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September 09, 2016
Jobcentres for a digital world
By: Mark Jennings

Jobcentres have come a long way from the days when they were a shop-front for local employers to recruit local people by means of paper cards on boards. But although much of what they do has been automated, the core function of Jobcentres as matching immediate labour supply and demand has changed little. In an age of online job portals, private employment agencies and increasing self-employment, what is the function of the jobcentre? Does government even need to provide recruitment service – physical or online - when so many others exist?

A wonderful thing about the digital revolution in which we are living is it allows businesses and organisations to rethink who they really are and what purpose they serve in the context of the newly possible. Digital disruption is book-sellers becoming digital marketplaces and taxi companies becoming logistics platforms; it has far deeper ramifications on job search than moving from paper cards to online services. At Accenture, we see the mission for public employment services shifting from job placement to maximising human capital. Imagine nations where part of government is dedicated to helping each person achieve their full employment potential. This is linked and directly related to our vision for social security agencies changing their mind-set from catching people when they fall to supporting them as they rise.

This is not a sudden shift in direction; it is the logical extension of changes already taking place in public employment services, accelerated by readily-available technology. In the UK, Jobcentre Plus came into existence in 2002, it was the physical manifestation of a policy shift towards conditionality and tying receipt of unemployment benefit to active job search. With Universal Credit, the reach of conditionality has extended into those in work and a key policy question of our times is “how much work or income is enough” - Central to all of this is the idea that simply getting a person into work – any work - is no longer enough. It is not a sufficient or satisfactory goal for the person themselves or for the state that supports them. So what does that really mean in practise? I would point to 3 tangible imperatives for public employment services.

Firstly, a focus on outcomes and getting an understanding of what it takes to improve those outcomes. Specifically, that means measuring income, employment retention and advancement over time. It means capturing the biographic and contextual data about the individual, recording what was done to help them and how they fared as a result. It is then using that data in a structured way, supported by Artificial Intelligence tooling, to continually improve how each individual is treated based on the success or otherwise of similar cohorts and data-driven ‘next best action’ advice. The same principles apply whether helping someone get their first job, directing training to reskill an individual or prompting someone on low pay to take action to improve their salary.

 At present, many different forms of help are offered to many different people, driving many different outcomes. Agencies record each element of this separately, but rarely if ever do they do not put all elements together to get the full picture. Thanks to this largely unstructured process, within and across countries, mass social experiments in how to help people find work are being conducted without the results being properly recorded and without appropriate conclusions being drawn. That is the first thing that needs to change.

Secondly, public employment services need to recognise their position at the head of an ecosystem of suppliers - driving human capital advancement. They are a logical point to bring together data and services from educational establishments, employers and other organisations to foster an integrated network for the purpose of economic growth. This points to a macro-economic role. Public employment services are the best placed organisations to deal with sizeable employment shocks – such as mass plant redundancies or sudden demand (think of the London Olympics in 2012, for which Jobcentre Plus drove much of the staffing) This means appropriate sharing of the data they hold to foster collaboration and drive insight and, once again, measuring employment outcomes at a regional and strategic level.

Thirdly, public employment services still need to provide some individual-level support for those individuals least able to help themselves. Some people will fall through the gaps of our digital workplace. A huge premium must be placed on simple user-experience and service design because increasingly, the individual customers of jobcentres will be the ones least able to cope in a digital world.

So – yes – governments will still need to provide or enable a recruitment service of sorts, but on a new model. The digital jobcentre, with Artificial Intelligence at its core, will improve the efficiency and effectiveness of how we help people not just find work, but prosper and grow.

This blog accompanies the Reform publication http://bit.ly/2ajHNHK


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