Work and Pensions CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by learndirect

Summary Introduction

learndirect is the largest provider of skills, training and employment services in the UK. We have supported almost four million individual customers and more than 75,000 employers with their skills and employment needs. The merger between learndirect and JHP Group in 2012 means we have the scale and experience to integrate skills and employment services for our customers, whether they are unemployed or in work, providing a holistic end-to-end local service. We do this by making the best use of the services, geographical scale, technological strength and funding we have. We work with JCP and other providers to help unemployed customers gain the skills, support and confidence they need to get into a long-term sustainable job.

We hold major funding contracts with: the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP)—including as a Prime contractor for the Work Programme; the Skills Funding Agency (SFA), Skills Development Scotland, and the Welsh Government. We also hold commercial contracts with clients including the Ministry of Defence and The Co-operative Group. Our employer clients include thousands of SMEs and large national organisations.

Through our DWP contracts, last year we supported more than 60,000 customers. We helped around 4,500 long term unemployed customers into work and we have helped more than 6,500 customers get a work placement. learndirect is JCP’s biggest referral partner—83% of learndirect’s SFA funded learners are unemployed.

“On average one of our customers gets a job every 20 minutes.”

“We find a work placement for one of our customers every 15 minutes.”

learndirect’s response is based on our collective experience working with some of the hardest to help individuals. Our response is also based on consultation with learndirect staff who work in partnership with JCP and private training providers on a daily basis, and we have provided examples and evidence wherever possible. We would welcome the opportunity to discuss our response in more detail.

JCP’s Employment Services

1. Overall JCP is relatively successful in getting large volumes of unemployed people back into work—evidenced by the fact more than 70% of Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants leave benefit within the first six months and around 90% leave benefit within 12 months. However, we believe there is room for improvement through greater use of private providers earlier on in the customer’s journey. We believe this would result in more people being moved into sustainable employment more quickly and more cost effectively. Lord Freud found private provider performance to be more cost effective, but not necessarily more effective.

2. Many JCP customers have longstanding, negative perceptions of a “jobcentre”. Our customers tell us they prefer to visit our premises than go to a jobcentre for the following reasons:

They feel more relaxed, eg no security staff.

They can drop in and visit and adviser without an appointment.

Our offices have a more relaxed atmosphere, eg no physical barriers between the adviser and the customer.

3. In learndirect’s experience the biggest issue for customers and providers is the variation in the services offered and delivered by JCP across districts. For example

Support offered to customers through the Flexible Support Fund varies across districts in effect creating a postcode lottery for the customer.

Warm handovers of customers from JCP to a provider are critical but the quality differs from district to district. This can have a major impact on the customer experience and the likelihood of the customer staying with the provider.

There is a large variation in flows/referral numbers across and within districts which can have an impact on provider planning.

There is frequently partiality in relation to which provider a customer is referred to in a CPA; this may not always be the most appropriate type of provision for the customer.

The level of knowledge of JCP advisers is variable across districts. There is also a lack of consistency in relation to the tools and resources which are available to advisers at district level. For example when the new flexibilities were introduced by in August 2011 one year on some frontline advisers were still not aware of the changes.

4. Poor communication between JCP and some of its stakeholders can have an impact on the wider sector, eg communication between Benefits Delivery Agency and JCP appears to be poor, eg change of circumstances not received in a timely way which means providers cannot deal with their customers effectively. JCP can sometimes appear to have different priorities to those of its delivery partners, eg

In some parts of JCP there remains a work first approach. In our experience JCP can often “hang on” to those customers who are closest to the labour market rather than referring to a provider for skills training which will give them a greater chance of finding sustainable employment.

JCP adviser time continues to reduce—seven minutes per interview is not good enough.

JCP’s Role in Relation to the Rights and Responsibilities of Benefit Claimants

5. In learndirect’s experience the level and appropriateness of JCP’s use of benefit sanctions vary, with some Districts being stricter than others. This reinforces the point made above about inconsistency of services and policies across Districts.

Supporting a Flexible Labour Market

6. It may be too early to say how effective the Universal Jobmatch Service has been to date, but in our view it is not visible enough with employers.

7. As reference above we believe JCP still has a work first approach and more focus needs to be given to sustained job outcomes. In-work support needs to play a more prominent role in the customer journey. Progression within the workplace is fundamental for freeing up entry level positions for new job entrants. Many newly employed people will have gained just enough skills or qualifications to meet the minimum standards for recruitment, but there is a danger when their employment status changes they lose their entitlement to further skills training and other support. Currently, these individuals become “parked” in the workplace. This is especially important given the previous “job for life” firstly shifted to a “portfolio of jobs” and is now moving towards “succession of jobs”—a different approach is needed to ensure individuals have the transferrable skills needed to navigate a succession of jobs.

The Impacts of Benefit Reform

8. The impact of benefit reform requires a level of digital skills of claimants and also the staff in order to facilitate customer engagement. Both groups needs to be provided with minimum levels of ICT to support the reform agenda. Support also needs to be reinforced in terms of ensuring an understanding of the reform changes, many client groups still demonstrate a lack of understanding or misunderstanding of the impact of the changes to themselves.

The Governance of JCP

9. As JCP’s biggest referral learndirect had an effective strategic relationship with the JCP Executive Team—we were able to work strategically to find solutions to problems—this no longer works in the same way and the relationship is contractual; however we acknowledge change/restructures take time to settle.

10. We support professionalising the adviser workforce and recommend JCP advisers are encouraged to become members of the Institute for Employment Professionals.

29 May 2013

Prepared 27th January 2014