Work and Pensions CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Tees Valley Unlimited

Executive Summary

This submission draws attention to problems with the Universal Jobmatch system as a source of statistical data on the labour market. Whilst data on job vacancies would be useful in understanding the labour market and the demand for jobs and skills, it seems that little consideration was made of the needs of statistical users in the design of the Jobmatch system. Data from the Universal Jobmatch system has proved to be of limited use, as it has been poorly categorised with non-standard codes. The system works badly and is awkward to use. I am also concerned with the lack of any response to users’ problems. A great deal of work needs to be done to the data to make it useful and alternative methods of access (preferably through the NOMIS1 system) would be very welcome.

Introduction

1. I work for Tees Valley Unlimited, the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) for the Tees Valley. I have 27 years experience of analysing and presenting data relating to local areas, in particular the local economy and labour markets, in a local government and LEP context. I wish to comment on the Universal Jobmatch job vacancy system as a source of data to understand the economy.

Need for Job Vacancies Data

2. As a LEP, job vacancy data is useful because our prime role is to regenerate the local economy. To do this, we need to understand the labour market and business environment to the fullest extent we can, and to track how they are changing. Therefore, data on the number, type and trend in job vacancies is a useful source of data on the economy eg a rise in advertised vacancies is an early indicator of improving labour market conditions, and the sorts of jobs and skills that local employers are looking for. We also have a role in ensuring that the skills of the workforce meet the needs of local employers, so some idea of the demand for labour—both its extent and the characteristics of jobs that employers are seeking to fill—is important.

Problems with the Universal Jobmatch System

3. We used to access data from the previous system of vacancies held by Jobcentre Plus through NOMIS. Whilst access to this system through NOMIS was easy, the data was not of especially high quality. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) replaced this with the Universal Jobmatch, accessible through the Direct.gov website. It was promised that the new system would be a great improvement over the old system, with much wider coverage. However, the new system has proved to be poorly designed for users such as ourselves who wish to use the system as a source of statistical data.

4. I would summarise some of the failings of the system as:

There is little evidence of the system being designed to meet the needs of users who wish to get statistical data from it. There is no metadata (something that explains the terms used) for statistical users at all that I can find.

The system is hard and awkward to use.

The date ranges available are often unhelpful.

The geographies are often non-standard (for instance I assume that the “Tyne Tees” region corresponds to the North East, but it’s unclear what the “Home Counties” region might be).

Industry categories are non-standard and include a rather unhelpful category of “all”. Large numbers of jobs are categorised as being for recruitment agencies, which isn’t very informative. Agencies may be the source of the job advert, but most statistical users of the data would be more interested in the industry of the actual job.

The “occupation” categories are not even occupations, let alone use standard occupational codes, but are actually job titles.

The system purports to classify vacancies by qualification required, but the vast majority of records are classed as “unknown”.

Some of the available reports are so badly constructed that they are of no use (eg a report on the Top 10 Industries categories that appears in the form of a coloured bar chart, but with no key to tell you the meaning of the different colours).

5. Finally, despite the initial promises, there are no more job vacancies in the new system than the old. Whilst we do not have direct experience of the quality of the vacancies held in the system, we have heard anecdotal evidence that it contains are some very dubious records. From examination of job titles, we concur that there do seem to be issues with the data in the system—for example, we are surprised at the number of vacancies for “Diplomats” that are apparently available in our part of North East England.

6. The result of this is that we have very little useful data on job vacancies—the data on detailed characteristics of vacancies especially is of very little value.

7. I did raise my concerns with DWP but was disappointed to receive no substantive response, and no improvements have been made to the system since its inception. In January, DWP promised a response to concerns raised by users in the initial consultation about the introduction of the system, but nothing has appeared yet.

8. A general desire of many users is that the data is made available via the NOMIS system, similarly to the previous data, instead of the current poorly designed website. The NOMIS team are experienced in providing easy and effective access to many data sources, including data from ONS and other DWP data.

9. My concerns are shared by many other statistics users, locally and nationally. Responses to a posting I made on a statistics user forum about the failings of the Jobmatch system included:

“Yes, you are not alone, the reporting system is shocking and it makes you wonder about the service Universal Jobmatch provides to jobseekers.”

“It really is awful. A lot of them aren’t even proper job titles.”

“NOMIS worked well, whereas the current incarnation, despite all the ‘extras’ is appalling.”

“I am really disappointed with the Universal Jobs Match data, it doesn’t work properly and it doesn’t compare to NOMIS. I used to publish vacancy statistics for a monthly bulletin but since Universal Jobmatch was introduced I have had to omit this analysis.”

Conclusions & Recommendations

10. As a source of data for people trying to analyse and understand the labour market, the Universal Jobmatch system as currently presented is not fit for purpose. The system is badly constructed, and contains data which is poorly coded and categorised. The coverage and data quality are also suspect. To make the system useful, a lot of work needs to be done with the data, in order to classify vacancies in a useful and meaningful fashion, using standard geographies, Industry and Occupation codes. A much more flexible reporting system is required—most users would like to be able to access the system through NOMIS, which would offer a great benefit compared to the current set of reports.

21 May 2013

1 National Online Manpower Information System (NOMIS) is a web based portal run by the office for National Statistics

Prepared 27th January 2014