Today we publish our new report, Deep Value Assessment, which sets out how assessment of jobseekers’ needs and abilities could be improved.
The report comes as new employment figures show that unemployment is at just 6%, its lowest level since before the financial crash. Youth unemployment has also fallen substantially. But the same employment figures show that most of this decrease in unemployment is due to people moving into economic inactivity, and not into work. These statistics highlight how as the unemployment rate falls, it is increasingly difficult to get the remaining unemployed people – many of whom face the largest barriers to the labour market – into work. This echoes the message from recent Work Programme statistics which show the programme is still failing to deliver for the people with the most entrenched barriers to work.
There are many reasons why employment support services are struggling to deliver for this group, but problems with assessing the type of support they need are definitely an important one. Good assessment is crucial to any public service, and an essential part of tackling the problem of long-term unemployment is ensuring that employment support services – both Jobcentre Plus and contracted providers – have a solid understanding of jobseekers’ needs and abilities.
Many recent proposals call for a more efficient ‘segmentation tool’ as a way to improve support for people facing the most barriers to employment. Such a tool would identify early those jobseekers that were going to be the most challenging to get into work, and split them off into more intensive support. If a day-one segmentation tool could be made to work it would no doubt address some of the immediate problems in the employment support sector, such as creaming and parking. We originally undertook our research – which involved qualitative fieldwork with 40 jobseekers and several other stakeholders – by attempting to understand more about how such a tool might work.
A new approach to employability assessments
Ultimately, however, our research suggests that such a ‘segmentation’ tool may not be the best way forward in the longer term. Instead, a different approach is needed:
- Firstly, assessment should be an ongoing process. To get an accurate, in-depth picture of a jobseeker’s situation requires continually updating the assessment. It’s essential that advisors have the time and resources to build Deep Value relationships, use them to continually assess needs and abilities, and tailor support accordingly.
- Secondly, assessment should be more participatory, emphasising jobseekers’ own perspectives. Jobseekers understand their own needs and abilities better than anyone. They should be enabled to actively contribute to their assessment and thus shape their support offer. A more participatory assessment would also encourage employment support to include a consideration of jobseekers’ strengths and abilities, instead of just addressing their barriers and needs.
Now is an excellent time for the employment support sector to think about how assessment could be done differently. Discussions are underway for how ‘Work Programme 2’ should be commissioned, but with a few years left on existing contracts, there is time to start piloting different ways of doing assessment. These will need to be built into its design from the start, as this will have implications for how contracts are made and how providers are expected to work together.
The roll-out of Universal Credit is going to change both who receives employment support and how people interact with these services. Claimants will no longer be on a straightforward linear path from ‘signing on’ as unemployed to eventually moving into work. Instead claimants may have different periods of un- or under-employment within one claim, interspersed by periods of being in work. Ongoing and participatory ways of understanding their changing needs and strengths will be crucial, and reduce inefficiencies and waste by allowing employment support to be tailored to claimants’ increasingly varying situations. More work need to be don to understand how best ongoing and participatory assessment can fit within the new system.
Our report highlights four areas where the principles of a Deep Value approach to assessment can be put into practice now. The processes and tools of assessment need to be less ‘tick-box’ and more collaborative and engaging – and it needs to be possible to regularly update them. Partnerships need to be strengthened to ensure that different providers are able to share information about jobseekers’ strengths, abilities and barriers. Frontline staff need additional training to be able to undertake ongoing, participatory assessment. Employment coaches and advisors need to be enabled to build Deep Value relationships between jobseekers and their advisors.
Deep Value assessment done right would benefit all jobseekers, but in particular it would help those who the current employment support system is failing. Deep Value Assessment is about making sure that we can get, and act on, a proper understanding of jobseekers’ needs and strengths, and ultimately provide quality employment support for all..