Transferring responsibility

There is a much quoted proverb: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”  I have been increasingly reminded of this as I have spent more time in the welfare to work sector.  There are numerous organisations that provide help to the unemployed.  They typically employ advisors who sit with jobseekers and whose responsibility it is to get as many of the people they are working with into a job.  As I have learnt more about this sector it has become worryingly clear that there is a problem.  Advisors assume that they need to do all the work for the jobseeker and the jobseeker simply falls into line with this way of operating.  This means that advisors decide what jobs their customers can do, write their CV, find relevant vacancies and then make applications on behalf of the jobseeker.  To a large extent, if the advisor does not do it, it does not get done.

On a very practical level, reduced government spending on assistance programmes means that this operating model cannot continue.  In previous years there was sufficient funding however nowadays the amount of money available is less than the cost of giving the help.  If providers cannot find a less resource hungry delivery model they will go out of business.

However I think the problem is more serious than that.  We all need to engage with the challenges and opportunities we have in our lives.  Jobseekers who don’t take responsibility for their job search are unlikely to commit to any job they do find themselves in.  Without this commitment the chances of long term successful employment are inevitably reduced.  The vicious circle of unemployment and unemployability kicks in and their brief period in work becomes simply an expensive interlude.

I don’t want to trivialise the challenges for individuals who are long term unemployed.  Finding work is hard and those jobs that are offered aren’t exactly the most appealing.  However having a job is far more likely to be a stepping stone to something better and the sense of purpose and value that employment brings are in themselves life-transforming.

My colleagues and I at MyWorkSearch have been evangelising about using technology to enable jobseekers to more actively participate in their search for work.  In many respects our message to providers has been about saving costs and efficiency.  These arguments certainly work as having unemployed jobseekers put some hours into their own job-search is a pragmatic solution to insufficient advisor availability.  But the more I think about it the more it is clear to me that having jobseekers search for their new role is also good for the individual.  Long term unemployment in a welfare society such as the UK breeds a culture of dependency.  The search for work is an important step on the journey of self-sufficiency and personal responsibility.