL's suppliers. The WPC coordinates feedback between TfL, suppliers and the primes and also monitors candidates' job retention. TfL started the scheme as a pilot in January 2012. In its first year of operation, it achieved 112 job starts across 12 TfL suppliers.[67] Andrea Fozard, TfL's Supplier Skills Project Manager, told us that the WPC role had been crucial in ironing out early problems, including candidates being poorly prepared. She believed that close collaborative working had enabled some of the primes subsequently to provide "a fantastic service".[68]

73.  We believe that providers should do more to prepare jobseekers for real vacancies and should desist from simply deluging employers with a random selection of CVs and poorly prepared candidates. Excellent examples exist of employers engaging effectively with Work Programme providers, in particular Transport for London's systematic engagement with all six primes operating in the capital. We recommend that DWP and the Employment Related Services Association (ERSA) encourage approaches such as these.

74.  General awareness of the Work Programme amongst employers appears to be low. We recommend that DWP work with the welfare-to-work industry to promote the Work Programme to employers as a potentially effective recruitment partner and that DWP and ERSA produce a national action plan for engaging employers in the Work Programme before the end of 2013.

75.  At a regional level evidence suggests that collaborative approaches, where providers work together to create employer engagement strategies, are most effective. At a local level, providers should make effective use of the experience and contacts of local stakeholders, for example by meeting regularly with local authorities and local business groups such as Chambers of Commerce, to identify employers' recruitment needs and prepare Work Programme participants for identified future vacancies.

53   See, for example, Ms M J Canning, Ev w18, para 2 Back

54   Ev w64 Back

55   Ev w18; Ev 137 Back

56   Ev w30 Back

57   Ev 115 Back

58   DWP, Access to Work: Official Statistics, April 2013; See also, A review to Government by Liz Sayce, Getting in, staying in and getting on: Disability employment support fit for the future, June 2011, p 14 Back

59   HC Deb, 19 November 2012, cols 23-26WS  Back

60   Q 407 Back

61   Ev 161 Back

62   Q 444 Back

63   Ev 164 Back

64   Ev w82 Back

65   Ev w2 Back

66   Q 407 Back

67   Ev 162 Back

68   Q 447 Back

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Prepared 21 May 2013