Training long-term jobless: You can make them whole again

The government plans to offer ‘golden hellos’ worth up to £2,500 to employers recruiting the long-term unemployed. How should this money be used to help their return to work?

Lack of confidence and motivation are key problems facing people who have been jobless for more than six months. Classed by the government as long-term unemployed, they find it much harder to get and keep jobs than someone who has had recent work experience.

Steve Swan, a director of the charity Tomorrow’s People, which helps the long-term jobless find work, says the jobless tend to focus on what they can’t do rather than what they can. “We can spend an awful lot of time helping them realise that they have transferable skills and are able to make a positive contribution to society,” he explains.

Golden hello

Over the next two years, the government has committed £500m to help the long-term unemployed find work, including the promise of £2,500 ‘golden hellos’ for organisations willing to recruit and train them. The first £1,000, which will be available through Jobcentre Plus from April, is not ring-fenced although conditions will be attached to ensure there is a genuine commitment from the employer to finding such people permanent jobs.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) says: “If an employer is just a little bit worried about the economic situation, it is a little incentive to take people on.”

The additional £1,500 is available through the Train to Gain initiative, which provides skills services for all employers.

Given the barriers that long-term unemployed people face, is this sum sufficient for their retraining? The DWP insists the sum allocated for training will be job specific rather than dealing with such pre-employment issues as confidence and motivation.

“If we referred someone to an employer, we would always make sure they met certain criteria,” explains the spokeswoman. “If we felt it could improve their prospects of getting a job, we would put them on the appropriate pre-employment course.”

Tesco has taken on 2,000 long-term unemployed in its stores over the past year through Local Employment Partnership deals, which are designed to increase employment and training opportunities for disadvantaged jobseekers. Its reward has often been a much stronger sense of loyalty to the company than from other types of recruits, according to corporate affairs manager Felix Gummer.

He says such recruits do not automatically receive extra training unless this is suggested by Jobcentre Plus.

“What we have done is tell people from the beginning what is expected of them. There are some things that, for the rest of us, are quite normal, such as turning up on time,” he says.

Time constraints

But Swan argues that because of time constraints, Jobcentre Plus staff are not always clear about what such people need.

“Once you really identify the true barriers that prevent those people going back to work, you can start moving forward. If you don’t do that then everything else is going to be flawed,” he says.

Jobless people often withhold certain information from Jobcentre Plus for fear of losing their benefits, according to Swan. “Because of the fear of the establishment, identifying the true issues that are going on in their lives is more difficult than for an organisation like us, which has no axe to grind,” he adds.

Professional mentors

Swan says there is plenty that employers can do to smooth the transition back to work but they all cost money and usually need outside input. One easy way of providing support is to use existing staff as mentors, provided they have received training from an organisation such as his beforehand. But he warns that many long-term jobless have so many issues and barriers that only professional mentors are able to sort them out.

Swan urges employers to consider engaging an intermediary organisation such as his before recruiting long-term unemployed through Jobcentre Plus. “We can help them find a way through the minefield,” he says.

However, Ed Griffin, adviser for learning, training and development for the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, says internally run initiatives may also prove effective. These include maintaining closer contact than normal with the new recruit to see if there is a need for training that is above and beyond what is normal.

“It could mean some quick focus training on computers, for example, so they can become productive more quickly. It could be coaching by supervisors and line managers rather than additional training courses that are required,” he explains.

Griffin also advises giving shorter-term plans so people receive more regular feedback and have clearer objectives to achieve.

Case study: Unipart

Steve Swan, of Tomorrow’s People, says automotive components company Unipart is a good example of what can be achieved with outside support.

Tomorrow’s People successfully placed eight out of 10 long-term unemployed people into the workforce by establishing a buddy system.

An adviser from the charity was assigned to the company to fully understand what it was looking for before working with Jobcentre Plus to identify potential recruits. The adviser also helped identify and train buddies from within the workforce.

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