Features: October 16th, 2009

By Mike Trevor

With unemployment rising, councils are under pressure to take action to get people into jobs, particularly young people. The author outlines the many approaches being taken and exposes some of the flaws. He describes the benefits of a vendor neutral managed recruitment service.

Worklessness – the problem of long term unemployment and dependency on government benefits – is one of the biggest drains on government spending. According to the latest government figures there are currently around 2.44 million people out of work, and worklessness specifically is at a ten-year high. The research institute, Centre for Cities, estimates those numbers could treble by 2011.

Worklessness amongst young people is a particular concern. Those cities hit worst by recession have already seen the number of young people (aged 16-24) claiming jobseeker’s allowance rise by seven per cent since the beginning of the downturn. Centre for Cities’ figures also point out that 1.18 million young people will be unemployed by 2011 and a third of those will be out of work for more than a year. Prolonged periods of worklessness, particularly amongst this group permanently damages careers and individuals ability to make an economic contribution to society.

And the problems associated with worklessness go beyond the individual. Not only does it waste human potential, but it inhibits economic growth, promotes negativity and despondency, and eventually eats away at the very fabric of a local community.

Last year, the Prince’s Trust reported that lack of job opportunities was a major factor in driving young people into gangs, and it is widely accepted that young people are more likely to commit crime when they are out of work. There is also evidence to suggest that it is a significant factor in driving people towards extremist groups. The former leader of al-Muhajiroun for example said that recruitment was helped by unemployment.

But worklessness is not just about young people. The long-term sick – and the family members who care for them full time – can also be considered as ‘workless’ as can the ‘early retired.’ Worklessness is also a particular problem for people with a disability. According to Remploy there are currently 6.7 million disabled people of working age in the UK, a high proportion of whom struggle to find employment even when they are capable of working.

The impacts of worklessness are inevitably felt first at a local level, and so local authorities are coming under increasing pressure from central government to address the problem. Councils are currently using a variety of measures to address the issue, but often the simplest steps and most cost-effective possibilities are overlooked.

Looking at recruitment policies

The first place to look is its own recruitment policies and procedures. The council is usually the largest employer in any given region; it needs to take on permanent and temporary staff with a wide range of skills for a whole host of functions – from gardening and catering, to cleaning and town planning. Its own employment practices cannot fail to have an impact on worklessness at a local level.

However, even councils with exemplary recruitment practices may find that their standard procedures overlook the particular barriers to employment that the long-term unemployed face. These vary hugely from childcare or transport issues, to not having access to a computer in order to complete an online application form. Research has found that help in job search is one of the most effective ways of addressing the issue of worklessness.

Partnership working has also proven to be a key factor for overcoming the worklessness challenge. So councils should also make sure that their recruitments processes encompass working with specialist employment agencies at a local level, including Job Centre Plus, Help the Aged, Remploy or Slivers-of-Time, which focus on getting certain sectors of long-term unemployed back into working life.

Remploy, for example, is one of the UK’s leading providers of employment services for disabled people and those experiencing complex barriers to work. It offers individually tailored, vocational development programmes that are designed in close partnership with employers to enable candidates to gain sector specific experience and move successfully into employment.

Slivers-of-Time on the other hand works with people who are excluded from the workforce because they have demands on their time – often childcare or elder care – that make it hard for them to hold down a job. Slivers-of-Time provides workers for employers looking for staff for a very short time frame – typically for less than seven hours. Government research suggests 13.7 million people in the UK are able to work for very short amounts of time; by providing an avenue to enable this Slivers-of-Time estimate it can save the taxpayer around £400m a year.

It is vital that these organisations are integrated into the council’s recruitments process so at the very least they can compete on a level playing field with other recruitment agencies. In some areas where worklessness is particularly acute the council may even see a benefit in prioritising these specialist groups ahead of nationwide recruitment agencies.
The problem is most people within local authorities find the current plethora of recruitments solutions un-navigable. There are so many options, including national and local recruitment agencies, Jobcentre Plus, direct applicants, charities and voluntary organisations, as well as local employment schemes, that simply identifying the sources of employees can be a huge challenge.

To cut down on the complexity of the recruitment process, the majority of councils use a preferred supplier list (PSL) with a limited number of suppliers to manage their recruitment needs. But organisations that are trying to address worklessness and help the long-term unemployed back into work are left out in the cold, excluded from even being considered. PSLs are also rarely updated and fail to take into account the current selection of suppliers that are on offer.

Councils have long recognised that the PSL method of recruitment is a hefty drain on finances. It also imposes a degree of rigidity on the way that recruits are found, assessed and brought on board. But addressing worklessness requires a different and more flexible approach. The good news is that vendor neutral solutions designed to drive cost savings through the recruitment process can also help with worklessness.

Managed recruitment service

A vendor-neutral, managed recruitment service can provide access to all employment avenues through a single point of contact and enable specialist employment services to compete on a level playing field. They can even be adjusted so that it prioritises selected policies.

It’s an approach that Tower Hamlets has already embraced. It is currently using Comensura’s service to promote its Skillsmatch initiative for secretarial and administration staff. Skillsmatch receives all temporary secretarial/administration vacancies for the borough before any other agencies, thus creating an excellent opportunity for any local candidates registered with the service to access temporary jobs in local government.

Similarly, the City of London is working with us to ensure that whenever it has a requirement for agency staff for less than seven hours, Slivers-of-Time has the opportunity to put forward candidates before any other agencies.

Clearly getting the long-term unemployed into work is a huge challenge and councils have an obligation to address worklessness at a local level. But it doesn’t need to be a complex or costly initiative. By simply changing the processes they have in place to recruit staff, and taking a more flexible approach to recruitment rather than just going for tried-and-tested methods, local authorities can lead the charge against long term worklessness.

Mike Trevor is CEO of Comensura, a leading provider of procurement and supply management solutions.

For more information go to www.comensura.co.uk