Analysis: Local Employment Partnerships and the recession

Recent comments by the employment minister Jim Knight that employers could be tempted to bypass the government’s long-term unemployment scheme have put the future of local employment partnerships (LEPs) under the spotlight.

“The labour market has clearly changed since we first introduced LEPs,” he told Personnel Today. “There are more people looking for work, which means employers have a wider choice of candidates. But this makes LEPs more, not less, important.”

John Philpott, public policy director at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), agrees there is a risk that employers will choose to recruit from other sources. But the CIPD’s 2009 recruitment and retention survey also hinted at a general lack of confidence in the scheme and the candidates that are put forward. The research found that while 63% were aware of LEPs, just 18% rated their ability to meet their needs as “good” or “very good”, with 42% seeing them as “average” and 41% as “poor” or “very poor”.

Yet such impressions are increasingly out of date, says John Atkinson, associate director at the Institute for Employment Studies. “The average calibre of Jobcentre Plus stock has risen because of the recession,” he says. “We aren’t just dealing with the very hard to help, we’re dealing with people who under normal conditions would be perfectly capable of getting a job and who are attractive to employers.

“People who have hired through Jobcentre Plus have always complained they’ve been sent rubbish, but when you look at the job specs they send out, they can be very general,” he adds. “Employers are too ready to blame Jobcentre Plus rather than working to help them find the right person.”

One solution to this could be for employers to get more involved in the recruitment process. Valerie Dale, HR director at G4S Secure Solutions, worked with Job Centre Plus to ensure its vetting procedures met the tight legislative conditions required by the security industry, and also evaluated its own application process to make it easier for both candidates and Jobcentre Plus staff. “We wanted to make sure that we built up the relationship with the agent because it’s probably a lot easier to put people into a Tesco opening up down the road than it is the security industry,” she says.

Travelodge signed up to the scheme in 2008 and is now one of its biggest users, filling around 30-35 % of its vacancies this way, including 57 people across two hotels in the London area through the London Employer Accord’s Go Forward programme. Under this scheme, potential staff underwent basic customer service training on a programme designed to reintroduce applicants to the world of work.

“If we bring them through a pre-employment training programme and we take on a big group, one of the big advantages is that they’re a ready-made team,” says Michelle Luxford, director of HR. “They engage with you as an employer before they even come into your doors as an interviewee.”

Crucially, staff retention rates among those employed through the scheme are some 8% higher than those hired through other recruitment sources, says Lux.

Not everyone is so enthusiastic, though. Food travel company SSP has used the service to cope with high staff turnover and peak-season demands, but has found the system overly complicated. “It’s quite daunting from an employer’s point of view to understand all the different schemes that are available and all the training providers that the government has outsourced to,” says Jackie Clark, UK head of resourcing. “We could use some kind of simple guide as to what’s available to companies and how we can implement it.”

Knight, meanwhile, says he is confident the government will hit its target of getting 250,000 people back into work through LEPs by December 2010, and says it has already placed 165,000 since the scheme launched in 2007. “Having widened eligibility for the scheme, we now also have a new target to get 200,000 people into work through LEPs this operational year,” he adds.

Just the job: How LEPs made their mark at Marriott Hotels

When Marriott Hotels needed to recruit 75 staff for its new hotel in Twickenham, it filled around half the posts through Jobcentre Plus, including a number from the local employment partnership scheme who were long-term unemployed, lone parents or had disabilities.

“For bigger companies that have a lot of vacancies to fill, it’s silly to bypass it because there are a lot of really good people there,” says Jan Marshall, director of HR at the London Marriott Hotel, Twickenham.

But Marshall believes the stigma of using local job centres still applies among both employers and candidates. Job centres inviting employers down to explain how they can help would be one way of overcoming such misconceptions, she suggests.

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