Brexit

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My occasional blog posts are normally business related. I certainly avoid politics. However, the referendum outcome falls into an entirely different category.

We are on the brink of doing somethingLooking into abyss both immensely daft and irreversible. Society has some huge challenges and growing inequality has to be addressed. Demagogues, knaves and some well meaning, but misguided, individuals are taking advantage of this unhappiness and peddling a false dawn. This will affect our lives and our children’s lives.

For many years politicians knew better than to call a referendum on capital punishment because they knew they would get the ‘wrong’ answer. This wasn’t a rejection of democracy, but a recognition that people sometimes do daft things and very few have the time or inclination to immerse themselves in the issues and alternatives. We expect far more engagement, thought and debate from our politicians.

I should have seen the danger and opposed the referendum when it was announced. I should certainly have pushed for something so fundamental and irreversible to require more than a simple majority. I failed on both fronts.

However, I think it incumbent on me and like-minded individuals to do what we can now. This is not whinging because we ‘lost’. This is a response to an existential crisis for our nation. There is time for sanity to prevail and we must persuade our politicians that they can and must stop Brexit. Yes they will be criticised and their careers may also be damaged. But it is their duty to stand tall and do the right thing.

Much ado about rather a lot

It has, to put it mildly, been an interesting week in the welfare to work sector. I even found myself whisked to BBC TV Centre for a live interview so I could add commentary to the war of words raging across the Internet and media. I don’t know if I bring anything new to the debate, but here goes!

I have worked in the employment market for over twenty years and in the welfare to work sector for three. Much has changed, however, certain themes have not.

Employers may not always select well, however, hiring the best people available to them is always their objective. Some prospective employees don’t have the required skills. Others may not know how to sell what they offer as a candidate. Still others get jobs but do not keep them, as they are ineffective at fitting in within the workplace. And finally there are people who for any of several reasons prefer unemployment to the work opportunities available to them.

Meanwhile, government is always looking at ways to reduce unemployment. They do this because it feels the right thing to do given their electoral mandate and the normally well-meaning intentions of the politicians. They do this because unemployment is socially corrosive; it is also very expensive. And in a democracy governments experiencing high unemployment tend not to get re-elected.

Government can employ civil servants to deliver solutions, or it can outsource. Where a provision is tightly specified a competitively procured contract will normally drive down delivery costs. However, the risk of tight specifications is that the deliverers can be mandated to provide services that are ineffective, and it can take a long while and considerable wasted resource before the government identifies the need for change and makes it. An alternative is to pay by results and not specify how these are to be achieved. Darwinian competition amongst providers will lead to innovation and improve the chances of successful outcomes. This is the model of the current Work Programme. Of course whatever model is chosen, the quality of outcome and value for money will be dependent on the procurement process and the extent to which there is genuine competition. Executed well, providers will generate profits however these should be far less than the additional value obtained by the customer.

The current political furore over work experience is somewhat ironic, as it is the Work Programme itself that is far more coercive than the workfare programme so much in the news. To me it boils down to a very simple question. To what extent do we as a country accept unemployment on benefits as a lifestyle choice? Notwithstanding fraud, a life on benefits is not comfortable. If one believes that it is the right of a citizen to choose this over work, then anything other than opted into training and support will be considered an injustice. If one believes that welfare should be no more than a safety net, enforced job-search and employment will be considered reasonable. If a person’s skills, domestic circumstances or location limit the quality of jobs open to them then so be it.

I have real sympathy for A4e. Human beings make mistakes, some are foolish and some are dishonest. When an organisation has thousands of staff, things will go wrong from time to time. If management step in and deal with the problem in a way that is generally regarded as correct, that should be the end of the matter. A4e have succeeded because over the years they have done a lot of things well. Destroying their business will do nothing to improve welfare to work provision. It will simply ruin one of the more experienced and effective large scale providers and deter talented managers and organisations from working in the sector. I don’t begrudge Emma Harrison her dividends. If procurement has focused on the best provision why should one complain when an organisation has found a way to meet its customer’s demands better than anyone else and also make money. If procurement is flawed or the fraud systemic then there is cause for serious repercussions. As matters stand today this does not seem to be the case.

So what next? I hope that the debate moves from A4e, Emma’s dividend and Tesco to our attitude to skills and employment. Our economy is weak, we have a less skilled population than is ideal and we are facing ever stronger global competition. If we don’t address these problems our employment choices will be the least of our problems.

Bifurcation

Bifurcation is one of those excellent words reserved for crosswords and serious conferences. It was being used yesterday to describe a rather depressing phenomenon that will affect millions of people. I was at the Employment Related Services Association annual conference and labour market trends were being discussed. Bifurcation was being used to describe the way the employment market is splitting into well paid and highly skilled jobs and low paid unskilled ones, with the middle being squeezed. Technology and globalisation mean that many of these ‘middle’ roles are disappearing and those that cannot obtain the highly skilled jobs face unemployment or jobs they do not want.

This is a concern for the affected individuals as well as a problem for our country and unfortunately there are no easy answers. Going from unskilled to skilled is not a swift and simple journey and meanwhile our knowledge employers are struggling to find the people they need. The wider the gap between the haves and have nots the more unpleasant society becomes. There are thousands of families for whom the choice is unemployment or low paid work and the forthcoming changes to the benefits system will increasingly make life without work more challenging. I firmly believe that it is better to have a job with the structure and self-respect that this brings however for many the types of job available to them will not make for fulfilling employment.

I don’t believe there are solutions to the bifurcation. The Luddites demonstrated the futility of taking on technology and markets. However go to any UK town and there will be a college offering free training. Meanwhile the quantity and range of online training is vast.

It is easy to stigmatise the unemployed and there are certainly many who abuse the system or make no effort to help themselves. However I believe the majority simply meandered through education and early adult decisions and then found themselves in a position where options were few and employment choices bleak. I don’t want to trivialise the challenges of up-skilling or being different in a community where unemployment is the norm, however the more I think about it the more the solution is with the individual and not society. Government can enable however each person has to make his or her own choice as to what discomfort will be endured in order to bring about personal change or change for one’s children.

Cabinet Office Innovation Launch Pad

It has been almost two months since I last wrote a blog entry. The summer has flown by and what is normally a quiet time has been anything but. I am not complaining as the alternative is far worse. However a little time to catch my breath would be most appreciated!

A lot is happening this week however the most exciting item is on Tuesday 19th July. Some months ago it was suggested that we apply for the Cabinet Office Innovation Launch Pad. My understanding is that the Government has recognised that SMEs will be the engine of growth for our economy and should be encouraged. However it was pointed out that it is very difficult for most SMEs to do business with the public sector and therefore if the Coalition is to give meaning to its intent it needs to make some changes. The Innovation Launch Pad, run from the Cabinet Office, is a high profile way of doing precisely this.

Any UK SME could submit their ideas on how they could deliver improved value for money for Government. There then followed an in-depth evaluation process including public commenting, expert review, civil service voting and presentations by the short-listed companies. From this nine companies emerged as the ones selected as being most promising and MyWorkSearch is one of them. We put forward two ideas and the one that has been chosen is that every unemployed person in the country should be offered MyWorkSearch free of charge. If we can help just a small proportion find a job slightly faster than they otherwise would, we can save the Government over £250m per year in unemployment benefits and lost tax.

On Tuesday there is an event at the Department for Business Innovation and Skills where the nine selected companies will put forward their ideas. Present will be Government ministers, senior civil servants, business leaders and the media. In the evening there will be a reception in Downing Street.

The nine companies are:

It is a tremendous honour for MyWorkSearch that we have been selected to get this far and I am delighted. What is most exciting are the many conversations and introductions that have already occurred as a result of getting to this stage. I am getting a real sense that there is a commitment from the civil servants I have met to be open to the ideas we offer. The public sector has been risk averse for as long as I can remember and more of the same will not produce the outcomes our country requires. Making it acceptable to take a few risks and potentially have some initiatives fail is exactly what we need. The ideas that work can be scaled and those that don’t can be learnt from.  Meanwhile a generation of entrepreneurs will see that the public sector is open for business and will create solutions, some of which will deliver huge benefits.

I hope that the Innovation Launch Pad is a success. It will be great for MyWorkSearch however it could be superb for the country.

Common sense and practical help

MyWorkSearch is a commercial organisation and without revenue we cannot continue to operate.  We know that our service helps people back into work however we unfortunately need to charge for usage.  For the past eighteen months thousands of job seekers have been provided with MyWorkSearch by Jobcentre Plus with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) paying us.  Our research reveals that over 60% of those enrolled secure new jobs within three months and the average time is 62 days.  Thus the government has in return for its payment helped a person to come off benefits and return to being a tax-payer.

This publicly funded provision has now come to an end and it is ironic that it has done so at a time when the DWP publishes a research report “Job Search Study: Literature review and analysis of the Labour Force Survey” which looks at the characteristics of job search and what works.  This 118 page document provides a wealth of statistics and observations, however it was four of them that really stood out for me.  None of them are a huge surprise however it is easy to lose sight of their importance.

The first is the authors’ observation that: “The majority of theoretical and empirical studies of job search date from a time either before the rise of the Internet or when its use for job search was less developed and widespread”.  The second is that between April and June 2009 over 80% of job seekers used the Internet to look for work.  In other words, the majority of ‘industry experts’, advisers, civil servants and ministers learnt their skills, developed methodologies and formed their opinions at a time when offline job search predominated.  Yet nowadays, across all demographics, online is the most likely activity with the bulk of adoption in the past several years.  Indeed given the growth of online that was being observed quarter by quarter leading up to this research, 2 year old 2009 data materially underestimates current usage.

The third area that was commented on was a person’s social network.  Across a broad spectrum of roles an extremely good source of employment is an individual’s contacts.  When an organisation is hiring it is often those connected with the vacancy who are best placed to know of the opportunity and suggest a potential recruit.  So individuals with a wide network of people who are positively disposed to them and who communicate their availability are far more likely to receive a timely and warm introduction to prospective employers.  Equally, those without networks or those whose network comprises fellow unemployed, are less likely to hear of and be recommended for opportunities.  Social networks can be local and personal, such as former colleagues, fellow school parents or neighbours.  They can also be online via the many network sites that exist.

The final area is self-efficacy.  People with self-belief in their own qualities and their likelihood to secure a job are far more likely to obtain employment.  This self-fulfilling positive approach is clearly harder to maintain the longer a job search takes or when a person comes from a community where unemployment is the norm.

All of the above pre-supposes the desire to find a job and this in itself cannot be taken for granted.  It also assumes possession of minimum skills to make the person employable.

There are not enough jobs out there for every person who needs one.  But there are jobs for many people who don’t have one and are looking for one.  Reading through this report confirms my knowledge that we are doing the right thing with MyworkSearch; it also frustrates the hell out of me that an obvious, inexpensive and effective service is being cut at a time when it is very much needed.

MyWorkSearch will continue to prosper with our other contracts and I am optimistic about the future.  However I do wish we could find a way to offer the service to every newly unemployed job seeker.  Hopefully some senior policy makers will read this DWP research report!

MP-45

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Every day at MyWorkSearch we help thousands of people with their career choices.  Whilst this is a serious business that fundamentally affects people’s lives there are occasions when we look at the light-hearted side of our profession.  So on a quiet Friday afternoon and with the media dominated by the election, the MyWorkSearch team started thinking about what careers politicians could try should they not be an MP on May 7th.

The Prime Minister would be a perfect Community Diversity Officer, having successfully placated Gillian Duffy, the pensioner he branded a ‘bigot’ earlier in the week, whilst David Cameron, with his liking for (public sector) cuts and love of the outdoors would make an ideal butcher. Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, who likes putting a spanner in the works, is recommended to try his hand at plumbing should things not work out for him next Thursday. We also felt that the original ‘Blair Babe’, Jacqui Smith, would make an ideal Ann Summer’s party organiser, George Osborne an estate agent and Vince Cable, used to playing second fiddle, would be an ideal second-hand car salesman. Perhaps unsurprisingly, BNP leader Nick Griffin, who is used to being abused in public, would make a perfect traffic warden should he not be elected to parliament.

Having searched though 12 politicians’ profiles, our full list of recommendations is as follows:

POLITICIAN & CONSTITUENCY SKILLS,EXPERIENCE, PERSONALITY IDEAL JOB

Gordon Brown, Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath

Likes meeting members of the public, not afraid to express his views,  champion of minorities (especially Eastern Europeans) Community Diversity Officer

David Cameron, Witney

Member of the ‘Bullingdon’ club, likes making cuts, enjoys running outdoors, wants to ‘beef up’ national security Organic butcher
Nick Clegg, Sheffield Hallam ‘Man of the people’, likes putting a spanner in the works Plumber
Jacqui Smith, Redditch Original ‘Blair Babe’, knowledge of education, detention and sex laws, husband enjoys adult films Anne Summers Party Organiser
Vince Cable, Twickenham Experienced orator, good with numbers, used to playing second fiddle Second-hand car salesman
George Osborne, Tatton Used to making predictions on the economy, intricate knowledge of mortgages having been investigated over his repayments by the PSC Estate Agent
John Prescott, Hull East (Standing down in 2010) Likes fast cars, knowledge of self-defence, experience of being a deputy Police Chief
David Miliband, South Shields Expert in foreign etiquette, known for charm, used to waiting (in line to become next Labour leader) Concierge

William Hague, Richmond (Yorks)

Known for comic wit during PMQs, experience of TV presenting, preceded David Cameron, boasts 14 pint minimum

Warm-up comedian
Ed Balls, Morley and Outwood Reputed for being aggressive & ambitious with a treasury background. Once called the ‘most powerful unelected person in Britain’ as a civil servant Bailiff

Lembit Opik, Montgomeryshire

Rated most liberal MP in parliament, known for liking twosomes

Erotic fiction writer

Nick Griffin, Barking Cambridge graduate with good writing skills, likes uniforms, used to daily abuse from the public Traffic Warden

Just because you’re out of a job doesn’t mean you don’t have skills that can be employed usefully elsewhere. Our list of alternative jobs for MP’s demonstrates this and we hope that come May 7th, if any of these MP’s do need further career advice then MyWorkSearch can help them in this search.

Have a great bank holiday and normal serious service resumes on Tuesday!

Richard